Release Year – 2017
Developer – Red Barrels
Writer – J.T. Petty
Engine – Unreal Engine 3
Platforms – Xbox One, Playstation 4, PC
I need to start by saying that I am NOT a video game reviewer. While I have enjoyed gaming since my SNES console, my understanding is not on the level that it is for horror movies. I know, you’re probably thinking I just really lowered the bar for my understanding of gaming now. Anyway, I have had so much fun playing horror themed video games lately that I feel the need to share these experiences with you. If I enjoyed them then it is likely that you will too.
As a lifelong horror fan I am both proud and disappointed to say that these days it takes a lot for a film to scare me. On top of this, I have certain things that scare me more than others, and they are sadly few and far between with modern horror films. That is definitely not the case with horror video gaming. Because gaming immerses you into the experience on a level that film cannot, the scares are intensified and they come more frequently.
Earlier this year I played Outlast – a first-person survival horror game where you portray an investigative reporter who breaks into a rundown mental hospital to investigate a whistleblower’s insane claims about what is going on within the fortified complex. I was a few years too late, but the game sold me on getting into horror gaming. Fans of found-footage should enjoy this, as your only method of making your way through the dark corridors is to use your camera’s night vision feature. You aren’t awarded unlimited battery life, so you must find additional batteries or suffer the consequences. On top of this, you have no means of fighting back against the many antagonists. All you can do is run, or hide. I then completed its DLC, titled Outlast: Whistleblower, which serves as both a prequel and eventual sequel to Outlast. Now that brings me to Outlast II. When I first viewed a preview of the gameplay I wasn’t quite sure if I would enjoy it. With Outlast you are forced into claustrophobic situations. That did not seem to be the case here, as Outlast II goes for a more open world experience. It isn’t truly “open world”, but it definitely allows for more unrestricted movement. Needless to say, Red Barrel (the company behind the games) found a way to force you into the same claustrophobic situations. I love that they gave us a different look, yet it did not detract from the horror at all. In fact, Outlast II gives us more horror than its predecessors. Does that mean it is better horror? That is subjective to the player. I will say that I died twice as many times playing Outlast II as I did with Outlast and the Outlast: Whistleblower DLC combined.
With Outlast II you play as Ethan, a cameraman working alongside his wife Lynn as they investigate the mysterious disappearance and eventual death of a “Jane Doe” pregnant woman in rural Arizona. When a strange occurrence forces the crash landing of their helicopter, Ethan’s desperate search for his wife uncovers an off-grid village of terrors. The locals are practicing a fringe form of Christianity under the guise of “Papa” Sullivan Knoth – a firm believer that their village, Temple Gate, resides on the mouth of Hell and outsiders Ethan and Lynn have triggered the coming of the antichrist. With his wife ensnared in their grasp and undergoing cruel punishments of Biblical proportions, Ethan must race against time and the many terrors lurking within the woods and mines of this place that God has surely forgotten about.
Let me just start by saying I love how this series of games immerses you into the experience. Being armed with only a camcorder and the inability to fight back (except for a few scripted scenes) leaves you vulnerable to every foe you come across. This forces you to both run and hide in a plethora of ways, with both having their own sense of excitement. Because Ethan is an established videographer, you can expect a more sophisticated camera than the one used in the previous entries. Activating the camera’s built in microphone will allow you to hone in on footsteps and voices of nearby enemies. While this may sound comforting in that it should make the experience an easier one – it doesn’t. In fact, you are unlikely to succeed without this. You know from the get-go that you are in for literal Hell. After regaining consciousness from the crash, you find your wife missing and your helicopter pilot skinned and tied to a pole. The remaining gameplay amounts to about 6 hours of terror, which probably took me twice as long with all the hiding and dying that comes with it.
The residents of Temple Gate are not the only foes you should fear. There is a rival group known as the Heretics, and then there are the primitive outcasts you must sneak by. While each of these warring groups brought their own terror to the table, nothing prepared me for the school scenes. Shortly after Ethan arrives he begins having hallucinations stemming from a terrible event that happened in the fourth grade. This event has haunted him his whole life, but never like this. Before I ventured into the game I was told that these scenes are the scariest, and I must say I feel the same way. The developers did an amazing job with these scenes, and I don’t know why I haven’t seen many other games involving a school setting like this. Dead Space 3 did it for a little while. From what I remember, schools and hospitals are downright scary after hours. This is amplified when you are the only sound in your vicinity, and then a little girl running from a Lovecraftian demon sends you running as well. There is a library scene that left me with shivers down my legs and my head in my hands as I tried desperately to figure out how to survive it. As of this day, this has to be my scariest experience with anything horror-related for 2017. No movie has scared me like this in a very long time. This is definitely a sub-plot, so the school and Temple Gate scenes are not evenly distributed. Not to worry, it is for your own health that the school scenes only take up about a third of the runtime as they, to me, account for 50 percent of the horror.
I was beyond impressed with the look of the antagonists here and found them to be an upgrade over the mentally ill patients from Outlast. While these people are also suffering mental incapacities, with hints that this is in relation to the Markov Corporation, there is more variety here and definitely more of a supernatural presence. Each warring group had their own sinister appearance and also exhibited different heinous acts. Couple this with the demon in the school and you have at least 4 groups of antagonists that contribute to the film. None of them are wasted, which was a big relief to me as this happens way too often with film.
So, do I have any gripes with Outlast II? I do, and I can only think of two. The first is that we don’t see enough of Sullivan Knoth. He is the ringleader of the village and pretty much the apex of everything going wrong in the area (outside of Markov’s involvement), yet we only see him at the end of the film. He definitely makes his presence known throughout the piece, but he doesn’t contribute to the climax very much. On top of this, the storytelling is a bit of a mess. If you are looking for an answer to the supernatural events going on it is unlikely you will find one in concrete fashion. You have to read all of the documents you find just to have a basic understanding of the situation, and even then you will be left with more questions than answers. This did not disappoint me too much given the game did so well with its gameplay and with scaring the crap out of me too many times. If you ask me, this leaves the game open for a DLC companion piece to come out and fill in the blanks, which I will gladly take part in.
Overall, Outlast II comes highly recommended for those wanting a truly terrifying experience in the gaming realm. Your vulnerability exemplifies the terror and its plethora of ways to be killed will leave you shivering.
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