Religion is scary. Even if you don't find faith in the absence of evidence — and in spite of counter evidence — to be an alarming view to hold, a fundamentalist's interpretation of any allegedly god-sent scripture is often littered with ideas that are at best awkwardly antiquated and at worst downright illegal in a modern world. The intention to consume religion in moderation seems to resolve some of these issues and it's why we see a lot of modern people skirting some of the inconvenient or disagreeable parts of their holy books, but to do so is actually to disobey the books they're trying to cherrypick for its best ideas. These books demand a wholehearted approach. They disregard moderates the same way they do heretics or nonbelievers. It's all-or-nothing in the eyes of the many gods who are alleged to have authored the many texts.
What then does a fundamentalist look like in the modern world, one who adheres even to the chapters that condone things like human sacrifice and rape? Welcome to Outlast 2's Temple Gate, where it is not the gospel that must be adapted to a modern audience but rather the congregation that reverts to an ancient time of faith-based brutality.
Outlast 2 is another title in the recently popular first-person horror genre, which this series helped popularize years ago with its debut. Players claim the role of Blake Langermann, who is a cameraman for his journalist wife, Lynn. The game opens in a helicopter where the investigative power couple is en route to look into the disappearance and subsequent killing of a pregnant Jane Doe in the isolated Arizona desert. Right away it's noticable that the success of the original game and the years since it released have been kind to Red Barrels Studio, as Outlast 2 looks much better than its predecessor. Characters and environments alike look properly modern, especially with regards to the game's lighting techniques, which is crucial. It takes only a moment before you and your wife are separated amid a backwoods clan of religious zealots praising both God and Father Knoth, the snake-tongued leader of their cult, Temple Gate.
On the surface, Temple Gate is a grotesquely violent cult with morals all out of alignment with our modern society. That's the obvious reading, but just below that basic interpretation is the fact that the Gospel of Knoth hardly reads any different than real life religious texts that are read and beloved by billions globally. Examining how Knoth's word is both incongruous with our contemporary values and largely a rewrite of the Old Testament with much of the same iconography and outcomes (but could be any holy book, for that matter), Red Barrels' full and biting commentary comes into view. It's in these story beats, where Blake is constantly coming up against zealots who maim, murder, rape, and disembowel in the name of their deity, where Outlast 2 speaks loudly and perhaps controversially.
Knoth and his believers happily destroy nonbelievers and moderates indiscriminately, as demanded by their scripture. They haven't fallen dangerously far from the word of God, they're following it to each and every word. Along with an intriguing side-story that drips out via flashbacks, the overarching narrative seems to be an indictment on those who commit atrocities in the name of religiosity. More than that, it leaves no room for a favorable argument for religion because it says the most accurate interpretations leave no room for anything but brutality.
My most feared enemy in the game.
As much as the game is not for the happily religious, it is even less suitable for the faint of heart. Over the course of eight gameplay hours, you'll have to participate in a brutally violent and gory bout of hide-and-seek where you have no means of defending yourself. Some may dispel the effectiveness of "jump scares" but, like before, Outlast 2 pairs jump scares with tension in a way perhaps no other game does as well. Crouching in the dark with night vision enabled paints the world in the now signature green hue, which is made creepier when stalking zealots and heretics both seek you out with glowing eyes. Whether you're slamming a door with enemies on your heels before quickly locking and barricading yourself in, or you're on the run through cornstalks and don't know which way is out, the tension is at a boiling point throughout with few moments of respite.
Like the first game, Outlast 2 says the best defense is a good bed or closet to hide in. Each chase or stalking scene, which combine to make up the bulk of the game, is made more open than the original's scenarios because the game takes place largely outside and has you spanning a much greater area. Shimmying mountainsides, climbing ledges, ducking into hollowed out tree trunks, and lying flat in tall grass make Outlast 2 feel much bigger, but not without mixing in some of the tight corridors like the first game offered almost exclusively. In addition to that, your camera now tracks sound, which makes scenes more fearful and adds a welcome addition to the gameplay.
Altogether it's a mix that adds variety to the complete game, but those efforts are somewhat undone by sequences that can feel too familiar. "Here's the part where you don't have your camera for a while." "Here's the part where you need an item across the map before backtracking past the killers." If the game could speak, it would be delivering too many of the same lines as the first game, but that's not to say it's all a repeat.
Outlast 2 is proud to pull no punches, neither in story nor in imagery.
As awesome as the scares are, there exists an occasional issue with enemy AI that dampens them. With the game's stealth mechanics, a lot of player decisions are meant to be made based on pre-scripted movement patterns of enemies. In Outlast 2 these patterns aren't usually so obvious, but they do fall victim sometimes to apparent bugs where enemies forget what to do next. It doesn't happen often but sometimes the enemies behave in ways that look like a robot forgetting its routine — a Roomba that no longer knows how to vacuum.
Once a door was slammed on an enemy while unaware he was there but because he was about to open it himself, he instead just stood there, neither leaving nor trying to bust in the room. I could hear him quoting creepy scripture like all of the enemies do throughout the game, but because he was frozen in his routine, I had to open the door to let him chase me just so I could die and act differently the next time. This didn't always happen even when these exact parameters were met, but intermittently this sort of thing did crop up and it always felt like the sort of thing for which Outlast 2 was delayed but maybe wasn't completely resolved. Still, with these problems being few and far between and perhaps never to be seen by some, it's not a major issue when it's surrounded by so much that works well and scares almost perpetually.
Temple Gate is spilling over with blood and atmosphere alike. You can read Knoth's many pages of his book, sit in on graphic atrocities with your camera readied, and even come upon some who may have doubts for their leader and their God, wondering why a loving being, such as Knoth and God both proclaim to be, would demand their children be slain. The world is full of things to learn if you happen to have the fortitude to go off the path and put yourself at further risk, but more than its predecessor, the story takes center stage partly because of the fully voiced characters, including Blake himself. On that note, the irony is not lost when he is constantly running for his life, exclaiming things like "oh my god!" and "Jesus Christ!"
There were several moments where I wondered why I put myself through the fear-driven stress of playing Outlast 2.
Outlast 2 is going to be another challenging completion for those who seek it as you'll again have to beat it without reloading the camera battery on the hardest difficulty. Other specific and challenging tasks include never hiding in a closet or barrel, both of which were quite handy several times, as well as one that demands you speedrun the game in under four hours. There are plenty of story unlocks and a few that you maybe wouldn't get without knowing about, but they also shouldn't be very hard to perform.
SummaryControversially written and unflinchingly scary, Outlast 2 is a remarkable game that solidifies itself and its franchise as one of the greats in the genre. Although it gets slowed down by infrequent issues with AI and sequences that will feel familiar to series veterans, the end result is an atmospheric, dread-inducing, and contentiously biting narrative horror. Even more, above all of those attributes it needed to be terrifying, and holy hell is it terrifying.
- Terrifying scenarios throughout
- Improves and adds to the formula of the first game in several ways
- Excellent story with a head-scratching ending
- Recycles some of the same scenarios as its predecessor
- Some issues with enemy AI
EthicsThe reviewer spent roughly eight hours with Outlast 2, often spent cowering and in hiding while afraid to move. He unlocked 10 of 24 achievements for 275 gamerscore while playing without access to the list. An Xbox One copy was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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