With countless depictions of people imprisoned, brutalized, and killed in the name of a deranged Christian belief system, Outlast 2 lives up to the upside-down burning cross in its stylized title. But unlike Charles Laughton’s masterpiece The Night of the Hunter, which uses Robert Mitchum’s Harry Powell and Lillian Gish’s Rachel Cooper as respective visions of Christian faith at its most evil and most good, Outlast 2 makes all of its God-fearing characters into corrupt figures, from a self-proclaimed prophet who advocates infanticide to a priest who forces a female student to stay after school for lecherous reasons. As such, it’s hard to see developer Red Barrels’s game as anything more than an immature and hateful slight at anyone who dares to believe in a divine creator or a deity who may have died for their sins.
Like its predecessor, Outlast 2 puts the player in control of a journalist who finds himself with no choice but to, in the words of the intro, “run, hide, or die” from the maniacs who are trying to kill him. In both games, you frequently find yourself in pitch-black areas, so you must often use the night vision on a camcorder and be on the constant lookout for batteries in order to see anything. But whereas the original takes place in an asylum, thus making insanity, rather than misguided faith, the explanation behind the delusional character of Father Martin, writer JT Petty’s script sets Outlast 2 in rural Arizona for the more cynical reason of easily associating religious fanaticism with “backward” country folk, who, in this case, buy into the malevolent ramblings of a bogus prophet named Knoth.
By reading scattered documents, including excerpts from the Gospel of Knoth, the player learns that Knoth and his followers believe that killing one’s own children is holy. One letter, for example, indicates that a woman would like God himself to have sex with her, so as to extinguish the “antichrist” inside her. Some documents also painfully lean on stereotypical rural language, such as the line “You ben more then cousin to me since we was littl childrun.” The player also finds ample evidence of violence directed at adults by Knoth’s followers. One can’t run very far in Outlast 2 without stumbling across a crucifixion, and the game’s nonstop parading of cross imagery makes it seem that undeserved torture is the defining legacy of Christianity.
In the middle of escaping scores of rural murderers, the protagonist has vivid flashbacks of a sort to his days at a Catholic school. While these segments exude a Kubrickian intensity (bright and colorful halls, as well as a flood of blood, recall The Shining), they only function to highlight the trauma of the journalist, as opposed to illuminating any personal belief that outlines why people, for instance, shouldn’t crucify others in the name of Christ. These blasts from the past revel in condescension toward would-be believers, from a priest’s patronizing line, “I remember being a young man,” to a frantic chase where you crawl on top of books with titles like Faith and Life of Christ, all words that register as pointless gestures in the midst of so much terror.
The way that Outlast 2 frames crimes against humanity seals the conclusion that the developers are superficially anti-Christian and anti-religion. Echoing the first Outlast‘s prelude, you’re told at the beginning of the game that “Outlast 2 contains intense violence, gore, graphic sexual content, and strong language. Please enjoy.” If Red Barrels intends to address the volatile potential of blind faith, such text trivializes the game’s ensuing brutality as good old-fashioned “mature” entertainment, as defined by 1990s juvenilia like Mortal Kombat. This flippant advisory statement tells us that at the climax, when the journalist’s wife exclaims, “Fuck you, and fuck your God,” she might as well be talking to any believer who plays this repulsive game.