The sense of helplessness and borderline futility is what makes the Outlast series absolutely horrifying—it serves as a prime example that an outstanding horror experience need not arm the protagonist to the teeth. Red Barrels—developer of Outlast and its recent, indirect sequel, Outlast 2—have managed to create experiences that illicit feelings of paranoia and genuine fear. It’s been successfully done several times, indeed, but it takes a serious understanding of absolute horror to create something truly haunting; it’s hard to do that when the protagonist is running around with a guerrilla warfare arsenal of firepower. Outlast 2 shares a stage with similar titles such as Amnesia, SOMA, and Alien: Isolation, where the undertone of the scare is within the atmosphere itself and having a borderline crippling fear of turning the next corner or even looking behind you. It’s not uncommon to undertake the experience and ask oneself key questions, such as “Why am I playing this?” or “Why do people even enjoy these kinds of games?” all while having an absolute blast.
Outlast 2 is an indirect sequel to its predecessor and the Whistleblower DLC—while it does not pick up where the last game left off, both stories are in the same universe, and the events at Mount Massive Asylum and the events of Outlast 2 are indeed connected. Players assume control of Blake Langermann, an investigative journalist and cameraman, alongside his wife, Lynn, as they investigate the mysterious murder of a young, pregnant woman known only as Jane Doe. After their helicopter crashes in the Supai region of Arizona, Blake discovers his wife missing and the area populated by an insane pseudo-religious cult obsessed with sex, pregnancy, and claiming unborn babies to be the anti-Christ. The narrative and events within are more mature and disturbing than that of the game’s predecessor and should be approached with a cautious, open mind.
Blake is armed with nothing more than his will to survive, find his wife, and escape the madness—he also has a camcorder, much like Miles Upsur and Waylon Park from Outlast and its Whistleblower DLC. With Blake, however, his camcorder is a little more advanced; it offers clearer imagery, a better zoom feature, and aside from night-vision capabilities, there’s also a microphone, allowing for the detection of sound. It serves to be quite useful in tracking enemies when they move out of view, or to recon an area before proceeding. Night-vision drains the batteries and while the batteries never seem to truly “die,” the night-vision will diminish and render itself useless until the batteries are changed. Blake need not record everything during his fight to survive, but key moments and documents found throughout. When viewing the inventory, players may check their battery count, how many bandages they have for healing, and to review any documents and footage collected along the way, with some choice commentary.
Outlast 2 does a remarkable job of keeping players on their toes, as nothing is truly repetitive or familiar at all. It’s a peculiar thing, as I found Outlast 2 to be much scarier than its predecessor, but more playable due to more open areas and less claustrophobia than found in the Mount Massive Asylum. In a nutshell, the gameplay is similar, but both games feel completely different in ways both large and small. With Blake’s more advanced camera, doing recon of an area before proceeding and being able to track sounds helped minimize my anxiety and made it easier to press onward. Either way, like its predecessor, Outlast 2 is a true survival horror experience and with the level of horror mastery, I felt immersed in Blake’s helpless situation and often reacted as if I were in his shoes.
Most of the game is spent navigating the world while avoiding being killed in particularly frightening and gory ways. Hubs are populated by series of buildings, sprawling forests, cornfields, and the like—all of which have multiple paths to take leading to exploration and the discovery of the only two useful items in the game: batteries and bandages. It’s a violent game of hide and seek that precedes over the entirety of the experience, but with each encounter being substantially varied, none of it ever feels repetitive or tedious.
You’ll find these encounters to come in two forms: slightly scripted chase sequences where your goal is to simply escape your pursuers in frantic and desperate amateur parkour; the second yield is by way of hub exploration and avoiding patrolling or stationary enemies while you navigate. There are no objective markers, maps, or indicators pointing in the direction Blake needs to go, but navigation is pretty straightforward save for some key moments in the forest where panic runs amok.
Make no mistake, Outlast 2 is a terrifying game. With segments fluctuating between Blake’s survival in Jonestown to flashbacks to his childhood in Catholic school—forming the narrative’s subplot—there are seldom moments of reprieve. It isn’t just encounters with crazed enemies that create the horror; the setting, the grisly compound of the cultists, hanging bodies, ominous moonlight and fog, it’s all there and absolutely, remarkably horrifying.
Blake isn’t a stranger to religion and worship; having grown up attending Catholic school, he is well versed on the topic. However, the religious corruption and the theme of faith being twisted into evil is not inherently exclusive to the cult in Arizona, but unfolds as Blake suffers hallucinations and flashbacks to his childhood, memories that he repressed are making their way to the surface again.
It’s not a new theme, but it’s explored in a very interesting yet disturbing way. However, it respectfully steers clear of slinging accusations or assumptions or pressing on the belief that religion is evil, but simply demonstrates how religion can be associated with power and in turn, manipulated into something on the complete opposite end of the holy spectrum.
Outlast 2 explores the topic of horror in creative and inventive ways, while paying homage to classic horror tropes and creating a unique and terrifying tale of survival in what feels like a completely hopeless situation. It manages to surface emotions of paranoia, fear, dread, and…what’s the word for, “Holy crap, why am I playing this game?” yet enjoying every moment of it? I’m not sure if there is one, but Outlast 2 accomplished it. I found it to be a substantial improvement over its predecessor and while I was in constant fear, it was one of the most memorable experiences of my gaming journey. I was left thinking whether or not there will be an Outlast 3 and if it’s scarier than Outlast 2, I’m not sure I could handle it.
Outlast 2 is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One as a standalone title. It’s also available bundled in Outlast Trinity, which also contains Outlast and the Outlast: Whistleblower DLC.