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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Outlast 2.

Transcript Edit

In the popular sub-genre of "first-person horror games where you have all the defensive capability of a daddy longlegs in the hand of a schoolboy with a difficult home life" (of which indie developers produce at a near-constant stream because all they need is some corridors, a lighting engine, and a soundtrack made by repeatedly sitting on the arse-end of a piano keyboard), the first Outlast was arguably the benchmark-setter, a highly disturbing haunted mansion ride through a corrupted asylum that illustrated just how terrifying a thing the human penis can be when it's bathed in night-vision green and bouncing festively back and forth as it comes at you in a poorly-maintained public lavatory. It also had a plot that left a lot of unanswered questions, and now the sequel, Outlast 2, is adding another fairly significant one, namely, "What the fuck happened?!"

On the surface, the formula hasn't changed much: first-person, lost in Crazytown, lots of hiding from glowing green todgers. So why did Outlast 2 feel like such a third-place trophy full of spit? Maybe we've changed; maybe Resident Evil 7 broke the spell on these hidey-chasey horror games when it discovered that, hey, turns out having a gun does help! Wish I'd known that when I was in Slender Man's woods looking for me maths homework.

But anyway, you are ace cameraman Blake Something-or-other, who comes with his wife to hillbilly murderer country to cover a story, and makes the rookie error of showing up in a helicopter, which, in video game intro sequences, hold together like a Jammie Dodger in the back pocket of a pair of jogging bottoms. So the inevitable happens, and he's got to rescue his wife from both a Christian death cult and a Pagan death cult that appear to be at odds, but seem to find plenty of common ground when it comes to doing horrible, horrible things to Blake's gormless ass. Again, maybe Resident Evil 7 ruined this with all that chainsaw-based overzealous manicure business, because I swear, Outlast 2 is trying to break the "horrible, inescapable torture in first-person" record. Fucking hell, it's like The Passion of the Christ: VR Edition!

You want to know the precise moment Outlast 2 lost me? It was five minutes in, when I was spotted by the very first enemy before I could possibly have spotted them, whereupon they ran up and smashed me in the dick with a scythe, and then had to endure the spectacle of blood spurting from my brand-new vagina before the quickload kicked in and I was back on my feet, todger restored, barely fifty yards back. Instantly, all tension was broken; I'd seen things get as bad as they were ever going to get, especially after I got traumatically todger-tackled two more times before I realized I couldn't just sprint past the enemy, but had to sort of lure them away and give them a bit of the runaround first. So everything that was supposed to scare me from that point on was just an annoyance, 'cos the game had blown its load in the torture porn and I knew the autosaves had my back.

Part of the annoyance was that yeah, evading enemies is a perfectly adequate core mechanic, but there are two sides to that coin, Benedict Run-berbatch: running away and running to, and Outlast 2 never makes it clear where we're supposed to be running to. That's pretty obvious in a corridor, but most of Outlast 2 takes place outdoors, in the wilderness, where the difference between a plant we can push through and one with invisible walls around it can only be established by smashing headlong into it as a platoon of fundamentalists jab at our heels with pitchforks.

There are one or two bits where you have to search a cornfield for the exit while being hunted by multiple rednecks that's about as much fun as playing Pac-Man blindfolded in a sports bar where the power got cut halfway through the Super Bowl. Mind you, seems like all the other chase sequences take place in tight, linear environments where gameplay descends into trial and error, and again, I'm not frightened, I'm annoyed. Every time I'm chased into another non-obvious dead end, it's annoying in the same way as losing another round of Connect Four to a hyperactive twelve-year-old with poor sportsmanship.

So it's back to the loading screen to be alone with my nagging thoughts again, such as, "Why the fuck is Blake still filming this?" I know that's the Sword of Damocles that hangs over the plot of every found footage horror film, but in Outlast 1, it made sense; we were trying to document something to bring the perpetrators to justice. I think rescuing our wife should be a slightly higher priority than getting this isolated murder cult onto Judge Judy, Blake, mate. And one would think you'd want a hand free, to defend yourself and to dig the nails out of your flesh. "Yahtzee, clearly Blake needs the camera's night-vision mode to see in all the places that aren't lit by strung-up, burning homosexuals." All right, but why does he keep recording stuff, and why can we watch the stuff he records back to hear some of his internal thoughts on them, like he's boring us to death with his holiday snaps? "And this is the mass grave I had to claw out of, and there's me being violated, and there's me being violated from a slightly different angle, and there's me hallucinating my old elementary school, but obviously, you can't see that, because it was conjured from my fevered brain!"

Which brings me to one of the more baffling aspects of Outlast 2's story, that every now and again, Blake finds himself in a hallucinatory vision of his old school, and each time, it's hinted with varying degrees of subtlety that something traumatic happened there that went entirely beyond the cafeteria food. Now, I've played enough horror games to know that no story delves this much into the main character's seemingly-unrelated backstory without there being a big, juicy twist at the end showing how it connects to the main plot. The problem is - and here we take the exit ramp onto Spoiler Avenue, so if you're going to play this game, then cover your eyes and stick hissing cobras down your ears for the next few minutes - THERE IS NO CONNECTION! I played all the way to the end where we find out what exactly happened to Blake as a kid, and it's completely unrelated to the hillbilly murder cult he's having to deal with in the present day.

So to coin a phrase, "The fuck?" Am I reading this right? Blake responds to the hideous trauma of his situation by daydreaming about a different trauma that happened in his past? Doesn't seem very likely; personally, I'd daydream about something nice to take my mind off it, like a friendly dog with the voice of Bob Ross. Maybe I missed something; the childhood trauma involves a religious person being a bastard, so maybe that's the connection: don't trust those religious people, Blake, even if they are just trying to make sauerkraut out of your joy department.

I don't know. I didn't "get" Outlast 2; I didn't "get" what the school stuff was for, or why that lady gave birth at the end, or even what made the helicopter crash in the first place, except that it was a video game intro and that's the fucking law. I'm not even sure there was anything to get; maybe it was just a slapped-together series of horror and torture porn ideas, brainstormed by a group of oily fifteen-year-olds whose parents let them drink too much soft drinks and watch late-night television. It's pretentious, as well, with all the religious imagery and messing with our sense of reality, but at the end of the day, the only thing you need to "outlast" is your fucking gag reflex.

Addenda Edit

  • Who art in Heaven: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Anyway everyone knows a scythe isn't a very efficient weapon 'cos the blade faces inwards
  • Remember kids, crucify through the wrists, not the palms
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart

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