The God-fearing man is wary of straying from the path of righteousness onto that of eternal damnation, but make no mistake: hell hath no fury like Outlast 2. Everlasting fiery inferno hardly constitutes a candle held to the fear Outlast 2 creates at times out of thin air.
The minds at Red Barrels have grown darker and waxed more twisted while their willingness to take it easy on us has waned. Outlast 2 can scare you in any and every way, and it’s precisely this variety that makes it the scariest game of the year so far and a masterpiece of horror that must be experienced by genre enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies alike.
God Only Knows
Outlast 2 tells a much more involved story than its predecessor. Rather than focusing on the mere unraveling of a mystery, Outlast 2 is a more thematic journey with its overt McGuffin serving as a vehicle to explore the dark reaches of faith, fanaticism, vengeance, and forgiveness. As a power couple of investigative journalists, Blake and Lynn Langermann seek to uncover what happened to a pregnant woman who appeared dead near the Sunpai region of Arizona.
But their helicopter crashes, and Lynn goes missing, leaving Blake to abandon his search for truth and take up the search for his wife. Discovering a village that wasn’t seen from above, nor available on a map, Blake encounters a murderous religious cult where a man named Sullivan Knoth has set himself up as a prophet, predicting the end times, and emboldening his followers to kill both you and your wife lest you meddle with their affairs.
Meanwhile, you’ll encounter a series of dream-like flashback sequences to Blake’s time at Catholic school, weaving in an even more mysterious narrative about a girl named Jessica. Without spoiling anything, of course, you’ll get to watch both stories unfold and see how, if at all, the two intertwine.
Reload Your Batteries
Even in more subtle ways, Outlast 2 has upped the stakes to keep your heart racing. Your camera has been majorly overhauled in Outlast 2, making batteries more of a premium resource and making even the act of reviewing footage and notes a risky task.
The major addition is that of your camera’s sensitive directional microphone, which will give you onscreen indicators as to whether or not someone is near in the direction you’re aiming. The only downside is that this, like night vision, drains batteries as if someone poked a hole in the bottoms of them—seriously, Blake needs to get a pack of Energizers or Duracels. If you’re combining this with night vision, you can easily burn through three batteries in one area if you’re not careful.
In the original Outlast, you could review documents you found from the safety of the pause menu. This gave you a bit of a reprieve from the horror as you read up on the shady dealings of the Murkoff Corporation in Mount Massive Asylum. Outlast 2 strips away this layer of protection; you now merely take a still of the documents you find, and you review them using your camera while the game is still running. No pause menu, no stoppage in play, no freedom from danger.
Recording visual notes by recording important events? Now you have to record them for a specific amount of time before it gives you the complete note, meaning you better make sure you’re safe before doing so. And again, you’ll have to review this footage, featuring a voice-over from Blake, from your camera while the game is running.
A Powerful Influence
Much like Papa Knoth to the followers of The Temple of the New Ezekiel, the horror genre has strongly influenced Outlast 2. You’ll be reminded of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, The Descent, and even see nods to The Blair Witch Project and other strong found footage horror films. What these influences all have in common is a helpless protagonist. The teens in the woods can only run from The Blair Witch, while Wendy and Danny Torrance can only flee and hide from Jack—who has become a dull boy from all work and no play. Just like Miles Upshur and Waylon Park from the previous Outlast installments, Blake can only run and hide from the people hunting him.
In Outlast, this has drawn something of a controversy among detractors, but this is more a misguided crutch. When someone dies in Outlast 2, they can say it’s because the game wouldn’t let them fight their enemies, rather than say it’s because they didn’t hide well enough or popped out at the wrong time. And this misses the point that games are scarier when you can’t fight your enemies. Ask anyone who’s played the later segments in Resident Evil 7, where you’re armed to the teeth and enemies you encounter hardly phase you: if you can fight off any threat that comes your way, they cease to be threats.
What’s missing from this, while not entirely, is a sense of familiarity with the villains, something that was even present in the original Outlast. In Outlast 2, you’re pursued by a few main bad guys, who each have their own personality and backstory, but those aren’t as prominent as they were with Outlast villains of old such as Eddie Gluskin, Doctor Trager, and Chris Walker. The first document I discovered that shed light on Marta (a pickaxe-wielding she-devil that tries at every opportunity to castrate you), doesn’t come until halfway through the game when you’ve already moved on to other bad guys. And, in between all that, you’re only pursued by nameless hillbillies with machetes. Don’t get me wrong, this is still scary, but not nearly as much as when you can truly get inside the mind of your tormentors.
Beware False Prophets
You’ll certainly be able to spot a reviewer who chickened out before finishing. They’ll say the game’s horror is one-note, which later segments prove false. They’ll say the more open map was a detriment, when the late-game levels prove claustrophobic. They’ll lament the surreal Catholic School segments as posing no real threat, which I assure you does not turn out to be true.
All of this goes to show that Outlast 2 needs to be experienced in its entirety. From start to finish, Outlast 2 can create scares as overt as raining blood and slaughterhouses painted with the viscera of human carcasses, but also as subtle and hair-raising as knowing someone or something is behind you and other segments I won’t spoil that manage fear without showing a single drop of blood. I wish I could spoil these better moments and set pieces, because they are so jaw-droppingly terrifying that I won't soon sleep at night without thinking about them and I worry my vague descriptions won't do them justice, but trust me when I say they are best experienced by surprise.
This variety is certainly an improvement upon the original Outlast and even Outlast: Whistleblower. Outlast 2 has rewritten their own book on horror and moved beyond mere shock value as tool for fear. Don’t get me wrong, though, Outlast 2 has shock value in spades, buckets and barrels, sometimes filled with blood. But you won’t get too fatigued by any one method of horror because Outlast 2 changes it up so frequently.
Even Outlast got too much of a bum rap for jump scares, even though their frequency drastically diminishes as the game goes on. For Outlast 2, I will spar with anyone who lobs the same accusations, as it’s even more baseless. Except for a few jump scares (which were given away by the trailers, for that matter), Outlast 2 has much more atmospheric scares. More importantly, I don’t remember the jump scares nearly as much as I do the other shocking horror imagery on display in Red Barrels’ second go around, and that’s what really matters. I remember being terrified, not just startled.
A good horror game should make you dread the idea of playing it, but keep you glued to the screen while you actually are. Outlast 2 is that game. While more involved fans might be disappointed as to how the story resolves, I found it hit the sweet spot between overly expository and frustratingly vague.
Segments from Outlast 2 are forever burned into my memories, acting as much as a traumatic experience as it was an exhilarating one. The thematic elements present throughout make the game even more high-stakes, taking a toll on you as a moral human being. God doesn’t love Outlast 2 – not like I do.