Developer Red Barrels ramps up the terror, atmosphere and scares in its new first-person horror game Outlast 2.

I usually have games turned on while I'm writing my reviews, as it can help jog my memory or think of things I may have missed. So it's a testament to the fact Outlast 2 is terrifying that I've had to mute it while writing. Even on the menu screen, you're instantly intimidated by shriekingly distracting strings and thumping drums, which is just a taste of things to come. And if you think you know what Outlast 2 has prepared for you because you played Outlast, you're dead wrong.

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Plot

Set in rural Arizona, Lynn Langermann is investigating the impossible circumstances of the murder of an unnamed pregnant woman. Blake, our protagonist and Lynn's husband, is the cameraman is dutifully recording the events. They're the dream team who seek truth and answers to the cases no one else is willing to touch. When their helicopter goes down, the couple becomes separated and Blake sets out to find his wife, unwittingly becoming entangled in a story much larger than anything they'd anticipated. There's cultism, Satanism, and a good old-fashioned dose of crap-your-pants scary antagonists who hunt you in the dark and taunt you with creepy whispered words.

Outlast 2 plays a little bit more like an action game than Outlast did, however, you're still not able to attack or fight back in any way. So the only way to survive anything is to run or hide. Enemies chase you for extended periods of time, you'll be running for your life to break line of sight long enough to hide, and you'll be requiring to use the "LB" button a lot to check over your shoulder to see how close your pursuer is. Guys will appear seemingly out of nowhere, and the antagonist you see in the trailer above with the large scythe pops up and chases you off, only to appear behind you once you return. It's this kind of relentless attitude that makes Outlast 2 so much more stressful. The music changes to thumping drums and howling synths and strings the second you're in danger, which can be a surprise at times, being caught unaware.

If you allow the game to intimidate you it can be challenging, but keeping a cool head and taking in your surroundings as much as possible is imperative. Blake, unfortunately, did not eat his carrots as a young boy, and you'll have a heavy reliance on the night-vision mode on his camera. This turns the screen from pitch darkness to a sea of ghostly green, but activating it depletes the battery quicker. Forcing you to choose between the relative comfort of being able to see with your night light or saving what battery power you have left puts you in an even harder situation. In the darkest areas, you'll need night vision to see the extra consumables. I liked that I could leave the night vision mode on as I raised and lowered by the camera, preventing me from needing to activate it every time I looked through.

If you can escape for long enough, or you have a bit of breathing space and you're still bearing enough of your wits to pay attention, you can heal any hurts Blake has with bandages. Hitting the window button on the Xbox Controller changes the screen's point of view, looking down at Blake's coat. There you can see how many batteries you have remaining, how many bandages you carry, and check your camera. There's a little touch here I don't think many will notice or appreciate, and that's when you hit "LS" if you're within this "inventory." Blake will move on and the menu closes, which I feel like adds a sense of urgency to the overall feel of Outlast 2.

Every time you look at the camera, Blake will repeat your current objective, and you might be so scared you forgot. If you have forgotten what the bloody hell is going on after being chased through a shanty town by something that looks like it could scare Death himself, you can review the information you have recorded and collected. Since you're an investigator's cameraman, you get to shoot all of the hideous and awful footage yourself. Blake will prompt you with, "I should get a shot of this," so aim your camera at it while the red reticule fills up and the time-code runs. When you review the footage back, Blake has narrated some information over the top of it, filling in some blanks for us.

The Gospel of Knoth

Outlast 2's premise is shocking — shockingly predictable. After about half an hour in, I wrote down four things that I would expect to happen over the course of the game, and they were all correct. In an effort not to spoil what those four things are since they're pretty large plot points, I will say that despite its predictability and ease of piecing the story together, Outlast 2's execution is indeed shocking and difficult.

It's a triple whammy of discomfort, being blind, terrorized by incidental music and never knowing when your next rest is coming from. Then, of course, you have the subject matter. Very early on in the game, you enter a wooden boarded house, with a picture of a large priestly-looking man hanging on the wall. Loading screens tell you about The Gospel of Knoth, the words of a man sickened by the freely-fornicating ways of the world, and has set up his own civilization adhering to his own perceived word of God. He's a religious fanatic, who preaches the word of God as Salvation but does terrible things in his name, leading his people in what he calls The End of Times. Long before you meet Sullivan Knoth, you'll piece together his role in the Temple Gate cult, both as a leader and influencer, his minions and underlings often repeating his gospel from the shadows.

What we learn from eavesdropping on talkative insane hunters and finding letters is that despite not knowing exactly what, bad things are happening to women and babies. With women being referred to as "wenches" and "whores" in the context of birthing and sacrifices, and talk of "foul seed spillers," it's safe to assume from early on that this is a cult of cruel idealistic baby-makers.

Nowhere to hide

Outlast 2 feels like it plays differently to its predecessor. With a much more aggressive opening, people familiar with Outlast will probably feel knocked back on their asses. Outlast felt different because there were large parts of the game that felt relatively simple even during a first playthrough, where Outlast 2 showed signs of poke-and-prod progression very early on. This meant that despite the circumstances being terrifying, the anxiety wore off after a while because you were finally at ease with how you were going to play a section out. But these elements were still high-octane heart squeezing as you have to work so much harder to lose sight of the enemy. It's no longer enough to throw yourself under a bed and know you won't be found.

I didn't feel like these moments happened until later on in Outlast, and I can't decide if this works for or against Outlast 2. On one hand, Outlast 2 introduces action sequences much sooner than its predecessor, hitting you with anxiety almost from the start, however, some might find the sudden bump into terror land, after a reasonably gentle introduction, to be overwhelming.

Summary

While there are aspects of "more of the same" in Outlast 2, the more is very more.

Pros:

  • Darker, more sinister plot.
  • Terrifying enemy design and AI keep you on the edge of your seat.
  • Expert sound effects and score will constantly scare you.

Cons:

  • Throwing you in at the deep end may be overwhelming.

Great

4/5

A truly frightening game that has surpassed Outlast in its graphic content and heart-stopping action, I can safely say I'm never leaving the house again. Outlast 2 is available now for $29.99 on Xbox One.

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Disclaimer - This review was conducted on Xbox One with a code provided by the developer.