Developer: Red Barrels
Publisher: Red Barrels
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: March 27, 2018
Red Barrels’ terrifying first-person horror adventure Outlast 2 arrived a month after the original game and its accompanied DLC stealthily released onto the Switch’s eShop. While Outlast and its Whistleblower chapter have been available elsewhere for quite a while, I was initially concerned with how much the developers would have to alter the sequel in order for it to run properly on Nintendo’s newest hybrid console.
As it turns out, not a lot. It still feels like the same brilliantly paced horror experience, albeit greatly heightened by the Switch’s wonderful handheld mode.
You play as Blake Langermann, a camera operator, who flies out to the rural desert of Arizona with his wife (and journalist) Lynn to investigate the mysterious death of a pregnant Jane Doe; found wandering on the side of a road with tons of mercury in her bloodstream. Following a flash of light, their helicopter crashlands in the Supai region, which according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture is the “most remote community” in the entirety of the United States. Supai is eight miles from any road, has no automobiles, and to this day their mail is still delivered by mule. It’s safe to say that Blake and Lynn are now stuck out in the middle of nowhere.
When Blake awakens from the crash, his wife is nowhere to be found and their pilot has been skinned and bound to a nearby tree. However, things are about to get much, much worse. Using a combination of wits and a night vision camcorder, your goal is to traverse the town of Temple Gate, where all of the children have been made into religious sacrifices and the cult-like, backwoods citizens plan to use Lynn’s womb to birth the antichrist. Good times!
Similar to the original Outlast, Blake isn’t a fighter. With that in mind, the game is split into three styles of play. About half of your time will be spent stealthily exploring the area, avoiding the locals and documenting important information with your camera, while the other has you running for dear life and hiding under beds, in wardrobes, or inside of barrels to avoid being disemboweled. Outlast 2 is a tale of two stories, so the third style of play is more of an exploratory horror experience inside of a Catholic school that serves to delve into Blake’s past.
The Jonestown Massacre-inspired narrative weaves between past and present fairly well and dishes out an interesting, albeit terrifying tale that puts Blake and Lynn through the ringer. It pulls no punches, both in terms of its visceral presentation and religious fanaticism, which I appreciate. If this is a path you want to go down with your story, I feel it’s important not to tip-toe around anything. However, I did find the ending rather abrupt and unsatisfying. I understood it, but I was certainly hoping for a little more than what was presented.
Outlast 2 doesn’t differ from its predecessor much, but a major new addition is the use of a sensitive microphone that can be used to detect sounds off in the distance. This allows you to keep tabs on unseen enemies and plan your route accordingly. It isn’t used all that much on the default setting, but it’s an absolute must on anything above normal.
When Outlast 2 first released, it was criticized for being a bit too difficult (which I agreed with). Dying in a horror game isn’t a new concept, but in a game with such a heavy focus on narrative, it was never fun to see repeated “game over” screens within the same sections. It put a halt to progression and interrupted the flow of the story in a way that became more annoying than terrifying (since most spooky bits lost their luster after the first scare). The Nintendo Switch version released with a brand new Story Mode difficulty, which significantly reduces the rate of enemy encounters and damage received to make it a more narrative-friendly experience.
As for how the game is different from its previous iterations, given the Switch is less powerful than the Xbox One, PS4, and PC, it’s mostly minor adjustments to the environmental effects and a few liberties have been taken with the game’s textures. Some scenes with dramatic weather effects have been toned down, while others have had intense lighting and fog reduced. I didn’t notice much of a change at all during my playthrough, and it wasn’t until I stumbled upon this YouTube video that helped put the changes into perspective, but if you’re a stickler for resolution then you may be a bit pickier than I am. Either way, this is a very faithful port.
Like the original game, the Nintendo Switch version of Outlast 2 is definitely my favorite. It has little to no immediately discernable graphical differences and what adjustments have been made went entirely unnoticeable to someone already familiar with its previous release on PC. What makes the Switch version so great is the ability to play such an intense horror experience up close and personal in handheld mode; especially with headphones plugged in.
If you’ve already played through Outlast 2, there isn’t much here that’s going to draw you back, though. The new Story Mode isn’t exclusive to the Switch, which went out as a free update on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. But if you’re into horror games and itching to try something new, I can’t recommend Outlast 2 enough. The storytelling is excellent (until the end), the atmosphere is nearly unparalleled, and everything is nicely intensified in handheld mode.
*a copy of this game was provided by the developer.