Outlast 2 is the sequel to developer Red Barrels’ smash hit indie horror Outlast. With no apparent ties in narrative to the original, Outlast 2 sets its own path and ups the ante on the morbid and disgusting. With that said, I deliver this honest and necessary warning: Outlast 2 is incredibly disturbing. Horror junkies might not be too thrown off, but your average consumer will surely be disgusted by Outlast 2 and the lines it crosses. If the idea of religious child-murdering cults, sexual depravity, torture, and glorification of violence doesn’t deter you, continue on.
O Be Careful Little Eyes, What You See
Outlast 2 tells the story of Blake and Lynn, two married investigative journalists. When they get wind of a mysterious murder in the desert of Arizona, they set out to get the scoop. One helicopter crash and meeting with a crazed cult later, you are set off to rescue your kidnapped wife. The cult, led by Sullivan Knoth, believes that your wife carries the Anti-Christ in her womb, and vows to kill it upon birth.
As you explore the Arizona wilds in search for Lynn and her captors, the player is put through a collection of ever increasingly disgusting situations. Flashbacks to Blake’s past are thrown in occasionally, seamlessly transitioning from the desolate wilderness to the bright hallways of a Catholic private school. There’s something dark and secretive about Blake’s past, and provides some decent motivation for rescuing his wife (beyond marital loyalty).
The story is mainly broken into three acts, but gets confused and jumbled halfway through. The story starts off strong, focusing on the cult (and an eventual opposing cult as well). However, after a few hours and the introduction of the flashback sequences, the game seems to lose focus. The narrative concerning the cults and your wife remains ever present, but remains on the back burner for most of the second act. However, there’s quite a few sections of the game that are absolutely brilliant. These story beats focus on specific phobias like fear of the open water, being buried alive, and so forth. This attention to individual phobias made for some great sequences, but the overall story was a bit lackluster in retrospect.
Common Decency Be Damned
Here’s the big thing; the stuff that people will be talking about in reference to Outlast 2 for months. The original Outlast was a great mix of atmosphere, suspense, and shock. Shocking moments usually had a narrative basis, and/or provided some sort of perspective to ponder. Outlast 2 uses radical religion as a platform to present some truly horrendous content, sometimes for no reason at all. The imagery is reminiscent of True Detective (Season 1), rural and dirty.
I don’t want to spoil much of it, mainly because there’s some really decent scares in the gore. Additionally, there are aspects of this game that I don’t feel needed to be included, nor do I feel like celebrating them. If you consider yourself squeamish or disturbed, do yourself a favor and skip the next paragraph. I’m not kidding, it’s going to get rough.
Outlast 2‘s obsession with demonizing radical Christianity (and more specific, Catholicism) is all fine and dandy. I have no issue with using religion as a way to tell your story, nor do I have a problem with exploring the darker parts of these faiths. There’s some sequences that relate to a fourth grade girl and a priest at her school; two guesses how that turns out. Honestly, I’m okay with that kind of story telling. It’s real, it’s raw, and impacting when done right. However, I do take issue with poetically describing how slitting a child’s throat makes you wet with blood lust. Several documents are scattered throughout the game, sometimes written by cult members, other times written by Sullivan Knoth himself. These mostly depraved, talk about torturing and slaughtering children, and always with an inappropriate sexual deviance. Furthermore, Outlast 2 really loves to push the envelope, having no issue clearly showing hanging children, and decomposing corpses of toddlers. I’m all for freedom of expression, but Outlast 2 uses this child-murder-lust far too often. After a while, it’s not shocking, it’s just in bad taste.
Alternatively, Outlast 2 does create some absolutely fantastic atmosphere. The music is haunting and dwells in the background, only erupting when enemies appear and you have to run. You have no means of defense in Outlast 2, only your ability to run and hide. Compared to the original, I found myself hiding far less (maybe only four or five times), often favoring evasion. Eventually, enemies become more of an annoyance than a scare factor, but constant jump scares ensuring the tension stays high. Instead, Outlast 2 really succeeds in the quiet moments. The moments where a tree rustles, a stick breaks, and you feel the hairs on your neck stand straight up.
This is thanks in part to the absolutely great technical performance and visual design. The game looks great, and runs even better. Throughout the entire 7-9 hour experience, I only saw one technical hiccup. There was never a frame drop or a stutter, and the game looks beautiful (even on console). The lighting effects are top-notch, creating some truly tense and eerie settings. This is the main reason I was annoyed with the constant over-the-top shock factor; when you’re able to create an honestly creepy atmosphere, don’t spoil it by focusing on blood and guts.
At times, Outlast 2 even dares to be beautiful. Unfortunately, 60% off the game is spent looking through a night vision camera. The cloudy green filter helps you see, but it definitely doesn’t help you appreciate the art design. I do have to hand it to the folks at Red Barrels, they have the ability to create some haunting designs among the bloodshed.
The Bottom Line on Outlast 2
So who is Outlast 2 for, exactly? If you liked the original, Outlast 2 feels and plays the same way. However, the narrative and tone is much more brutal and bloody than the original, and sacrifices a bit of the psychological horror as well. If you’re looking for a shocking game that is fun to play in chunks, hoping for a high volume of scares, Outlast 2 will probably do that as well.
However, when compared to the likes of Resident Evil VII, Outlast 2 doesn’t wrap up nearly as neatly, nor does it provide a consistent experience over the course of its play time. Outlast 2 is bigger and badder than its predecessor, both to its detriment and success. An occasional lack of direction makes navigation occasionally frustrating, and enemy encounters can be similarly annoying. I think that Outlast 2 would’ve made for a better game if it was shorter, but it’s obvious Red Barrels was really trying to give it their all. The story offers some interesting points, but ends up feeling hollow in the end. The moment-to-moment experience is stressful and entertaining, so maybe Outlast 2 is best played in pieces.
It’s a hard game to judge, as it will surely be divisive (even among horror fans). If you aren’t absolutely disgusted by gore and violence, and you want a suspenseful experience, Outlast 2 will work for you. I enjoyed my experience with the game, flaws and all. Check your stomach at the door, this one is not for the squeamish. If you love bloodshed and have an exceptionally morbid curiosity towards all things disturbing, you’ll feel right at home. Outlast 2 is like the video game version of A Serbian Film. If you don’t know what that means, Outlast 2 probably isn’t for you. If you do… well, enjoy the roller coaster that awaits. Just don’t put too much care into the overall story, and bask in the suspense when it pops up.