Could Blizzard learn from themselves for Overwatch?

As I’ve talked about before, I’ve found myself in some kind of insidious trap created by Blizzard. What started out as just an excursion to get a couple of free skins for Overwatch during it’s cross-promotional event with Heroes of the Storm has spiralled out of control. I’m caught in a loop of playing either Heroes of the Storm just so I can get that sweet, sweet gold, or grinding out boxes in Overwatch because that Jazzy Lucio skin isn’t going to unlock itself. Blizzard is by no means a perfect company, but whoever designs their addiction loops needs another raise.

Hell it’s gotten to the point where I’m talking about both games on this blog, basically giving them free press, just because I’m a gamer with poor self control, exactly the kind of guy Blizzard prays on. This is some late stage capitalism stuff: the company doesn’t even need to offer any incentive to get numb-nuts like me to talk about their products. (That being said, if anyone from Blizzard is reading this, I’ll just say that I accept payment in loot boxes. Hit me up.)

Playing these two games side by side got me thinking about something, however. While both are extremely good games in their own rights, I do wonder if Overwatch wouldn’t benefit from having just a little bit more Heroes of the Storm in it. Obviously I don’t mean that it should change any mechanics to be like a MOBA, since one of Overwatch’s strengths lie in the simplicity of its shooter nature. What I’m referring to is how Heroes of the Storm really screws with the conventions of its genre.

Way back in 2015, Blizzard made an announcement for an upcoming character for Heroes of the Storm that nearly made me perform a double take. I hadn’t even touched the game at this time, and indeed this was even before I had even thought about playing a MOBA, but I was still surprised by the mechanics of this new character. Namely, it was a single character being controlled by two different players at the same time. The character’s name was Cho’Gall, a two headed ogre (one head is called Cho, the other’s Gall) who’s main difficulty for the player(s) is that they require some efficient communications to use properly. Two in synch players who communicate will become terrors on the battlefield; two numptys who aren’t communicating will become a giant and ungainly target.

As well as being a hilarious way to make the conflicting nature that having two heads must be like into a playable mechanic, this was a completely unheard of idea. Even now, years after the fact, I can’t think of another MOBA that has such an odd playable character, and indeed such a thing might be difficult to implement in the more complex environments of other MOBAs. Impressively, Cho’Gall isn’t the only character on HotS’ roster to play in an unconventional manner: Abathur is a character that mainly sits back at base but can ‘be’ anywhere on the map at any given moment. Likewise, you can also play as The Lost Vikings, who are a group of three characters that a single player needs to micromanage.

Like Overwatch’s draw of its varied and appealing cast, one of HotS’ points of interest is just how mechanically unusual its characters can be. While not every character is going to be as nutty as these particular cases, the fact that the developers are willing to even take the time to create and balance these oddballs makes it fairly intriguing. If nothing else, I’m looking forward to seeing what kinds of ideas get implemented in the future.

I’m just wondering, however, if Overwatch wouldn’t benefit from introducing some similar concepts into its roster. I understand that the entire cast have some pretty varied play styles between themselves, but I’d be fascinated if Blizzard’s Overwatch team started to go with some really off the wall ideas like the HotS’ team evidently started to do. Overwatch’s nature of being a first person shooter means it has different limitations than a MOBA, and thus it’s definition of an unusual character is going to be different than HotS’ examples, but I reckon there are concepts that they can use.  Hell, I wouldn’t object if they put in their own version of Cho’Gall, where in two players control some kind of singular character (maybe some kind of Omnic?).

Another idea that Overwatch could benefit from emulating is HotS’ variable map objectives. While the end result tends to be the same thing of either attacking the enemies base/buildings/core, or summoning something to help you attack their bases/buildings/core, Blizzard’s take on the MOBA has a lot of different objectives depending on the map. In some cases, you’re collecting skulls so you can summon a massive monstrosity of an undead to march towards the enemy; in other cases, you’re collecting nuclear warheads so you can directly bombard the enemy. While the end result is always the same, the great variety of objectives and locales hides this fact a fair amount.

While Overwatch’s dedication to capturing areas and pushing payloads means that the developers can keep a tight focus on creating maps that allows everyone in the game’s sizable roster to thrive, it’s hard to not feel like the affair becomes a little ‘samey’ after a while. While the wonderfully weird and gloriously unbalanced Arcade does a lot to alleviate this, I think it wouldn’t exactly hurt the game to introduce more variety in the baseline maps. In particular, I wonder if having some kind of map wherein there were multiple objectives that needed simultaneously capturing might be interesting. As it stands both teams are always heading to the same spot, and while this keeps the games going at a rapid and brutal pace, this does mean that your only state in every match is “engaging in a team-fight.” I understand that having multiple different points to go to might be a nightmare in public matches, or any time where your team isn’t communicating, but such a map might also allow for more interesting team composition, or at least serve to break up the other maps.

