Horror game dev Red Barrels burst onto the console scene in 2014 with handheld camera horror game Outlast. For a first game, we were damn impressed with it. The subsequent expansion was equally impressive, and in the months that followed, the confirmation of a sequel made us downright giddy. So understandably, when Red Barrels announced Outlast 2 would be playable for the first time to the public at PAX East, we just knew that we had to get our hands on it. And that's exactly what we did.
Upon walking into Red Barrels' ominous, blackout booth, we were honestly unsure what to expect. We didn't really know a whole lot about the game at the time, but we had high hopes. Pretty much all we knew was that the environment seemed poised to be radically different, and that religion would again play a part in the narrative.
In the 20 or so minutes we got to spend with the game, we came away with much more however. You control Blake Langerman, a cameraman, who, with the aid of your wife Lynn, is investigating the murder of a pregnant woman. This investigative angle gives us a sneaking suspicion that there may be a connection – however small – to Waylon Park, the character in the Whistleblower expansion.
Unfortunately, a vehicular crash results in you being hopelessly stranded in the Arizona desert. Almost immediately the environment and feel of the game are radically different to that of the first one. While the nightvision and camera gameplay are very much at the core of the experience, the setting feels remarkably fresh. Not only is the Arizona desert radically different from the first game's setting of Mount Massive, but it feels unique as a setting for the horror genre at large.
Outlast 2 has already sunk its hooks into us, and when it releases this fall, we'll be first in line to get our hands on it
In the demo that we got to play, Blake encounters a haunting little farm area under a full moon as he searches for his wife, who has seemingly vanished following the crash. Her screams can occasionally be heard off in the distance as you navigate the environment, and while things don't start off particularly cheery, they get progressively creepier as Blake delves further into the farm.
To kick things off, we absolutely loved the change of scenery that the new game is offering. Across the demo's runtime, we encountered a variety of particularly nasty things, ranging from a well with tentacles creeping from the bottom, small buildings where people stare at you through windows only to back away into nothingness when you spot them, to a particularly grisly pit full of what seemed like corpses of children, illuminated by a window shaped like an upside down cross – which appears as the 'T' in the game's logo.
And the demo ends in one of this writer's personal favorite settings for horror games: a school. In there, Blake is dogged by some kind of black phantom that is only visible for a second or two whenever we turned quickly, and who seemed to be fond of messing with us by opening and closing lockers in large volumes. The atmosphere of the demo was oppressive in the best way, and the school was the best showing of this.
Also of note is the fact that we arrived in this school after a gauntlet sequence of running through a corn field. This, to us, seemed to be a good indicator of where Red Barrels is improving on things from the first game. While the original had gauntlet sequences, the nature of the asylum made everything feel claustrophobic and constrained. However, this time around, everything feels wide open, and, particularly in the corn field, we felt like we had the freedom to head in virtually any direction.
This opening of the environments is allowing the dev to get a little more creative with its scares as well. The first game had its share of jump scares, which by the title's end weren't particularly engaging. In this demo, we encountered only one jump scare, while everything else was crafted more subtly, through either complete and utter silence, or an ominous build-up through things like music or items in the environment.
When the demo did finally come to a close, we came away immensely impressed with the way Red Barrels has improved on its already successful formula of scares. Outlast 2 has already sunk its hooks into us, and when it releases this fall, we'll be first in line to get our hands on it.
Have you got your camcorder handy in anticipation for Outlast 2? Do you think this is one fright-fest that you'll be able to brave? Recharge your batteries in the comments section below.