Outlast 2 is not a game to be comfortable playing, and the original Outlast did no favors for me, either. The surprising success of Outlast was due in part to the simplicity of the gameplay. The genre is also hard to nail, sometimes a game isn’t scary enough, or relying on cheap tricks to get your blood flowing. Or there’s the problem where you’re given too much power and have no challenge. Outlast II has none of that, this game is straight up scary and it’s more brutal that I imagined.
The game has you playing as an investigative journalist, Blake Langermann, who with his wife, Lynn, make their way to the Sonoran Desert, an expansive area in the Southwestern United States. This setting is as far away from the asylum we stepped inside in the original Outlast as you could get. The game opens with Blake and Lynn investigating the death of a young Jane Doe, and soon after the two of you crash-land in the desert, to the sudden reality that you’re in the lion’s den, you’re up against a cult, and they will kill you on sight.
Montreal developer Red Barrels returns with a new narrative that contains highly sensitive material. It’s not every day you sit down to consume a game that uses religion in such a matter. Outlast 2 is a cruel game that often forces you to trudge on – even if you’re not ready. A sequel in every word, the terror brought on by the extremities of each situation you come up against introduced a sense of dread I haven’t felt since watch The Hills Have Eyes.
Most my playtime was me sitting straight up clenched in fear, anguish, anxiety and sometimes disgust. There’s a ton of torture porn and the game relies heavily on shock value. Having Blake talk to himself as he’s finding his way through Temple’s Gate’s compound helped me process what we were experiencing, unlike the original Outlast which was full of grunts, moans and heavy breathing.
Blake’s past is explored within the narrative, set in a Catholic school, often shifting from present to the past in some brilliant transitions. The past is a traumatic thing for our protagonist, and these visions intensify the further into the story you go.
Instead of combat, the only way to survive is to run and hide, and in a campaign, that clocks in around 15 hours, you’re left to find ways to get through sequences without any retaliation. When your option is to run, and hide, you’re going to die many, many times in Outlast 2. Whereas in Outlast, the Asylum was smaller, more condensed and enemies that were easier to evade; in the sequel, you’re dealing with bigger areas with enemies actively trying to take you down, often aware of your presence.
The only thing you’re given is a camcorder, allowing you to see in the dark and a microphone that helps locate enemies. Each function is essential to survival, but are burdened by being reliant on batteries – with the problem being how limited they are.
Outlast 2 brings the series to new heights, with its sensitive material and unsettling setting. Red Barrel isn’t afraid to step into unpleasant territory with its content matter and it’s because of that, that this game works so well. Just when you have a sliver of an idea where the plot might go, everything goes wrong and gets much, much worse. Outlast 2 is harrowing, and something I never want to willingly play again.