With Hallowe’en upon us, developer Red Barrels released a timely demo of their upcoming horror-survival game Outlast 2. The playable teaser is currently on Steam, Xbox One, and PS4, but it can only be downloaded until November 1. You’ll want to grab it before then, because it has all the makings of an instant classic.
I first went hands-on with the demo in August at X16 in Toronto, and even in that much less scary month Outlast 2 left me severely unnerved. It introduces Blake Langermann, who goes to solve a mysterious murder in Arizona only to encounter some seriously terrifying scenarios. As is often the case with horror, it’s best to go into the playable teaser blind and ignorant (like the protagonist). Though there are some quality jump-scares throughout the 20-minute demo (all of which worked on me), the technique isn’t overused. Instead, the game utilizes psychological elements to terrorize the player. There are off-putting images of abandoned classrooms and a cornfield school yard, while silence builds suspense for what is (and is not) to come. I tried to brace myself, but even if I was correct about what was around the corner, the buildup still had a lingering effect.
The Outlast 2 demo doesn’t have an overwhelming amount of blood or violence, but according to Red Barrels co-founder and Senior Game Designer Philipe Morin, the team hopes their upcoming effort will push boundaries in the horror game genre.
“I don’t think we’re doing anything that’s never been done in movies, but for some reason, the video game industry has been a lot more scared to take mature subjects and make games for adults,” said Morin. “Since we’re a smaller studio and don’t have the overhead of the big studios, we can afford to take risks and try to create experiences that haven’t been done before.”
One of those risks is the use of religious themes and imagery as a central focus in the narrative. The demo sets the tone with holy symbols scattered throughout the Catholic school setting (duh!), while the game’s logo includes an inverted cross. I can think of only a handful of games that tackle the subject in a meaningful way, and Outlast 2’s willingness to have a mature conversation about religion already makes it feel like it’s accomplishing something new, especially in a genre that usually uses religious iconography as cheap window dressing.
For Red Barrels, it’s more important to innovate with content rather than technology. Unlike Resident Evil 7, Outlast 2 will not be available in Virtual Reality. Though the gimmick has become the latest trend, Morin says it’s not possible for Outlast 2 because it will change the integrity of the game and is too difficult to do under their current build.
“There are too many things [about the game] that are too VR unfriendly,” he said. “If you want to create an experience that is really effective for the VR, it has to be built from the ground up – not necessarily the visual aspects, but the mechanics, how you tell the story and how you progress, all these things need to be specifically built for VR.”
With that said, the Outlast 2 demo mirrors other teasers such as P.T. and Resident Evil 7 in the sense that it’s a standalone adventure. The Outlast 2 demo is a complete experience that still leaves you wanting more, and it’s a good indication that the final product will be equally alluring.
That makes it a great game to try with friends on a spooky night like Halloween. While the lack of VR support might make the game less immersive, it is preferable for those who like to experience horror with a group of people. Half of the first Outlast’s charm was watching friends squirm in fear, and vice versa. With that in mind, here’s my suggestion: get together with some pals or loved ones, turn off all of the lights, load up the demo, and try not to cry. I could barely make it through the short demo, so imagine how daunting (in the best way possible) the full game will be.
It’s not a stretch to say that Outlast 2 might go down in history as one of the most terrifying games of all time. It has stiff competition from games like Silent Hill 2 and Amnesia: The Dark Descent, but the demo alone has the potential to sit among those greats. Because of its terrifying imagery, controversial themes, and sharable experience, Outlast 2 is looking scary good.