'Outlast 2' is a Horror Story Where You're the Victim

'Outlast 2' is a Horror Story Where You're the Victim

No, the locals of 'Outlast 2' are not friendly. Red Barrels

There’s a twisted tale to enjoy if you can deal with being powerless

There’s a twisted tale to enjoy if you can deal with being powerless

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be the hero in a horror movie, Outlast 2 is not for you. But if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be the ineffectual jock who only got the role due to a passing resemblance to Channing Tatum, then pull up a chair – this is your time to shine.

Outlast 2 is a first-person horror game that tells the story of Blake Langermann, a cameraman and generic everyman stranded in the desert following a helicopter crash, with only a video camera and a missing wife to propel him forward. This being a horror story, there’s of course a nasty, quasi-religious cult or two, complete with strange mutants, a terrifying executioner woman stalking the night, and corpses flung all over the place like soggy throw cushions. Almost as scary, you also get flashbacks to Langermann's Catholic school days which – surprise – were not all dodgeball and pizza day at the cafeteria.

First up, this isn't a continuation of the story of the original Outlast, or its DLC Outlast: Whistleblower. That was set in an asylum and while it shares some themes you'll find here – like monsters and religious fanaticism – you don't need to hit up Wikipedia before you start Outlast 2.

If you’re more used to the sick thrills of Resident Evil 7 or even the later Silent Hill games, then prepare to feel distinctly ill-equipped to take on the Outlast 2's gruesome challenges. Your only powers are being pretty good at hiding under beds, and peeking through your camera's night-vision viewfinder. In every scenario, your options are to run, hide, or die.

Besides the camera, the only thing you’ll be consistently carrying are bandages and some spare batteries. If you find any other items in the world, you quickly learn to grab them, because they’re almost always the key to some simple puzzle. Unlike Resident Evil – where you’re toting a pistol like a pro after a two minute tutorial – you’re never actually armed in Outlast 2. While that’s not a problem in and of itself – whole franchises have been built around stealth – in Outlast 2, the sneaking has a slapdash feel to it. You might feel compelled at first to take the stealth mechanics seriously, but you soon learn there’s no situation that you can’t half-ass your way through by just running blindly in circles until your pursuer loses your scent.

Whether you’re a runner, or a hider you’ll die. A lot. Even with dumb luck on your side, there will be times when you just can’t predict your executioner's location, or you simply make the wrong choice while running blindly for your life and hit a dead end. The death animations are well done, but you can only witness your own demise a certain number of times before you become desensitized, and that's where the horror starts to lose its grip. By the end of the game, death is less stressful than the low battery warning beeping on the camera (low battery warnings – now that's a true modern day horror story).

Boundaries aren’t so much pushed as covered in pig's blood, dismembered and fed to rabid wolves

The moment I realized I was in a gussied-up walking simulator was when a man, strapped to a wheel and with "Judas" carved into his chest, begged me to kill him. I wanted to and I would have, but all my character could do was scuttle off and find somewhere to hide. My hiding spot did give me a decent view of his ultimately nasty end, but still. When you're being chased by mutants and cultists, this lack of agency perhaps comes with the territory. In moments like this one, though, you’re just so utterly impotent that it completely pulls you out of the the narrative.

And for all its gameplay flaws, this is a narrative that you'll actually want to stay in. If your temperament can bear the ceaseless cycle of death, Outlast 2 rewards you with one of the most twisted horror stories ever encountered in a game. Boundaries aren’t so much pushed as covered in pig's blood, dismembered and fed to rabid wolves. Among the themes it tackles are regret, pestilence, suicide, religion, and an impending apocalypse – all staples of scary stories, and Outlast 2 does a masterful job of mixing them all together into a delicious, highly toxic cocktail. As a horror movie or even a walking simulator, this would have been a must-see (it's much better than most of the "found footage" garbage oozing out of big studios seemingly every week), but as a game, the mechanics are just awkward enough to get in the way. Fight on through, though, and you'll be rewarded with violent delights that will stalk your nightmares for weeks.