PC, PS4, Xbox One
The first Outlast was something of a breath of fresh air for the horror genre. Sure, its asylum setting was hackneyed and, by cinematic standards at least, its nightvision video camera shtick a bit old hat, but tight pacing allied to a dollop of parkour, the ability to look over your shoulder while running away, and a wicked, self-aware sense of fun made Red Barrels’ effort stand out. The studio’s clever use of the camera and ability to capitalise on players’ expectations to compound scares brushed away the genre’s cobwebs and it didn’t pull any punches when it came to disturbing imagery or nightmarish scenarios. Which is why we’re as unsurprised as we are appalled when we stumble past a bloodied manger and into a dilapidated shack filled with the corpses of children.
For this sequel the Montreal-based studio was inspired by the Jonestown massacre, which it came across while researching settings that could trigger the same sense of dislocation and vulnerability in the player that was felt on arriving at the gates of the first game’s psychiatric hospital. But while the game opens in a run-down town located deep in the Arizona desert, it’s still set in the same universe as Outlast. (Red Barrels is keeping the link a secret for now, and may release some connective tissue in the form of a smaller side project.) And, as in the first game, you play an investigative journalist, in this case a cameraman named Blake Langermann, working with his wife, Lynn.
The pair crash-land near the Arizona settlement while looking into the mysterious death of a pregnant woman labelled simply Jane Doe, and inevitably become separated. As the demo opens we find ourselves at the base of a cliff just after the crash and reach for our
glasses, which, like our video camera, have miraculously survived unharmed. From here things proceed in a familiar manner as we raise the camera by tapping the right shoulder button and activate night vision by clicking the right stick, zooming in with the D-pad so we can scan the farm buildings in the gloom ahead of us.
Doors slam in the wind (or under other circumstances), shadows rush past weak light sources, and dangling chains rattle. In the distance, a woman – possibly Lynn – screams while we weigh up our desire to rescue her with our need to search for batteries to maintain night vision. Here, things appear to have been streamlined: all of the drawers we pass remain mercifully decorative, while our flashing quarry sits on shelves or behind furniture. As well as a power readout in the top-right corner of the screen while using the camera, there’s now also a meter that registers left and right audio channels to help you ascertain where the various ghastly noises the game bombards you with are coming from – although, given the high quality of the stereo mix when using headphones, we’re not yet sure about the reasons for its inclusion.
Where the first game kept a relatively level head for the majority of its duration, only focusing on supernatural events towards the end, Outlast II gets into it more quickly. After an unnerving search around the town we find an old well and, on approach, are prompted to tap X to investigate. Although we’re bracing ourselves for some kind of fright, the giant tongue that wraps around us and drags us into the dark is an unexpected turn of events. As is the realisation that we’re now in a ventilation shaft, and soon after that a brightly lit school room. Red Barrels continues to toy with our sense of time and place as we move, in odd ways, between unconnected areas, the game occasionally toying with floor plans in a similar manner to Layers Of Fear.
The finale of the demo takes place in a cornfield as we try to hide from, and then outrun, a growing band of torch-wielding townsfolk. Stumbling blind into the crop we quickly come up against a barbed-wire fence that can’t be vaulted. Working our way along it, we run into one of the party chasing us, who calls out for his friends as we dash into the closest dark patch of corn and try to work our way back to the fence. Eventually, we find a way through before the full horror of our situation is revealed in a chilling twist that we won’t spoil here.
Outlast’s bold mix of isolated dread and action-packed chase sequences remains the core of the sequel, then, but it’s clear from this short, often terrifying first showing that the studio is going out of its way to rattle players who were only bracing themselves for exactly the same beats as before.
We find a way through before the full horror of our situation is revealed in a chilling twist
There are hints of Resident
Evil 4 and Bloodborne in Outlast II’s characters and environment, but despite a new setting and increased detail, it feels like a clear follow-up to the 2013 title
ABOVE Upside-down crosses abound, along with scrawled religious text, photos of children, and, later on, the butchered bodies of animals
ABOVE Stealth still plays a large part in Outlast II, but where you’d only have to outwit one or two enemies in the first game, here you’ll face entire gangs of hunters
TOP LEFT When it’s not so dark that you have to use your camera, the careful, cinematic lighting of the game’s environments adds to the building tension.
LEFT Screenshots can’t capture the increased sense of life in Outlast II’s creepy environments, in which grass and trees sway, doors flap in the wind, and flies buzz around bloodied hessian sacks drawn over lumpy, unidentifiable piles
The cornfield showcases
Outlast II’s expanded environments, as well as the contrast between the game’s moments of tense sneaking and savage chase sequences