Of course, maybe all these ideas are just extremely dumb and wouldn’t work at all. Without some serious testing, a character that works in a completely irregular manner could play hell on the game’s already sometimes sensitive balance. Likewise, maybe the game’s strength lies in the how focused the objectives are, and a map with two simultaneous objectives would be the opposite of fun. I don’t claim to know how things would turn out, but I do think that the ideas are, at the very least, interesting to play around with. Knowing how creative Blizzard can get, I look forward to whatever the hell they do come out with.

The joys and pitfalls of new game-plus content.

One of my favourite parts of the eternally intertwined Drakengard and Nier franchises is how each game in both series has a huge variety of endings. There’s usually around four or five different endings to each game, each requiring different conditions to be met before they can be achieved. These endings also tend to really run a gambit of different scenarios, everything from a “happy” ending all the way up to the literal apocalypse.

Natural to the bleak tones of these games, the latter endings tend to be the true endings.

Most of the enjoyment from these varied endings comes from just watching the characters you’re now familiar with enter into increasingly odd and sometimes desperate situations, and how just a few seemingly inconsequential changes can really shake up the path they take. It’s the wonder of watching the writers really let loose and create some really unforeseeable conclusion that keeps me coming back to find out what every last ending is. That, and the morbid curiosity of how grim the writers can make the situation (the answer is really, REALLY  grim).

There is one facet of this kind of design decision that I kind of go back and forth on, though: the introduction of New-Game-Plus content. For those not in the know, ‘New-Game-Plus’ (or more commonly, NG+) refers to content that is only accessible or only achievable after you’ve beaten the game once through. This usually manifests itself as you keeping all of your stats/levels/equipment in the new run of the game, meaning you can plough through all the challenges that used to give you trouble, and instead focus on new challenges that have cropped up. Different games have different variations on what exactly is unlocked or made available in NG+, although the most common one is some sort of challenge mode that has no bearing on the story. Other games have entire sections of the story revealed only when the player actually reaches these new playthoughs, such as the Nier/Drakengard games.

The reason I say I kind of go back on forth on these kinds of designs is that these are some features of them that I’m not always 100% sure are a good idea, from purely subjective standpoint. One of the main problems I’m really not fond of is when there’s content that is made purposely to only be achievable in NG+, but can be found in the base game. This often results in you running into a fight or challenge that you have no way of actually winning, and thus will sit there taunting you for the rest of the playthrough. This is especially bad if the game doesn’t actually warn you that you’re not meant to even attempt the challenge in the first game, since you might end up thinking that it’s perfectly possible to beat and you’re simply messing up somewhere. What follows is the player repeatedly ramming their head against a brick wall, waiting to see which cracks first. I’ll admit that this is more of a personal issue, since I have a massive OCD about completing major side-objectives and missions. I remember in my first run through Final Fantasy Type-0 that I (despite the game repeatedly warning against such action) actually managed to struggle through several of the insanely high end challenges with an extremely underpowered team. It’s a choice that I regret immensely, since I’m never getting back all that time I spent running poor sods into one hit kill enemies back. Likewise, it might end up with a situation where in it’s perfectly possible to complete, just a massive pain. The combat in Nier Automata means that, even when faced against an extremely powerful opponent, you can actually learn his attack patterns and take him down. The only problem is, you’re dealing about as much as damage as a stiff breeze to him. This means that you will eventually win, but getting there is extremely tedious. Both of these situations are most likely intentional, since the cathartic feeling you get when you’ve beefed up and come back to these challenges can’t be beat, but even so, they can also be the source of a great deal of frustration.

