In my brief ten-minute hands-on of Outlast 2, I got so frightened that I knocked the headphone jack out of the demo station's PC, shouted expletives I will not repeat here, and asked the developers, "What the hell is wrong with you?" the moment I stepped out of the darkened room where I played it. So. Yeah. It's scary as hell.
But I'm not really a 'horror guy' though - basically, if you walk at me from around a blind corner in broad daylight, I'm probably going to jump a little bit, so Outlast 2 already had me there. What impressed me most about the sequel to the highly-regarded Outlast is that the developers at Red Barrel didn't just set it inside another abandoned [insert spooky locale here]. I've often believed that jump scares are cheap, and Outlast 2 seems to agree. Not to say that there won't be those moments (it is a horror game, after all), but Outlast 2 is far more interested in messing with the same psychologically disorienting buttons that PT pushed, along with a healthy dose of highly disturbing religious fervor to really get under your skin.
My demo opens as the camera slowly zooms out on a burning upside-down cross while two individuals discuss getting video footage, only to have their helicopter crash in the middle of what appears to be the village of a Satanic cult in rural America. Things are already off to a bad start because 1) my character has glasses, and they immediately fall off of his face when he stumbles to the ground and 2) I must have rolled my ankle, because I'm walking with a really nasty limp. I pick up my glasses and painstakingly hobble my way from dilapidated cabin to cabin, knocking on doors, looking for someone - anyone - to help… but also kind of hoping no one's around because there are dead bodies just decaying in these houses. Meanwhile, I've got my camera, which I can use for night vision in poorly lit areas, but I can't use it too long, because it eats batteries faster than my childhood Game Gear did.
I go into a cellar - because what good is a horror game without a creepy cellar? - and find a massive pile dead bodies next to a room containing a bloody straw basket. They're probably sacrificing babies here. Coooooooooooooooooool. I eventually come across a well, and as I look into it, a smoky tentacle reaches out from it and pulls me down into it… and now I'm lying in a set of air ducts? In a high school? And it's snowing outside? What the hell?
Here's where the PT scares start coming in. I walk out of the classroom and into a hallway. None of the doors are working. I walk up and down this stretch of hallway for a good couple of minutes, trying doors I've already tried, knowing something is probably going to scare the bejeezus out of me at any moment (and once I finished my second lap, it did). Voices are whispering in my ears, but I eventually find my way around, and walk into the blinding light pouring out of an open locker - and find myself back in the village.
Now things are bad. The cult leader's bullhorn-filtered southern drawl bellows overhead, commanding the residents to find and kill me while spouting off a fire-fueled religious sermon. Admittedly, I'm not paying too much attention, because I'm running at FULL SPEED through cornstalks (CORNSTALKS, DAMMIT), trying to avoid their flashlights and hoping to whatever god is out there these guys don't find me. I cut through a path winding through the village, jump back into the cornfield, and spot a light in the distance. I sprint as fast as my legs can carry me, and finally hop over a ledge seemingly to safety - and I'm met by a creepy monster person who takes a pick axe to my unmentionables. Cut to black.
Even in this brief demo, I've seen things that are simultaneously far more human and far more alien than anything in the previous game. Where Outlast is all about finding horror in oppressive, isolating locations and experiences, the sequel aims to prove that the real hell is other people, and to me, that's a far more effective scare than simply making another haunted house. Throw in a bit of nightmare logic, and you've got a game that is constantly trying to get you to doubt your own perception of reality, trying to push you to the brink of madness. I don't typically enjoy horror games, but I'm actually excited to put myself through Outlast 2's brand of misery to see what other tricks it can come up with when it hits PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One this fall.