Reviews May 17, 2017

Outlast II

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Reviewed By: Matt Paprocki
System: PS4 (Also on Xbox One, PC)
Genre: Survival Horror
Rated: M
Players: 1
Cost: $39.99
Release Date: 04/25/2017
Publisher: Red Barrels Studio
Developer: Red Barrels Studio

Utilizing the outlandish American Southerner trope – and with unfortunate timing, too near the equally trope-addled Resident Evil 7 – Outlast II’s derivative horror exterior is a bit of a con. Underneath the images of shack-dwelling, machete-wielding people comes an unexpectedly outspoken story of extreme Christianity.

Religious implications hit with force. Plot developments utilize real world headlines, despite inherent fantasy qualities in the story. The more fantastic Outlast II becomes with its fiction though, the more personally resentful it feels toward religious institutions.

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Twenty-something protagonist Blake Langerman often flashes back to an incident at his Catholic grade school, seamlessly intertwined with his jaunt through an unspecified cross-section of the Bible Belt. While a bit of a lug in terms of heroics (Langerman is typically voiceless and out to rescue his wife. Ho hum.) what he witnesses is cult-like behavior between two Christian sects. Even without a central antagonist for most its (too many) hours, Outlast II finds a villain in its exaggerated spin on hyper-conservatism. Those bound to Christian teachings on Outlast II barely function above movie zombies. It’s not subtle and feels spiteful on the part of developer Red Barrels Studio.

Although bothered by a languid pacing, the run through Outlast II is deviously beautiful. Committed to hard shadows and sublime use of light, this entire space comes rife with intelligent framing. For first-person, few are better at establishing space and maintaining a cinematic punch. Outlast II is, partially, Blair Witch – Langerman keeps a video camera close on the right trigger, a half-in take on found footage. Importantly, the compositions work. Drizzling light through cracked shutters, backlighting threats, forcing uncomfortable shadows, and raining mist over everything, Outlast II’s aesthetic eye towers over its B-level construct.

Outlast II needs a few logic lapses to work. It’s unnecessarily bogged down by collectibles, less obvious a video game through its interactivity than distributing plot devices on pieces of glowing paper. Also, Langerman’s camera needs constant batteries, AAs no less, as if any handheld cam in 2017 still uses disposables. Good thing these cults, infatuated with morbidly desecrating their dead and suffering from leprosy, made trips to Wal-Mart to stay well stocked on Energizers. Langerman has no offense either, not even a push. Pitchforks stuck in hay must be equivalent to the Arthurian sword in the stone. Fear feels artificially inflated as a result, even if the well-considered audio design works as intended.

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But, Outlast II is dumb only as necessitated by convention. No excuses – Outlast II makes those mistakes and suffers as a result. As it continues, Outlast II doesn’t recuse itself from tougher material. Some of this embeds into the plot organically, others with aimless, empty Eli Roth shock value, including a side character discussing his daughter’s rape. That character is never seen again.

In that sense, Outlast II needed a developed, exuberant antagonist. More specifically, a visage of Jim Jones to whom Outlast II holds disdain. The links to Jones’ Peoples Temple, although extreme and exaggerated, stand by. Environments stuff themselves with erratically placed crucifixes and related statues. Knife-wielding denizens charge at Langerman spouting bible verses, or the warped versions as taught by their cult leader. Via scattered paperwork, there’s a cop out and it’s a narrative mistake, albeit one with a possible glimpse at further parable.

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Even with those judgment errors, Outlast II’s cynical look at religion and how people turn away from faith gives something to drive it, as opposed to Resident Evil 7’s tawdry mimic of ‘70s splatter cinema. When successful, Outlast II’s smart use of found footage flair doesn’t feel tired. It’s too unique and driven not by way of the man-saves-girl rut, but the splendid use of light and dark to best extol this take on zealotry.

Gameplay: 8
Somewhat nonsensical when it comes to a lack of offensive maneuvers, Outlast II draws on its avoidance of sluggish puzzles and stealth to work as intended.

Graphics: 9
Stellar and smart use of shadows probably covers some technical shortcomings, but their placement gives the game a brilliant look.

Sound: 9
Standard horror fare, including iffy voice work. Screeching enemies and silent, nighttime scenery pay off in terms of dramatic weight.

Replay Value: 6
Not much reason to go back. Some might do so for the collectibles or the challenge presented via higher difficulties.

Final Score:

8