Out­last 2

PC, PS4, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES -

Very early on in Out­last 2 we find our­selves scream­ing on the ground, pe­nis sev­ered, as we bleed out from our freshly in­flicted in­jury. It’s a hor­ri­fy­ing, grotesque mo­ment, and a par­tic­u­larly sticky end for pro­tag­o­nist and cam­era­man Blake Langer­mann. But it’s also one of many we en­dure over the next few min­utes as we at­tempt to deal with the tall, hooded, spiked-ham­mer-wield­ing fe­male who emerges from the fog, on cue, ev­ery time we pass a trig­ger point in that sec­tion of the level.

On our se­cond at­tempt we edge for­ward to the line that sets the AI in mo­tion, and are cut down by the fast-mov­ing woman as we at­tempt to turn tail and run. The third time, we man­age to hide be­hind a run-down shack and then watch as she despawns – only to reap­pear 30 sec­onds later and plunge her weapon into our ab­domen af­ter we fail to lo­cate the exit. On our fourth run at it we at­tempt to dash straight past her and suf­fer a sim­i­lar fate. Dur­ing the fifth, we climb into a locked house through the win­dow, but find no way through. We come back out and fi­nally spot that there’s a nar­row gap be­neath the wall of a barn that we can wrig­gle un­der – but we’re ex­e­cuted while do­ing so. On our sixth try we make it through, bleed­ing from a glanc­ing blow, and dust our­selves off.

By this point, any ten­sion that was present when we first ven­tured into the set-piece has been en­tirely wrung out and re­placed with frus­tra­tion and hol­low re­lief. And it’s just one of many such en­coun­ters, where the mar­gins for er­ror are so fine that they feel more like me­chan­i­cal ob­sta­cle cour­ses than spa­ces in which to panic and im­pro­vise – some­thing the first Out­last pro­vided in spades. One sec­tion later on, in­volv­ing two ene­mies and a claus­tro­pho­bic dorm area, feels more like a clock­work puz­zle than a stealth-sur­vival chal­lenge, such is the speci­ficity of the course you’re re­quired to steer through it.

The over­bear­ing in­flu­ence of Red Bar­rels’ ap­par­ent de­sire to cre­ate a more cu­rated, di­rected ex­pe­ri­ence is com­pounded by a break­down in read­abil­ity. While you can hide in cup­boards, crouch in long grass and skulk in the shad­ows, it’s hard to know whether you’re vis­i­ble. The ab­sence of any kind of me­ter would be fine were it not for the un­pre­dictable re­ac­tions of the AI – ene­mies might miss you from a few feet away, or yank you out of a hid­ing place you clam­bered into long be­fore their ar­rival. The en­tire game is shrouded in at­mo­spheric dark­ness and fog, but the way for­ward (or even what’s ex­pected of you in a given area) is of­ten ob­fus­cated to a de­gree that doesn’t feel sport­ing. One par­tic­u­larly far­ci­cal mo­ment sees us lead a conga line of mur­der­ous hill­bil­lies around a swamp as we look for the right build­ing to leap through to get to the next area.

Don’t get us wrong: Out­last 2 is a ter­ri­fy­ing game, and some sec­tions are un­bear­ably tense. Even more so than the orig­i­nal game, Red Bar­rels’ se­quel chan­nels the ex­cel­lent 2005 hor­ror flick The De­scent dur­ing its nerve-shred­ding endgame. It’s also the grimmest, dark­est hor­ror game in re­cent mem­ory, and the un­re­lent­ingly nasty nature of its sub­ject mat­ter, though won­der­fully writ­ten, may prove too much for some. How­ever, it’s telling that the one se­quence dur­ing which we ac­tu­ally feel like we’re hav­ing fun –a short cat-and-mouse hunt in a pitch-black, par­tially flooded un­der­ground space in the com­pany of a crazed, torch-wield­ing pur­suer – feels like a di­rect lift from the first game. At least the cast’s per­for­mances are en­thu­si­as­tic. Langer­mann re­acts with nat­u­ral­is­tic hor­ror and be­muse­ment at the aw­ful sit­u­a­tions he wit­nesses or en­dures while search­ing for his miss­ing wife, in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist and re­porter Lynn, and wres­tles with demons from his past. The gib­ber­ing cultists that you en­counter through­out the game are gen­uinely un­nerv­ing, too, and a fine com­ple­ment to the game’s pow­er­ful, un­set­tling sound de­sign.

Red Bar­rels also toys with your senses to a greater de­gree than in the first game. Bright flick­er­ing light sources are mis­chie­vously placed right in the mid­dle of oth­er­wise pitch-black chase se­quences, for ex­am­ple, the abrupt change in il­lu­mi­na­tion forc­ing you to switch be­tween your cam­era’s night vi­sion and nor­mal set­tings while you des­per­ately look for a way to es­cape what­ever is chas­ing you.

Out­last 2 also in­tro­duces a new me­chanic in the form of a sen­si­tive cam­era mi­cro­phone. Us­ing it al­lows you to lo­cate en­emy po­si­tions through walls and in to­tal dark­ness with­out re­sort­ing to the more bat­tery-hun­gry night-vi­sion mode, though you can have both modes ac­tive at once if you choose. It’s a smart idea, but while a cou­ple of se­quences make good use of this game­play de­vice, it never feels like Red Bar­rels ex­plores its full po­ten­tial. The same is true of the newly in­tro­duced op­tion to peek while hang­ing from a ledge, for that mat­ter, which – on nor­mal dif­fi­culty, at least – is en­tirely un­nec­es­sary.

On fin­ish­ing the first Out­last we im­me­di­ately started the game over again on the high­est dif­fi­culty set­ting, such was the po­tency of its de­pic­tion of vul­ner­a­bil­ity and the lee­way it gave you to im­pro­vise, and run and hide from dan­ger. How­ever, by the time we reached the end of Out­last 2 we felt drained for all the wrong rea­sons. In leav­ing the con­fines of its pre­de­ces­sor’s psy­chi­atric hospi­tal set­ting for the wilds of south­ern Ari­zona, Red Bar­rels’ hor­ror se­ries has some­how be­come more lin­ear and less pli­able. And now, in the long shadow cast by Cap­com’s ex­cel­lent Res­i­dent Evil VII, Red Bar­rels’ macabre tricks are made to ap­pear some­what less daz­zling.

Any ten­sion that was present when we first ven­tured into the set-piece has been wrung out and re­placed with frus­tra­tion

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