Despite how much I’ll sing its praises, another potential issue could arise if you put crucial parts of the story into the NG+ sections of the game. I personally like this kind of touch, since it’s similar to the game rewarding diligent and committed players for sticking around even when others would have left, however it’s easy for problems to pop up. As an example, here’s my experience (and some borderline spoilers) with the original Nier. In the first Nier game, you go through the entire game thinking it’s a mostly black and white story, with the ghastly and alien looking enemies you’ve been fighting this entire being almost completely unsympathetic. However, EVERY playthrough after that first one goes the entire nine-yards to make you realize that you have been aggressively misled this entire time. It’s genuinely well done twist, and eventually culminates in one of the most heartbreaking instances of integrating the mechanical parts of a video game to the story. I, however, didn’t realize any of this after I immediately stopped after the first ending. I got up as the credits were rolling and said ‘yep, that was a fun video game,’ and left. I didn’t even realize there were any alternative endings, let alone all the crazy stuff that’s revealed as time goes on. I only found out about them years later, when I saw a Let’s Play that went on for a suspiciously long time.
Basically, putting important parts of the story, while super cool, is also a pretty big risk, since a lot of people aren’t even going to stick around to see them. Like I said, I think this is actually a really interesting idea, especially since pretty much every Nier and Drakengard games have standard happy, ‘quest complete’ endings as their first, which lowers your guard for how screwed up things become. It appears that Square Enix was aware of this when they published Nier Automata, since they put a message right at the end of the first run warning against leaving at that moment. None of the other games in the series were as direct as this one instance, usually only putting a cryptic message at the end with a single letter highlighted (both series break their endings down into ‘Ending A/B/C/D’ etc.). While in this day and age where every secret a game has is already known before it’s even out makes this kind of a moot problem, I still think it can be a stumbling block in some instances.

That all being said, I’m not going to deny that there are plenty of positives that introducing NG+ content can do for a game. The most simple, clear and obvious of these is the fact that it’s just more to actually do, and especially more to do for the more committed fans. Most games end when the main events of the story are done, and most players will be content to call it quits at that point and move on to the next game. However, if you like a game enough to carry on even further beyond that, it’s useful if the developer also thought that far ahead, and added enough new stuff to keep you going for at least some time. How much a developer is going to be willing to add to a section of the game that not a whole lot of players are going to see is something that’s going to vary from project to project. If we continue to use the Nier and Drakengard games as examples, those games have a ton of unique content that only gets used after the first play through. However, considering that one could make an argument that seeing the various endings is a core part of the experience, you could argue that’s not a great example. A clearer cut example would be in the now pretty old Vagrant Story: in addition to the standard fair of letting you keep all of your items and levels, you can now access bonus dungeons with sweet loot at the end. In many ways, adding NG+ content like this is just giving you an excuse to keep playing a game you already enjoy, which is pretty great in every sense.

Another big positive is the fact it really lets the developers go nuts with creating new challenges. Difficulty is something that is, funnily enough, not always easy to manage. We’ve kind of talked about how making something too difficult can push away potential players, but just reiterative, an important part of making a game is knowing just who the heck you’re making it for in terms of difficulty. Making something too easy is going to be bore players, but likewise making something too difficult is going to turn a lot of people off. The beauty of NG+ content is that you know two things for certain: one, if the player has made it this far, they’re going to be up to taking on really challenging encounters. Two, they’re probably looking for really challenging encounters. Games are all about overcoming obstacles, and as you get better at beating the snot out of whatever had the bad luck to get in your way, you’re going to want the challenges to become even tougher to challenge your growing skill. It stands to reason that, if you’re still up for more after the point where most people are willing to leave a game, you’ll be actively looking for the most challenging battles a developer can program. This is good for the player, but it also allows the developer to let loose. After holding back on making all the brutal ideas and instances for fear of scaring off potential players, they can finally throw together what crazy hard challenges they want. It’s a win-win situation, as long as you’re actually seeking the kind of stuff these kind of challenges offer.

In the end, like nearly every matter we talk about on this site, this going to have to judge on a case by case basis. Different games are going to have different capabilities to even support a NG+ mode, let alone make it worthwhile. Not to mention that there’s so many different ways to actually implement such an addition that it not really something you can just toss a blanket statement over it. On top of all of that, it’s something that can only be determined by individual opinion for the player; a game might have an extensive NG+ in place, but there’s point toiling through it if the player didn’t enjoy the base game enough. Still, also like nearly every matter we talk about, it’s been interesting to think about a subject in more detail than I would have normally. As always, thanks for sticking with the ramble of thought, and may all of your the NG+’s be deep and engaging experiences.

Outlast 2’s expert horror pacing.

Games, like any medium in existence, require careful thought on their pacing.

