DEVELOPER Red Barrels / PUBLISHER Red Barrels / WEBSITE http://redbarrelsgames.com/games/outlast-2
The original Outlast was one of the most frightening horror games we’ve seen, with dynamic hide-and-seek mechanics seeing you evading psychopaths in an abandoned asylum. It balanced grisly jump-scares with emergent play, placing the onus on the player to stay alive in its elaborately constructed haunted house. Outlast II seeks to up the ante, increasing the intensity and doubling the shock value.
You investigate the murder of a woman in a remote part of the Arizona desert, but the trail leads you into the middle of a bloody battle between two backwater Christian cults. One is an uber-righteous evangelical commune that believes the birth of the Antichrist can only be prevented by murdering their children; the other is a heretical cult seeking to trigger the apocalypse.
If you think it already sounds full-on, you don’t know the half of it. Within minutes of your helicopter crashing in the parched Arizonan mountains, Outlast II forces you to walk across a pit filled with dead babies, and the game then bombards you with atrocious imagery of death and suffering. At various points your character is sexually assaulted and literally crucified.
Outlast II is as subtle as a wrecking ball to the gonads, which is a shame because these cheap and nasty trigger points belie some more interesting ideas. Interspersed within this nightmarish ghost train is a secondary story revolving around a traumatic experience in Catholic school. It’s told through moments interwoven seamlessly within the level design, leading to ambiguity about whether they’re memories or metaphors for your character’s unresolved guilt.
Mechanically, Outlast II suffers from a similar issue of imbalance. There are still points where you must hide and sneak past cultists hunting for you, including a superb section in a cornfield. However, a far greater emphasis is placed on high-intensity chase sequences. The latter half of the game is so thick with chases that it goes from frightening to exhausting.
Yet Outlast II’s biggest problem is that the mystery underneath the horror isn’t that interesting. Its linear sequence of farms and forests doesn’t hold the same intrigue as the first game’s labyrinthian asylum, while the story behind these communities and how they were corrupted is never properly explained. Instead, most of the documents you find are excerpts from the rambling ‘gospel’ of the commune’s leader, and letters between the cultists about how they want to have sex with God.
Ultimately, Outlast II tries too hard to shock and scare. It’s definitely horrible and effectively scary, but not in a way that’s enjoyable or interesting. It’s a shame because, in those fragmented moments when it stops to take a breath, you can glimpse potential shining through the blood and darkness.