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Outlast 2 – improving on the original, but not by a whole lot (October Terrorthon)

Other reviews on games I played as part of my horroresque October so far: Carrion, KONA, Outlast

I admit I wasn’t all that hopeful for this sequel considering my lukewarm experience with the first game. I was almost certain that the predictable gameplay loop that was so prevalent in the first one would be here too. Because of that, I was actually surprised to see some of Outlast’s issues were, at least to an extent, addressed in Outlast 2. The problem is that the sequel introduced a number of its own problems that stopped it from being markedly better than the original.

By far, the main improvement in this game was the fact that it relies considerably less on cheap, pointless and ultimately annoying jump scares. Outlast 2 still suffers from this issue, but there was a considerable drop in the absurd amount we got in the first game. This logical change was incredibly effective in increasing the game’s sense of unease, simply because it grants the player more time to absorb the dark environments and to wonder. Consequently, certain moments in Outlast 2 become much more enjoyable, because they allow your mind to roam free and inject its own internal tension into your playthrough. There still aren’t that many opportunities for that throughout the game which means a lot more could’ve been done here, but considering that this was basically non-existent in Outlast, it was welcome nonetheless. Additionally, the formulaic nature of the first game that unfortunately made it so predictable was reigned in in Outlast 2. This, too, brings a clear advantage to the game when weighing it against its predecessor; there were still quite a few moments where you could pretty much tell what was about to happen. There just weren’t as many of them. Another thing the sequel did better than the original was in the visual and sound (not music) department. This is impressive because the first game had already done a tremendous job here. The visuals in Outlast 2 take it even further: everything looks incredibly crisp, detailed and deeply atmospheric from start to finish, and the sound effects double down on that improvement. Ironically, the most memorable moments here were, to me, the high school scenes. I understand those who say there are too many of them, and I can agree to an extent. But the complete absence of music in so many of those scenes was so effective in instilling in me an actual sense of being scared (something I never felt in the first game or in any other part of this sequel), that I appreciated every single one of them. I genuinely felt wary every time I opened the door to one of those classrooms, and that was because the lack of music ‘forced’ the sound effects and, consequently, my own projecting mind, to take centre stage.

However, not all things were better, and this is why I feel that, even though the net gain is positive, Outlast 2 also leaves me thinking about what could’ve been. The poorer level design stands out here. I don’t necessarily agree with those who say the game was worse than Outlast just because of the change in setting. When done right, open spaces can be just as effective as closed ones in horror, and anyway there are still a ton of claustrophobic environments in Outlast 2. My criticism is that the level design didn’t seem to keep up with those changes. Oftentimes the navigation paths aren’t made clear to the player, and this results in confusing segments when you don’t really know where to go, which becomes particularly frustrating in those fast paced moments when escape is urgent. Another point of contention this game has is with its story. I really enjoyed how much more fleshed out the religious elements in Outlast 2 were when compared to the first game (though this would be logical given the change in tone). But there’s a catch here. How much you take from the narrative is directly related to not only how much attention you pay to the documents you’re bombarded with, but also how much you remember from the first game. At first glance, everything becomes so bizarre that you’d be justified in feeling the story falls apart in its conclusion. That’s how I felt in my first playthrough, which made me immediately start a new one on the easiest difficulty just to pay full attention to it. I now understand Outlast 2 much better, but I also had to watch a video connecting the first game with the sequel to fully understand how they relate. Once you get to this point, there’s a newfound appreciation for the story the game’s trying to tell, but I feel the writers simply demand too much from the player here, both in terms of previous knowledge and in willingness to connect pieces that are far from obvious, at least to me. Conversely, Blake’s own personal story, fundamental as it is, also ended up feeling like a bit of a letdown. However, that might be because the school scenes felt so much more unsettling than the rest that I was inevitably expecting more. One last thing I’d like to mention in this problem section is the difficulty. The game felt distinctively harder than the original for some reason. I don’t know if this was intentional by the devs, but I do think they kind of overdid it, unnecessarily so.

I know I’m in the minority, but my final impression after playing Outlast and Outlast 2 back-to-back is that the sequel is a better game. It does more things better than the ones it devolves on, and it is also a more fluid package as a gameplay experience, at least on console. The issue is that it also feels like a missed opportunity. Just like the first one, this too falls short of what it could’ve been. Its unremarkable level design and overly ‘demanding’ story, along with the fact that it still relies on jump scares quite often, means Outlast 2 isn’t a game I’ll be remembering as being amongst my survival horror favourites. I give it a 3.5/5, thus rating it higher than Outlast, because to me, it does just enough to justify bumping it to a higher place.

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