Good pacing is necessary in pretty much every type of entertainment; from how many explosions are occurring per minute in an action movie, to how a mystery is unravelling in a sleuthing book, it’s all a matter of making sure your audience is getting what they need when they need it. Games in particular need a great deal of planning to ensure that the ebb and flow of gameplay is developing/changing at a rate that remains interesting. Even a short game is a fairly long commitment of time for a consumer, and requires a much more direct input from the ‘audience’ then most other mediums. To that end, you need to make sure you’re holding your player’s attention through pretty much every step of the way. On the other side of the argument you need to make sure you’re not overwhelming your audience, or rushing through things at a too rapid pace. Like many things, good pacing requires balance.

In no other type of game is this more evident and more required than in a horror game. Horror is an element that isn’t the easiest to quantify, but (perhaps appropriately) much like comedy, a pretty large part of executing a good horror product is all about timing. Just throwing jump-scares at a player unendingly is a trait that I’d assign more to a ‘thriller’ or something of that nature. Genuinely good horror lets the player feel the tension in the air and the general creepiness of a local, maybe without anything popping up at all. The pacing of a good horror game knows when it’s the right time to build suspense and when to scare the heck out of the player, but also knows when they have to let the player just wander around without too much suspense holding them back: giving the player time to breathe just means that they have more breath to lose when you go in for the sucker punch.

Outlast 2 has a very particular example of how to handle pacing, and it’s pretty well executed. The game starts out really slowly: while you are creeping through dilapidated fields and houses occupied by insane and religious rednecks, it feels oddly underwhelming. The environments are wide and the enemies telegraph their positions with their flashlights, making it fairly easy to sneak around them. And while the game’s newest stalking brute, Marta, is actually incredibly intimidating, she appears only infrequently. There’s no doubt that discovering all of the atrocities that the residents of Temple Gate regularly commit is an unsettling affair, but so far the journey is no worse than the events of the first Outlast game.

But then something odd starts to occur. There was a small segment right at the start of the game wherein Blake (the main character) has some kind of nightmare-affected flashback of his days back in the fourth grade at his creepy catholic school. Not only do these weird flashbacks start to occur much more frequently, but they start to become much more actively dangerous and disquieting. And then, just when you think it can’t get much worse, the horror that’s been chasing you through the school appears in reality…

The game really does start to become relentless in utilising this aspect. The trips to the school start off being pretty rare and, while highly disturbing, are also completely without threat. But before you really realize it, you’re slipping into the school at least once in every section of the game, and suddenly its hallowed halls are home to the game’s most disturbing and dangerous enemy. Suddenly, the only break you really have are in those quiet moments spent staggering down both the real world and school’s various passages and routes, and even then you’re on edge that something could be waiting for you around every corner. And all the while, it’s becoming harder and harder to determine what exactly is and isn’t real anymore.

It should be too much: the pace is aggressive, and you’re barely finished reeling from one trip through the school’s shadowed corridors before you’re being thrown right back into it. But it actually works really well. By the time you reach this point in the game, Blake’s personal monologues and mutterings are starting to become increasingly unhinged and unfocused, as if he’s starting to lose his grip on reality. The rapid change of locations helps to sell the player on this disorientated and confused portrayal, and probably makes them empathise with it.

What should be a ‘too rapid for its own good’ kind of pacing ends up working more effectively, since the game actually restrained itself in the beginning hours of the play through. It feels like the pacing is ramping up appropriately alongside the story and events of the game, and indeed is tied directly into the mental state of the main character. It was definitely worth having that opening part of the game be slightly weaker in the long term, since it makes the second half of the game feel much more unsettling, stronger and memorable because of it.

What’s interesting is that the first Outlast game did something very much in the same vein, but it didn’t work nearly as well. As you make your way around the asylum, you begin to notice some kind of shadowy… thing is creeping around, phasing through walls and doors. The main character of that game likewise begins to question if he’s just going insane, but it actually turns out that there’s a logical (?) explanation for all of it. It turns out that Murkoff Corporation, continuing the proud tradition of all morally black companies in video games, were running a secret underground lab, wherein they were attempting to create a super-ghost-soldier. Or something. It’s around this point in the game wherein all of the other antagonists are dead, dying, simply gone or perhaps escaped, and now the only antagonist left is the ghost of the ‘Walrider.’

