Outlast garnered a lot of attention and praise back when it was released in 2013. Inspired by what Penumbra: Black Plague and Amnesia: Dark Descent did so well, Outlast was basically a first-person hide and seek simulator set within an insane asylum. With no means of fighting off the deranged patients and mutants that hunted you, there was a lot of hiding inside lockers and under beds while eluding capture. Does the sequel hold true to that formula? I played the recently released demo to find out.
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One (Version Played)
Publisher: Red Barrels
Developer: Red Barrels
Genre: First-Person Horror
Release Date: Early 2017
ESRB Rating: Rating Pending
The demo for Outlast II fills us in on the story with on-screen text before anything else. Players assume the role of Blake Langermann, a cameraman and one half of a husband/wife investigative duo who travel the world while chasing after strange mysteries. Catching wind of a nameless woman murdered in a vaguely “impossible” way, the investigation takes them to the Arizona Desert… and then things go a bit poopy.
A quick conversation between the couple played out over a black screen, with audio cues spelling out that their plane has crashed as the ominous title screen appears and fades. Suddenly, I gained control of Blake, who was tumbling end-over-end down a mountain. Off to a great start! Dusting myself off, I retrieved my nerd glasses and hiked to the nearest shanty to knock uselessly on the door, begging for help.
Moving on, it’s clear that I was in a deeply isolated area packed with poorly-built structures. If you played Resident Evil 4, the demo for Outlast II is set in a locale that feels very much like RE4’s opening village area. Animal carcasses rot away in dark corners while swarms of flies buzz around, emitting such a putrid stench that our hero can’t help but react with disgust. It’s definitely eerie. Even so, it does feel a bit lifeless somehow… at least initially. Perhaps more ambient sound would have made a big difference, but as-is, it feels a bit like walking around a movie set after hours.
The night vision camcorder will return in this sequel, continuing Outlast’s found-footage sensibilities. In the first game, filming key scenes earned you notes and logged your progress… though this demo didn’t mention if that aspect would reappear. Instead, the camcorder seems like a tool intended solely for traversal in dark places. A new feature is a noise meter on one side of the camcorder’s HUD, which monitors sound to your immediate left and right.
Exploring this small, odd, ramshackle town revealed just how pretty the graphics are. It isn’t photorealistic by any means, but the game looks great when bathed in shadows and pale moonlight. Noticing the beady, piercing eyes watching from just outside the bordering wooden fence made for a great moment.
After breaking into a few shacks and finding precious batteries for the camcorder, I soon came across the most disturbing sight of the whole experience: an underground lair wherein a pile of dead, freshly-burned children laid partially buried in a shallow grave. I definitely didn’t expect this, and realizing that they weren’t dolls or mannequins was effectively unsettling. Moving past that tragic sight, I came across a stone well with whispered prayers escaping its mouth… and was immediately pulled into it by a comically large tongue. Yup. RESIDENT EVIL CROSSOVER CONFIRMED (OK, not really)!
This somehow placed me in an air duct, which let me briefly preview the “look behind” mechanic that will undoubtedly be used often in the final game. Exiting the ducts, I found myself in a bright, immaculate classroom. It’s only after exiting into the hall when things go awry again, with demented murmurings circling around me. Lockers open and close by themselves, and I soon happened across a locker that somehow belongs to Lynn (Blake’s wife), complete with childhood photos, handwritten notes, and a music box.
Winding up the music box proved to be ill-advised, seemingly calling forth a rather toothy spectre who grabbed me by the head for a little jump scare before scampering off. Entering Lynn’s locker (which sadly leads to more school, and not The Batcave), a ghost of her younger self runs down the hall and… well, hangs herself. Blake finds it all appropriately tough to figure out, and that’s before a mass of ghostly hands and one whip-like tongue pulls her body into a portal on the ceiling. That’s a thing that happened!
After stumbling upon a dementia-addled janitor and fleeing for my life, I passed by someone who was quite excitedly hacking away at bloody meat. I escaped the school and hid inside a barrel while a group of flashlight-wielding goons searched lazily for Blake. This is where the sound meter comes into play, letting me monitor nearby footsteps without looking. After occasionally peeking out of the barrel, I bolted at the first possible chance, raced through a field of
dreams corn, hopped a fence, and quickly came face-to-face with the freakin’ Blair Witch. And all I got was a lousy axe to the crotch for my efforts! THE END.
So, how was it? Ehh. The graphics, level design, controls, and sound design are all quite good — but the jump scares are only going to “get” less seasoned gamers. The best horror titles don’t have to rely on loud noises and cheap tricks to elicit fear, instead finding ways to employ intensely foreboding atmospheres and visuals that disturb you on a primal level. What was shown in Outlast II’s demo is halfway there, due mostly to the unpredictable and varied cast of foes, along with horrific scenes like the fire pit.
The monsters are the most intriguing pieces of this puzzle. The toothy ghost seems built for jump scares, the handy creature with the mile-long tongue could lead to sudden deaths and unexpected location changes, while the townspeople will obviously appear for chases and stealth sections. The witchy woman is a wild card. Regardless of their roles, the designs Ire fantastically creepy.
I wasn’t a fan of the original Outlast, and lost interest in the game’s hide and seek elements after less than an hour. But this demo showed that Outlast II will feature much larger mobs of enemies, and the little glimpse of the air duct segment is already making my imagination run wild. The game certainly has potential, and I look forward to seeing how it fares upon release next year.
The Outlast II demo is now available to download for the PC, PS4, and Xbox One until November 1, 2016.