Gore had a bit of a moment back in the mid-2000s. Films like Saw brought with them a wave of extreme blood and guts imagery, which was designed to disgust as much as frighten. That tradition continues with Outlast 2, which launched late last week, though Red Barrels' survival horror game lacks much of what made those movies so memorable.
This article contains spoilers for Outlast 2.
Rather, Outlast 2 takes the very worst of these films, foregoing proper scares for relentless nastiness, making for a game that's horrific rather than entertaining. It carries themes of violence and self-harm throughout: When Blake and Lynn Langermann's helicopter first crashes on the outskirts of Temple Gate in Arizona, Lynn is kidnapped by the deranged inhabitants, who proclaim that she is due to give birth to the antichrist, and therefore the child must be killed.
Fairly early on, Blake witnesses the torture of both a man and wife, as the latter is stretched out on a rack till the point of her skin splitting. This is all to make the man reveal the location of Lynn, so that the cult leader Sullivan Knoth can put an end to the "antichrist she carries in her womb" before it can be birthed. All this climaxes with Lynn dying during a particularly bloody childbirth, and Knoth slitting his own throat, having conceded that he is too late to stop the birth. Neither of these events are frightening to the player, and are instead used by Outlast 2 to purely provoke disgust.
It brings to mind many of the later Saw films, which became progressively worse as they went along. Each successive film ramped up the gore and sadomasochism, with victims being forced to cut off their own hands and gouge out their own eyes, among other terrible trials. The Saw franchise lived on this shock factor for seven installments, generally releasing around Halloween every year in an attempt to disgust audiences around the globe.
Outlast 2 is much the same. The theme of violence against children is abundant in Outlast 2, with shrines and graves littered with torn apart dolls being found around Temple Gate, as well as documents being found revealing the murderous ways of the town prophet, Sullivan Knoth. Through this, Outlast 2 attempts to shock and disgust its audience using meaningless violence, as although the violence is overt, Knoth's reasons behind the slaughtering of children is paper thin at best.
In somewhat similar ways, the original Outlast also attempted to revolt audiences, but with different tactics. Protagonist Miles Upsher was subject to having several fingers removed, although other characters in the game suffered far worse fates, with genital mutilation in particular featuring in one of the most disgusting scenes imaginable in video games.
But whereas the violence in the original Outlast was due to an outbreak at the insane asylum, the violence in Outlast 2 is practiced in everyday life by the inhabitants of Temple Gate. Corpses can be found littered throughout the surrounding landscape, with certain areas having these arranged in visually distinctive patterns, lining the walls with arms and legs bent out of shape into tortured positions.
Through this, Outlast 2 constantly pushes violence and gore in the face of the player, never letting up on this for more than a few minutes at a time. The Saw films employed similar tactics with their audience, as even when no torture scenes were taking place that related to the main plot of the film, they would nonetheless make a reappearance with throwaway characters.
Take, for example, the car scene in Saw 6. This scene has absolutely no relation or bearing whatsoever to the main plot of the film, which features a health insurance salesman attempting to work his way through a series of grisly traps, like stabbing his own hand to select which of his co-workers are spared the blast of a shotgun. The car scene features (aside from the lead singer of Linkin Park), no characters of note whatsoever, or of any relation to the main plot thread. Instead, it's merely used as a reminder to the audience of what lies at the core of the Saw films: violence, gore, and a horrifying shock factor accompanying both.
Outlast 2 uses these tactics as a way of shocking and disgusting the audience, instead of actually scaring them. Resident Evil 7 chose to largely forgo this shock factor through gore, as although there were overly gory moments in the game, it was the Baker family themselves, and their distinctive personalities and mannerisms, that struck genuine fear into the heart of players.
But Outlast 2 can't make their audience experience genuine fear through anything other than gore or violence, as it has no distinguishable characters like the Baker family to fall back on. As previously mentioned, Sullivan Knoth's reasons for engaging in infanticide are confused and thin, and combining this with the character himself only making two appearances in the game, leads the character to become more of a backdrop to the game, rather than an active participant.
Outlast 2 never truly provides frightening antagonists for the player to fear, so instead attempts to scare players through the sheer amount of bloodshed on the screen. Both these factors combined paint Outlast 2 as a game ultimately lacking in imagination, in which revulsion seems to have been the top design principle rather than a byproduct of the world created.
If you want to play Outlast 2 anyway, check out our extensive Outlast 2 guide and walkthrough for tips.