In this first-person sequel, you play as Blake: an investigative journalist and cameraman on the case of a mysterious murder. Working alongside wife Lynn, things turn dire when your helicopter crashes in the remote Supai Region in the Arizona desert; a desolate landscape of backwoods towns, unattended cornfields and long-forgotten mines. Your wife is taken by the inhabitants, who are part of a cult and led by a madman believing the town of Temple Gate lies on the mouth of hell. It’s a disturbing setup as the crazy cultists spout their misguided faith, chant unnatural prayers with arms raised to the heavens, and are convinced your presence serves a purpose in their schemes.
Unfortunately, the only way out is through, with the added emotional crux to events that cripple that urge to escape. The plot is mostly told through documents and the protagonist’s insight to events, cruising by on well-established horror tropes before coming to a provocative ending that is left wide open for interpretation. Outlast 2 contains potentially inflammatory views on religion, but its controversial nature serves to discomfort you in your simple, yet difficult, goal of finding and saving your wife.
The story offers up flashback-styled segments in a school to do with Blake’s past, and at first they are welcome breathers to the suffocating tension, offering up mild, spooky visions and narrative diversions. But soon they reveal a more insidious agenda, making you recoil and groan in despair as understanding dawns that no sequence in this game is going to be easy.
Outlast 2 is a survival horror that relies on basic mechanics to induce fear, and these translate effectively to its gameplay: progress forward, hide, run, repeat. By adhering to simplicity and executing it well, the game becomes a grim helter-skelter down to a gore-drenched nightmare. Its near-flawless design of frenzied pursuits, slow-burn dread, and calculated jump scares is only occasionally hampered by the linear escape routes and Blake’s somewhat limited and clumsy animations. Frantically escaping the mad clutches of evil zealots in many tightly scripted sequences means you need to be quick to find an exit. Instincts take over in that blind moment of panic, fear eats away at you as you try to determine where to go with a split-second decision. It’s believable from the characters perspective, with adherence to realism given such an unthinkable crisis, but the developers don’t make places of interest easy to spot. For instance, a specific handle that can be pulled, or an exposed crack in a fence able to be crouched through… Several times you’ll think you’ve run into a dead end, turn around and be chopped to pieces by a mob, or stabbed by a hideously scarred adversary which can take away that thrill from the chase when interactable objects are unclear. While a forgiving checkpoint system alleviates frustration, subsequent attempts inevitably dent atmospheric tension. Though unless you intend to play with the audio muted, the adrenaline rarely settles.
Outlast 2 assuredly feeds you these scary portions throughout, often successfully, interspersing stealth and action with a versatility uncommon in modern horror. You don’t know when or how, but you’ll have that underlying feeling in the pit of your stomach that hell could break loose at any moment, desperate to debase you into a pleading mess, calling for deliverance.
You can run and hide, but you can’t fight back, and that’s the source where the crippling terror is born from; the inability to defend yourself, the desperation to survive, paralysed in a hiding spot as your body protests with your mind about moving on. Music amps up as enemies search the area if spotted, forcing you to revert to cowardly tactics (empty lockers, grimy water, and barrels filled with blood become comforting). Some of the more creepy and intelligent foes will actually try and sniff you out, adding even more anxiety to an already life-threatening scenario.
When cultists aren’t thwarting your path, other obstacles present themselves. The objectives are rarely challenging, and though it contains mediocre-sounding fetch quests, like finding a rope or crank to help bypass areas, suspense is retained because of the survival horror principles the developers abide by. A seemingly short diversion to collect an important item can bring about its own torment, and getting back in one piece promotes a daring trade-off between risk and reward that you’ll only applaud in hindsight.
As helpless and defenceless as you are, you’re equipped with a video camera, featuring night vision and a microphone – both vital additions. Blake can also record certain events, contributing his nervous thoughts when consulting the camera to catch a breath. Unfortunately, using night vision drains battery power, and battery placement in the setting encourages exploration even when you’re itching to just run away fast and leave the area. Their limited quantity never present a problem, but the batteries are sparse enough to make you considerate of conservation. The built-in microphone is a new addition to the sequel that enables you to loosely track targets through walls, though overreliance on it can create its own form of anxiety. Sometimes you could be crouching through overgrown grass, noticing the device pick up nearby noises… your heartrate accelerates as you contemplate moving further forward… you embrace the danger that your camera relays is directly ahead, then you emerge straight into a swarm of flies buzzing around a fetid corpse. False alarm… this time.
It’s impossible not to mention the outstanding sound design when praising Outlast 2. Every sound compliments the gory imagery with unerring proficiency. Eerie ambience is often punctured by chilling effects; a combination of instruments and unsettling choirs. It skilfully keeps you on edge as you brace for something awful to leap out, or when hiding under a rotten bed awaiting to be found whilst inhuman vocals pierce the night with blood-curdling frequency.
Outlast 2 pushes the boundaries of what’s acceptable on the screen in video games, containing everything you’d expect when the genre is horror and the main subject is a cult based around religious themes. There’s the commonplace brutal violence, brain-washing monologues, graphic sexual implications, grisly sacrificial aftermaths, satanic symbolism, deranged gospel excerpts… it’s all here. The connotations are numerous but never exploitative, with the focus primarily on the experience. Anything controversial or provocative is discreetly shown or smartly implied.
Evil is the profound theme, and satanic tones become disturbing for all the right reasons: dialogue ominously spoken by an unseen figure; notes scrawled in a distressed hand; bloody handprints and messages alluding to something ghastly has recently transpired… The quiet moments rarely last before a deadly game of cat-and-mouse interrupts proceedings in typically tense fashion. You’re deemed an outsider to this antagonistic breed of heretics, and you will be punished in an extended episode of mental torture and physical depravity.
Overall, Outlast 2 instils pure dread few games can match, keeping you locked in its grasp throughout, forcing you to face and experience its ceaseless horrors, and refusing to let you escape the darkness. The action is often exhausting, but you wouldn’t be playing on through the anguish if you weren’t a glutton for punishment, partaking in a video game that succeeds in its ambitions to invoke fear; a game that never gives up scaring you until the credits roll: 8 hours of unforgiving, brutal terror.
Story – 4/5
Characters – 3/5
Gameplay – 4/5
Graphics – 5/5
Sound – 5/5
Controls – 4/5
Atmosphere – 5/5
Enemy AI – 4/5
Length – 4/5
Replay Value – 3/5
+ Chilling sound design that never loses its impact.
+ Atmosphere is thick with dread.
+ Enemies induce equal amounts of panic and revulsion.
+ Deeply disturbing story and setting.
+ A constant onslaught of hellish images and terrifying cat-and-mouse gameplay.
+ Forgiving checkpoint system.
– Clumsy animations.
– Some navigational issues during scripted chases.
Verdict – 8.5/10