Initially I was hoping to quickly blast through and review Outlast 2, but after playing for only a few hours, I just can’t find the will to play it. And here’s why.
Hot off the heels from my time with Resident Evil 7, I was more than ready for another horror romp with Outlast 2. But while both games appeared similar on the outside, my time with the former made me surprisingly aware of Outlast 2’s failings.
Like its predecessor, Outlast 2 arms you with only a camera and the ability to run and hide from enemies. There is no combat, and running and hiding is your only option when spotted by foes. But what at first seemed like a perfect opportunity to increase player vulnerability and tension quickly devolves into frustration and trial-and-error, effectively killing the horror and fun factor.
Take this moment for instance, the last part I played through before finally losing interest: After making my way sneaking through a small village to turn on a generator, I had to double-back through my path again to reach my destination. Passing a crazed woman preaching about death and blood and stuff, I carefully crept through houses and trees to get to my goal. Suddenly, a large enemy was alerted to my presence and ran straight at me, ending my game, because of course, without combat, encounters usually end in death.
Trying again, I reached the same spot, making sure I wasn’t within eyesight. Still, the enemy saw me and ran straight at me, resulting in a game over. I tried again and again, eventually realizing the game had decided there was no way to sneak past this enemy, and I just had to run.
This too proved to be a challenge, as further runs would have me mockingly reciting the mad woman’s words as I passed by her, before desperately running around and trying to outmaneuver the enemy’s AI pathing. And that’s when it struck me – Outlast 2 simply isn’t a very good horror game.
This of course is just one instance of the game’s frustrating lack of any means in dealing with enemies, or its over-reliance on hide-and-seek gameplay, except when it suddenly decides you can’t do that anymore. The whole encounter and others like it were ironically punctuated by the multitude of possible weapons I’d run by in these skirmishes – axes, pitchforks, even boards of wood that your character should think to arm themselves with, but never does.
Outlast 2 attempts to bridge the gap between walking simulator-esque horror games like Layers of Fear, and more involved, gameplay-heavy games like the aforementioned Resident Evil 7. This style of horror gameplay was notable in 2010’s Amnesia: The Dark Descent, which also featured hiding mechanics in place of combat. But while these rules made sense in Amnesia, as enemy encounters were actually less frequent and the enemies themselves were much more monstrous, this style simply does not translate to Outlast 2.
As opposed to Amnesia, Outlast 2 features more enemy encounters and the enemies themselves are far less atrocious. For the most part, you’ll just be fighting regular people, some of which look like they shouldn’t actually be able to put up much of a fight at all, yet our protagonist is totally accepting of a swift death when grabbed by them.
And it’s not that invulnerable enemies are a bad idea either, at least in moderation. Pyramid Head from Silent Hill 2 and Nemesis from Resident Evil 3 are classic monsters in horror game history for a reason. These monsters instilled a fear like none other in their respective games because the player was forced to run from them, standing out among the comparatively more vulnerable enemies. When every enemy holds the same power in Outlast 2, none of them are intriguing.
Ironically, in Outlast 2’s attempt to make itself scarier by eliminating combat, it falls back into frustration and lost immersion, killing the sense of horror. Series like Resident Evil and Silent Hill instill dread in their combat by placing in the player’s hands whether they live or die. Every encounter had stakes and tension, both within the moment itself and in the overall game depending on how much ammo or health was lost.
On their default setting, the combat was also often balanced well enough that a casual player could just scrape by each of them, only suffering a game over maybe a few times in the process.
Outlast 2 loses out on this entire dynamic and actually becomes much more binary in its mechanics. And when you misunderstand where and when exactly it wants you to run and hide, resulting in possibly multiple retries, all tension is gone. The ultimate killer of horror is repetition and frustration, which is unfortunately what Outlast 2’s mechanics are built on.
There is a way to do this type of game right. Amnesia proved it was possible, and moments in Outlast 2 are truly memorable and terrifying. Unfortunately, its underlying mechanics and genre are often at odds with each other, too simply slipping into trial-and-error and leading to annoyance rather than fear. Playing Outlast 2 ultimately was a disappointment, but hopefully next time they’ll just let us pick up a shovel or something.