We're less than two weeks away from Outlast 2, what is sure to be one of the most terrifying games of 2017, if its predecessor is anything by which to judge. From the very first reveal of Outlast 2, it was clear it was going to focus on one particular theme above all others: religion and the corruption of it.
But the common refrain going around the internet is that this is a new direction for the series - a more occultist take on what Outlast ultimately treated as more science fiction. The truth is, though, that religious underpinnings have always been a part of Outlast, from the first time you enter Mount Massive Asylum all the way until a horrible witch does God-knows-what to your man-parts in the demo of Outlast 2.
Like all the best games, Outlast keeps the details of its plot hidden behind scattered documents around its world. So, you could go through the game with minimum to moderate exploration and still not get the whole story through simply enduring the longer, expository conversations.
But, when you dig into the nitty gritty of the documents lying about Mount Massive, it's very clear that this religious theme was always there, if perhaps a little buried. You can see this very clearly via a mysterious Tumblr page that may or may not be run by Outlast developer Red Barrels. Called The Murkoff Report, this page compiles a ton of documents with religious themes, some of which are directly from Outlast or Outlast: Whistleblower, and others that may be from Outlast 2. Murkoff, of course, is the entity behind the asylum.
Red Barrels played it coy on Twitter, when asked if they were behind this mysterious Murkoff Report, but it does have some elements that lend credence to its legitimacy, like this weird apparent Teaser video that hasn't been released officially. Regardless of who's behind it, it points out a lot of what the subtext in Outlast touched on: themes of religious, and it makes a convincing case that the Occult and the scientific experiment aspects may not be mutually exclusive.
Most of the surface-level religious musing in Outlast involved the infamous Father Martin character, who saw the eventual antagonist of the game as some sort of second-coming, and you were the scribe sent to document it all, including (spoiler alert) their fiery suicide. However, Outlast invites you to dismiss his views as nothing more than ramblings induced by in humane scientific experiments.
But, the documents reveal this to be something more. Specifically on Father Martin, you'll find one document requesting to reinstate Father Martin's finger painting activities because "his schizoafective assertions of some 'higher calling' have accelerated enormously," before wondering if "Murkoff WANTS our patients to become more disengaged from reality." Right there, you have the possibility of Murkoff being aware of the potential for a spiritual connection to what they're trying to unlock scientifically. Another document, a note from Father Martin, reads "To stand in the way of salvation is a sin for which there is no punishment too great."
Of course, this view stands firmly in opposition to the main scientist of the Murkoff Corporation, Dr. Rudloph Wernicke. Wernicke issued a memo to his personnel. "Do not worship the swarm [the Walrider], nor allow the delusions of the patients to influence your beliefs ... Remember that you are scientists." Again, they're setting up a dichotomy between the more grounded, experimental approach to what is happening at Mount Massive and the spiritual, occultist take. But, further readings indicate that these two aren't so far off.
When writing about Dr. Wernicke, one German agent posited that "Wernicke's method has breached the spiritual realm. Something has crossed from the other side. I personally witnessed the appearance of an apparition. Briefly, but undeniably so."
And, if the other documents posted on The Murkoff Report are to be believed as legitimate, several of them indicate that this theme will be carried even more in the subtext of Outlast 2. One note on a yellow sheet of paper reads "I don't care what they say or how much they plead. I know they are bad and my knife is the only way to free their souls." Besides that, you'll see severa children's drawings in crayon that say things like "I will not run from God's love." It's been reported that part of Outlast 2 takes place in a Catholic school (see below), so this isn't hard to believe.
I think the Murkoff Account comic series may have given us the information we need. "Mount Massive was a pebble in a pond, an experiment on individuals. This is where the real sickness spreads," with "this" referring to the setting of Outlast 2. So rather than just being different, non-mutually exclusive interpretations, Outlast 2 could make the case that the occult aspects were the true driving force behind the goings on in the Outlast universe, and that Mount Massive was just a rudimentary way of tinkering around with it.
No matter your interpretation of the findings and documents in Outlast, it's very clear that the religious themes in Outlast 2 did not come out of nowhere, nor do they represent a more dramatic shift in the narrative. Red Barrels isn't treading into new waters; they're diving deeper.