Red Barrel's Outlast 2 is a survival horror game that challenges the player on many levels. From a game play perspective, it challenges players to be meticulous observers and environmental detectives, looking for clues and objects and studying enemy patterns. Outlast 2 also challenges the player's tolerance for explicit gore, violence, and disturbing imagery. Many will not be able to see it through to the end.
Outlast 2 also distinguishes itself by using aberrant -- and abhorrent -- religious fundamentalism as a motivating factor, which makes the game a sort of second cousin to The Binding of Isaac. In the case of Outlast 2, the danger of Christian extremism is the thesis behind the game's child-murdering cult, and the game is full of distorted Christian symbolism and ritual. While no subject matter should be off the table for creators, Outlast 2 handles its theme in a particularly heavy-handed way, and its treatment of rural, uneducated believers never attempts to rise above stereotypes.
Outlast 2's story centers around journalist Blake Langermann, a cameraman who goes in search of his wife Lynn after their helicopter crashes in the rural southwest. Blake's journey leads him to a series of convoluted discoveries about warring religious cults and their leader, Sullivan Knoth, who is preparing for the end times in a very particular way. As Blake moves deeper into the sex-and-murder drenched cults -- always one step behind his wife -- he begins to hallucinate and descend into his own madness, fueled in part by traumatic memories of his youth in a strict Catholic school.
While the general tone of Outlast 2 might invite comparisons with the recent Resident Evil 7, Red Barrel's game is entirely focused on stealth, observation, and escape. Combat is never a viable option and player death is frequent. As is common in the genre, the story is pieced together through journal entries, random scraps of paper, dialogue, and environmental observation. There are scripted cut scenes and jump scares are plentiful, but the majority of Outlast 2 consists of moving slowly and hopefully undetected through the ever more disturbing world.
While the first Outlast was set primarily indoors, the second game alternates between interior and exterior environments, including ramshackle, decrepit rural villages, snowy forests and underground abandoned mines. Much of the game takes place in extremely low light, which both necessitates the use of Blake's most important tool -- his camera -- and conceals some flaws in the graphics, which are decent but not state of the art. The tension-infused musical score by Samuel Laflamme is a constant aural companion and both amplifies the action and gives the player clues to dangers in the environment.
Violent, gory, and drenched in tension and madness, Outlast 2's biggest flaw is that it sticks to a couple of notes and repeats them incessantly. Being an impotent victim with little chance of fighting back is scary for a while but wearying through the length of a game. Outlast 2's heavy-handed commentary on the dangers of fundamentalism lacks subtlety or perspective and feels like low-hanging thematic fruit. Without a shred of humor or lightness, Outlast 2 doesn't seem to realize that horror is more effective when paired with normalcy and the pleasantly mundane.