Before you start Outlast 2 you must read and acknowledge the following sentence: ‘Outlast 2 contains intense violence, gore, graphic sexual content, and strong language. Please enjoy.’ Outlast 2 got a cracking amount of free buzz by almost getting banned in Australia (in the end it wasn’t; Red Barrels had apparently submitted the wrong build and Outlast 2 is rated R18+ for release in Australia). Within a few minutes of
John Q. Heroperson Blake Langermann waking up from a helicopter crash, he discovers the flayed and disemboweled corpse of the pilot. Thus, Outlast 2 is up front about what you can expect from it.
What it is, is this: it’s like Outlast. Like Outlast but with a backwoods, rural farming community of inbred hicks theme to it. If you enjoyed Outlast then you will, in all likelihood, enjoy Outlast 2 to a similar degree. It does some things better than Outlast, and some things worse. I thought Outlast was alright.
As per the original, you creep around in the dark, using your night vision camera to see where you’re going — the green wash somehow making it more frightening than just walking forwards with your eyes shut — and avoid violent death. In Outlast this came at the hands of some beefy asylum inmates who looked like Essex bouncers after a really shit overnight; in Outlast 2 the baddies are more emaciated, and have weapons adapted from savage farm implements. The denizens of Temple Gate, the new setting, are 50% a group of Christian fanatics who think the end of days is coming, and 50% a group of Satanic fanatics who think the end of days is coming and, spoilers, it turns out they’re as bad as each other. Blake may, at one point, literally state this out loud, in case you hadn’t got the hang of it (Blake comes out with some increasingly incredible things, like: ‘A feeling in my teeth like the sound of scissors’, which sounds stylish until you give it any examination whatsoever).
The sound in Outlast 2 is well designed, with some shivery, dread-laden music to key you up. The environments look nicer (nice here meaning the horribleness is of higher fidelity, more detailed, and have touches that make them feel lived in. Lived in, in this case, by a group of fanatics of various shades of sexual depravity and religious zeal. Temple Gate feels much more like an actual place, rather than an arena to be scared in as Mount Massive Asylum was. There is a sense of progression now, rather than repeating the same loop of gameplay.
But, at the same time, I didn’t find it as scary. The first time you enter an area is tense, but some parts become frustrating, even annoying, to get through. Towards the end Outlast 2 becomes more linear, so you feel safer in pressing onwards. There’s less chance you’ll get lost, or corner yourself. Blake, part trying to find his wife Lynn, and part trying to untangle memories of the suicide of a childhood friend, occasionally flashes back to the Catholic school they all attended. These bits I found much more frightening, but their inclusion seems to be to add a dimension of serious psychological horror alongside the gore and jump scares, and the two don’t marry together well.
Outlast 2 is trying to be very viscerally horrible, but any impression it makes doesn’t last past turning the game off. Perhaps it’s my well documented and extremely broad dislike of children, or perhaps I’ve been numbed by the constant onslaught of violent video games, but my reaction to a pit full of charred infant corpses was akin to bleak mental arithmetic: ((dead baby x (numerous)) + (pit + crucifixes made of twigs)) = horrible. I know these images are really grim and a bit scary, thus that is my response. Just as when something lunges at you out of the dark and waggles its tongue in your face it makes you go ‘Ah!’ It’s like playing through a film by Eli Roth: yeah, that bit with her eye is well nasty, but is it actually good?
In the case of Outlast 2, I am unsure. It would certainly be an entertaining game to watch being streamed, as you see people like me, the idiot, screeching for your entertainment (in fact we had a lot of fun playing through the Outlast 2 demo while Colm was, just, ferociously hungover). But then, on the other hand, what else is there? You can’t argue that it’s not afraid to go places, but I don’t think that’s a recommendation in and of itself if, once you get there, you’re not entirely sure what value there was in the journey.
Where Outlast broke some new ground, Outlast 2 seems to be revisiting old horror tropes. Is it interesting to go ‘God and the devil are actually basically the same’ again? Does ‘some Catholics have mixed feelings about fucking being a good thing’ need to be extrapolated into a seven hour horror game? If you think the murder of a pregnant woman is a shocking act then, Christ, do I have some terrible news for you about real life.
Religion and sex and death and the intersections between them is a rich vein to open up for horror, but what are you going to do with it? Outlast 2 isn’t using it to make a Pollock-esque work of interest. It’s letting it pool out in your living room, standing there going ‘Look at all this blood, isn’t it horrible, all this blood everywhere?’ And, after a beat, looks at you spookily and says ‘Child abuse is bad and has terrible consequences.’ Well, yes, I agree with all that. You’re not really challenging me, here.