Blake Langermann is not a physically outstanding individual. Blake plays the role of cameraman for his wife, Lynn Langermann, an investigative journalist seeking to unravel the mysteries behind a strange murder in the Arizona desert. Is Blake brave, tenacious, and fully supportive of Lynn’s commitment to dive into the unknown? Sure. Is he able to defend himself? Not at all. But at least he has an eye for photography, right?
It’ll have to do.
In Outlast 2, you play as Blake Langermann. You and your fearless, journalistic life partner Lynn are flying in a helicopter towards a disheveled wilderness away from civilization, and, purportedly, where the body of a pregnant girl was found. Of course, your helicopter malfunctions and crash lands around the area. You come to with nothing but your camera at your disposal, and so the terrifying search for your wife begins.
It’s not long before you happen upon a swath of grotesque phenomena. Discovering the fate of the helicopter pilot intensifies the urgency to find Lynn, and your attempts to reunite with her lead to further discoveries about the area’s residents. You are far from alone, and the foreboding atmosphere of the unknown ahead only gets worse as the sounds coming from the dark grow stranger. Unless you stumble upon the occasional bonfire or porch light, you’ll be navigating your way through the darkness of night with your camera’s night vision. But that consumes your battery. Despite the horrors awaiting your arrival in the dark, there is nothing scarier than seeing “You have no batteries.” appear on the screen.
With your visibility on a timer, you’ve got to make progress (or at least find another battery) before your night vision vanishes. Spare batteries are littered around the game, but you can only hold three at a time. This mechanic alone is reason enough to push forward when you absolutely do not want to approach a situation; it feels better to die than to be blind in the dark. At least death is certain.
Your camera is also used to record snippets of events and documents you’ll find scattered throughout the game. It’s by reviewing these recorded discoveries that you’ll uncover what’s been going on around Temple Gate, the dilapidated town you’ve been navigating. Over time you’ll start to gain more insight into the crazed townsfolk. Whether it’s an overheard song sung sullen, a conversation between tormented characters, a recited monologue with trance-like delivery, or articles of writing scattered throughout the game’s entirety, one revelation stands out: these people are abhorrent religious fanatics, and their testament matches the repulsiveness of their cankerous bodies.
The influence of Papa Knoth, the leader of this religious movement, is inescapable. Sometimes you hear his voice blaring from elevated megaphones around town. Open a door and there you’ll find a painting portraying Papa Knoth as a saint with a halo behind his head. Ceremonial candles below the picture frame add a welcoming, approachable lighting to the shrine, which feels worse to look at the more you get to know Papa Knoth, or, more importantly, his dogmatic intentions.
Variations of dialect, handwriting, and spelling ability reinforce Outlast 2‘s story, but the game relies heavily upon you finding documents and filming specific environments to flesh it out. If you want to hear Blake’s commentary on these videos, or revisit the documents you’ve found, you must dive into the menu screen of your camcorder to watch your recordings. This disruption in pacing interrupts the tension so well built by the game’s environments, and reading whole pages of unorganized scripture is not quick to digest. Demystifying the testament and townspeople demands both time and a clear head, neither of which are granted to you by the game.
Missing certain recordings and documents can leave you feeling lost and disconnected from the story–especially if you haven’t played any of the other Outlast games. Even if you do discover important pieces to the exposition, not one moment feels like a fitting time to sit down and connect all the dots. The story and its presentation contradict one another from beginning to end; you either run around wasting your batteries in fear of missing some narrative, or the game draws so much of your focus to the immediate, pressing matter at hand that you forget your wife ever existed.
Outlast 2 has a millstone around its neck, but it’s not enough to dismiss the nightmare. Its communion with disturbing imagery and atmosphere is one of the most terrifying interpretations of squalor I’ve seen–or played–and while Outlast 2 hosts an intriguing narrative pregnant with tension, its impact is aborted by its muddied delivery.
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