This should be scary, since he can phase through objects and will relentlessly chase you for the final stretch of the game, but it ends up feeling oddly out of touch. What made the rest of Outlast so terrifying was how unpredictable and unknowable the ‘Varients’ (the in-game term for the asylum’s patients) were. When you crept past a guy jittering in a corridor, you were never sure if he was going to stand up and try and kill you, or if he was just content to smash his head against the concrete wall he was coiled up next to. While a crazy ghost murder is certainly an escalation, all of the underground lab stuff makes me think of games like Resident Evil. That kind of stuff works for R.E. because of its kind of campy and over-the-top presentation makes it closer to a thriller style horror. Resident Evil is scary, but in a more ‘jumpy’ and action-oriented fashion compared to the more understated and unnerving horror that Outlast was employing before it got to the labs.

Outlast 2’s use of physiological horror, meanwhile, feels like it’s very much playing to the developer’s strengths, and is more tonally consistent with the rest of the game. The true horror of Outlast 1 and 2 was always in the human element: the fact that a human could lose their minds to such a degree that they could wantonly slaughter each other was the scariest thing in the first game, and fact they didn’t even need that reason was the most unsettling thing in the second. If Red Barrels decide to make an Outlast 3 at any point, I hope they focus more on the elements and ideas that they employed in the second game rather than the first, even if Outlast 1 is still a fine example of a really good horror game.

In any case, thanks for reading this ramble of thought on horror pacing. I’ll freely admit that not exactly an expert on horror (I can barely play the games for crying out loud), but I hope you enjoyed this little inspection on one of my preferred horror series. Until next time, stay safe, and stay the hell away from creepy asylums and schools!

Minor delays (sorry)

Due to elements beyond anyone’s control, this week’s update is going to be delayed until Wednesday. I apologize profusely to everyone who was looking forward to this week’s entry, but if the decision falls into either rushing an update and making it sloppy (well, sloppier) or delaying it, I tend to favor the latter.

Oddly enough, this ISN’T because of the Gaming Respawn situation, and indeed that site’s updates have suffered for the same reason.

After the emergency update on Wednesday, we’ll return to our normal Sunday/Monday updating scheduled, and hopefully we’ll be able to go a few weeks without some problem popping up, ha.

Until then, as a mini-mini update, I’ll say that we’re continuing to trek through Outlast 2, and it’s getting to the point where I’m jumping at shadows. People who have played the game will understand me when I say that I’m NEVER going to a school or school like environment again for as long as I live.

Death and horror games: how failure may be the least scary thing a player has to face.

         I have to admit that I’m not really a huge fan of horror games. This is down solely to the fact that I am a HUGE scaredy cat: after playing a good horror game, I’m jumping at my own shadow for potentially days after, if there even are any shadows left after I’ve turned on every single light possible. While the cathartic feeling of fear-laden-adrenaline is one particular rush that I can appreciate, I’m not really the type to go actively seeking it too often. The only times I’ve really gone out of my way to get a horror game is when my brothers and I have collectively decided to do a play through together, which makes the actual horror much more manageable. One such outing was for Outlast, and now Outlast II.

The Outlast games are perfect examples of products that heavily benefited from the developers NOT trying to re-invent the wheel. They’re mostly just the standard horror affair of ‘run/hide from scary dudes’ that’s been a staple of horror games ever since Amnesia brought the practice back in 2010. But they don’t really feel any weaker just because they use a well trodden formula: instead they use it to make extremely polished and engaging experiences, even if they’re not necessarily the most innovative. Not to mention, they’re also clearly made by people who aren’t afraid to take the more disgusting and less used avenues in horror (these games have a LOT of necrophilia and child murder between them). For all of that, the developers at Red Barrels have my respect.

(Just a small tangent: how did a group of developers calling themselves ‘Red Barrels’ end up making horror games? Like, don’t get me wrong, the Outlast games are some damn effective horror games, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but ‘Red Barrels’ is the name I’d associate with some kind of action or shooter developer. The group definitely make a valiant effort at re-contextualising the meaning in their logo spot on Outlast 2’s opening, by having blood run into a groove shaped like a barrel, hence giving the name a horror twist. Even then, it’s defiantly an odd one.)

There is one point that I noticed though, as we crept through Outlast 2’s disturbing Jonestown-esque environments. For one, that old woman with a pickaxe is god damn terrifying, holy crap. The other more pressing realization is that actually being caught by the things that are chasing you is weirdly not that scary. You creep around for tens of agonising minutes, tensing whenever a muttering cultist wanders past, ducking into barrels of water that threaten to drown you just so you can be out of sight for a few seconds. Alternatively, you get spotted and you run as fast as you humanly can to be out reach of your pursuers, your breath getting heavier and heavier as your steps slow and their own start to speed up. And after all of that, when they finally catch you, it’s…oddly anti-climactic.

