Friday, June 9, 2017

It shambles well, it does

I believe that Red Barrels is a developer to watch. Not because they make perfect games, or even great games, but because they have shown steady improvement with each of their titles. From Outlast to Whistleblower to Outlast 2 more has worked each time. There are problems with Outlast 2, and I will get to them, but for now I will say that it is as unnerving of a game as I have played since Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

Most of the problems stem from the studio's insistence on a combat free experience. The main character is not a fighter, I get that, but to not even be able to push an enemy down after sneaking behind him goes against the grain of decades of baked in game reflexes. There are a few sections in Outlast 2 that boil down to aimless wandering or to trial and error. Twice you end up in cornfields with enemies searching for you, their flashlights casting terrifying shadows as they mumble bible verses that sound a little too good to not be true. Both times the terror is quickly replaced by annoyance as it is impossible to tell where to go.

Faster paced chase sequences fair better as visual hints are given on which way to turn or which door to enter. A single lit light or cracked door is usually enough to keep the player from being stabbed in the back (and then in the front and then in the face) but these, too, can be reduced to repetition when the next move is not obvious.

Outlast 2 is a very linear game and it falters when it tries to do more than that. There is a reason that haunted houses shuttle you between rooms in a specific order: they are making sure that you see what you paid to see and are scared by it. The game is at its best when it sticks to this formula, allows the player to linger in areas, teases a jump scare and then delays that scare by about a beat and a half. I could still see most of them coming but the good ones arrived about half a second before or after I expected.

The dual world gimmick provides the biggest scares. Seeing a woman broken on a rack or flayed bodies used as wallpaper is certainly uncomfortable but being dropped into a mostly normal school and then stalked by a monster with too many arms and a sharp, prehensile tongue is scary. One example:

This monster had shown up a few times and I knew that my only recourse was to turn the other way and run. One of his final appearances had him chase me into a bathroom with no apparent exit. He killed me several times and on the verge of frustration I paused the retries and thought about it logically: if I was a middle school kid and something big and ugly chased me into the bathroom, what would I do?

So I hid in a stall. That worked for a while, at least until he pounded on the door and killed me again. On the next attempt I waited for the pounding then crawled on the ground between the stalls and snuck out three or four doors down.

I avoided death by thinking like a kid. This section worked and I wish there were more like it.

Like most horror games Outlast 2 did not know quite how to end. It crescendoed right up its own ass and concluded with the end of the fucking world. All in, I suppose. Given the choice between the whole game being in the protagonist's head, caused by microwave transmissions designed to control people's thoughts (this is majority of online explanations) and most of it being 'real' I prefer the end of the world being cannon.

The thought that the evil cult leader was right, that the unborn child the player was trying to save did need to be killed to save the world and that by doing good the player has doomed everyone, is much more frightening than it being an Umbrella level evil science experiment gone wrong.

Outlast 2 was a troubling step in the right direction. I look forward to what Red Barrels does next.

No comments:

Post a Comment