Easily one of my personal most anticipated games of the year, I’ve been waiting with baited breath for every last screenshot, trailer, and news tidbit for the follow-up to Outlast. While there had been “defenseless” horror games before, Outlast‘s unquestionably the title that catapulted the genre up to the next level. Despite the (deserved) hype, there was definitely room for improvement in some of the mechanics and the story’s ending, and thus the anticipation for an impending sequel that works out all the kinks.
It’s a tragedy that we won’t actually get to play the game on Halloween as expected, with Outlast 2 now having been officially pushed back to Q1 2017, but Red Barrels alleviated that pain of loss somewhat by quietly dropping a playable demo on Steam last night.
Out of nowhere, we got the chance to jump right into the terror and get a hint of what’s going on with the storyline. The Outlast series now shifts away from an abusive asylum to a backwoods hillbilly community.
Jumping right in, even the demo’s opening gamma adjustment screen is scary. I literally jumped when I realized there was a looming figure back in the darkness who clearly did not have my best interests in mind.
It’s not entirely clear if what is happening in the demo will be the final story of the base game, but there’s a solid mix of established horror tropes with elements that made Outlast such a fun experience.
A group of investigative journalists are headed into the wilderness of Arizona to uncover a scoop about a missing pregnant woman. Immediately something unclear happens that scares the bejesus out of the crew and causes a vehicle crash. Our main character wakes up injured, alone, and armed only with his camera. Before long we’re exploring some wooden shacks in a seemingly deserted community with a Resident Evil 4 vibe ramped up to the maximum.
Right off the bat there was a concerning issue for me, but it’s simply an issue of some events not triggering properly in the unfinished state of the demo. Inside one of the shacks I came across what was clearly a dead body, but there was no reaction at all from the main character and no ability to interact with the body.
It was an odd sensation, as just moments later the scary music and heavy breathing start up as much less outright horrifying things begin to occur. Hopefully that mistake doesn’t make it into the final product.
Broken Minds And Tentacle Tongues
Before actually getting chased around by any pickaxe or chainsaw-wielding hillbillies, things take a very strange turn that indicate we may be going into cosmic horror / Lovecraft territory. A giant tentacle reaches up out of a well to drag you down into… a Catholic school in the past?
There’s definitely a psychological element to the horror here (assuming these story segments make it into the final game) as you explore things back in ’95 and see ghostly echoes of events long gone that affected the other members of your crew.
The demo features an incredibly effective scene when transitioning out of the past and back into the present that is just absurdly disorienting, and thrusts you into a mad dash for your life. The whole scene is handled much better than in the first game as the journalist realizes he’s somewhere very dangerous and flight is better than any misguided notions of fight.
Keeping up that psychological aspect, it’s totally up in the air if any of this is actually happening and the main character is just crazy… or if he’s going mad due to whatever weird religious rituals are being enacted by the Hills Have Eyes wannabees.
Sound continues to play a huge role in the experience, and as before this is clearly going to be a game meant to be played with the headphones on and the lights firmly shut off. From floorboard creaks to that cringe-inducing squish sound as you move across a room filled with dead babies, you want to hear every echo and scream in stereo.
The cornfield scene first witnessed in the trailers is legitimately tense, with multiple people searching for you in a much larger area than anything from the first game. You’ll feel the sweat roll down your brow, while watching the direction of your pursuers’ flashlights and hoping they don’t come near so you can sneak off… or madly run for you life.
A Shift In Story And Tone
Although it’s never directly stated, there’s a clear underlying implication that for all their horrible deeds, the crazed farmers are trying to stave off something worse – something that you, yourself, are likely responsible for.
From a vision of your friend hanging herself as a schoolgirl, the way the hooded lady at the end goes out of the way to attack your genitals, the dead babies and bloody manger scene… there’s a very strong theme going on here of something being born and sex being a bad thing.
We may be having some sort of Silent Hill 2 scenario here with the protagonist, especially when you take a second look at that tentacle that drags you into the past and realize it looks suspiciously like a tongue.
The Bottom Line
Story changes aside, the most impressive thing about this demo was how there’s already less railroading in one direction, and a smaller chance of getting annoyed — while trying to figure out which corridor, crawl space, or tiny gap, the developers want you to take.
From the religious and cosmic horror themes to the greatly improved game mechanics, the demo clearly did its job and has this player at least even more excited for the full game than before.
If you’ve already played, what did you think of the Outlast 2 demo, and do you think it will live up the hype and eclipse the original game?