Don’t get me wrong, watching Blake (the main protagonist) get his nadgers cleaved off with a pick is always painful, but I feel all the tension wash out of me when the screen finally fades to black. This then risks what is basically a dying cycle: you can’t figure out how to progress, and get stuck repeatedly dying while you try to figure out just where the hell you’re supposed to run to, making the whole chase more of a chore. There’s a good example of this problem in the very first meeting with Marta. She is guaranteed to see you, and is standing directly in a narrow passage, blocking you from your objective. It’s easy enough to double back and run in a circle around a shed, meaning you can evade her long enough to move forward. The only problem is that the only way to escape from there is to crawl under a small gap in a wall, something that isn’t amazingly easy to spot while you’re running for your life. Since this is early in the game, and the player most likely hasn’t learned to hide in the barrels and tall grass, a lot of players are going struggle to find the critical path without dying at least a few times.

The threat of death and harm is one of the key concepts to horror games. Regardless of your background or character, nearly everyone in existence would rather avoid dying, especially if that death is a painful one. A huge number of classic horror conventions are only effective because they make the perceiver worried there might be some kind of threat waiting around the next corner. This is why the rustling of bushes freaks you, why the darkness is so foreboding, and why you want to be as far from the crazy axe swinging murderer as possible.

…Well, that last goes without saying…

While I think horror needs something beyond that to be truly unnerving (the physical horror of Lovecraft’s ‘Old Ones’ is second to the sheer existential questions and dread they create), there’s no doubt that the fear of dying is an important one for horror products. However, since these are video games, you need to actually be able to make good on that threat, otherwise the game would simply play itself. The only problem is, dying gives you a forced break from all of the terrifying atmosphere and tension. And when Blake is returned safe and sound when the checkpoint is reloaded, we remember that failure only has minimal consequences.

This is why dying repeatedly is a complete antithesis of making something scary: it’s a jarring reminder that you’re sitting safely in your home, just playing a video game. You’re not actually being chased by some horrific monster, and being caught has no real consequence to you. At most, the only consequence is that being caught wastes your time, since you’ll need to re-do the section you’re playing. This is kind of a big issue, since the whole point of a horror game is to be scary. Even worse, this is something that will be pretty heavily affected by the player’s own skill, since a player with better reactions will die less, which helps to avoid this problem, but there’s no way to 100% ensure the player doesn’t run into this problem.

It’s not like the Outlast games are the only horror games that suffer from this: Little Nightmare’s deaths are all vividly disturbing, as highlighted by this ‘delightful’ trailer, but getting stuck on a sequence and watching them over and over would eventually tire everyone out. Even P.T., which was pants crappingly horrifying, suffered a little from this when the final corridor becomes obtuse as hell with no clear idea of how to advance. While that one hallway now has a permanent spot in my waking nightmares, so too does the frustration at wandering down it with nothing happening for ages. Although, considering that it was made by Kojima, it’s possible that was the intended reaction.

This is something that horror developers need to be careful of, and maybe even plan around. Admittedly, keeping it so something is challenging and tense but not too difficult or obscure is a delicate balance to maintain. One key solution that Outlast II itself employs is to make sure that the player knows what the overall objective is in the current area before putting the patrolling threats in the area. A good example of this is when you have to push a cart up to a gate so you can climb over it. The area is completely devoid of threats before you find both the gate and the cart, which also gives you a chance to scout around the area for good hiding spots. This means that when Marta inevitably appears out of (or hacking through) the woodwork, the player has enough clear directions to what they actually need to do. If she had been present while the player had just been scouting around the area, it would have been much more aggravating to get anything done.

Another trick that Outlast II uses is one that’s a pretty common tactic across all of gaming, namely that you can guide the player’s eye using light. This is most obvious during the game’s many chase sequences, where in your path will nearly always have a bright source of light in or near it, making it much easier to tell which direction you have run in even in a split second. While this technique is pretty prevalent across gaming as a whole, the effect is especially pronounced here thanks to the deep and foreboding shadows that seem dominate this entire game.

Of course, even these don’t always save the player from an untimely death, nor always help to avoid several deaths in a row, again mostly because there’s no way to fully guess how skilful the player is or isn’t going to be. Indeed, this might be a problem with no solution, just methods of minimising how badly it is.

I would be fascinated to see a game that tries to directly eliminate this problem, to make failing in a horror setting just as scary as the chase, but until then I’ll have to try and stop panicking when some git with a hatchet jumps and tries to murder my ass.