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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Outlast II is a downloadable survival horror game. Players neither fight nor kill their aggressors -- a group of isolated and murderous religious cultists -- but instead attempt to survive by staying out of sight. Getting spotted typically leads to Blake, the protagonist, being brutally stabbed or bludgeoned to death, which the player views from an intense first-person perspective as he screams in agony. Players are also witness to other acts of violence, such as the murder and torture of others -- including a half-naked woman being stretched to death on a rack. Mutilated bodies litter the environment and are hanged from trees, locked in cages, and bound in grotesque shapes with wires. Players also witness, from behind walls, the apparent rape of Blake's wife, as well as other scenes in which women's breasts are shown. A woman dies giving bloody birth to what players are meant to assume is the Antichrist. Blake frequently uses extremely strong profanity in response to what he sees. Parents should also note that the story makes heavy use of Christian concepts and symbolism, which the cultists pervert to justify their vile actions.
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What's it about?
In OUTLAST II, veteran cameraman Blake Langermann is investigating a story with his wife, television reporter Lynn Langermann, when the helicopter ferrying the pair to a remote location crashes in the forest. Separated from Lynn, Blake finds himself in the midst of crazed religious cultists who spout unholy gospel, while also torturing and murdering outsiders. Armed only with a camera equipped with a night vision mode and a directional microphone, Blake has a goal not to fight and hack through the cultists but rather to sneak about unseen, record the atrocities he sees, track down his wife, and survive. Skulking through the pitch-black night, Blake must find his way through farmer's fields and run down hamlets, chapels, and an abandoned mine (all patrolled by zealots who will attack him on sight), while occasionally enduring intense psychological sequences that take him back to a tragedy that happened during his youth attending Catholic school. Plot twists concerning not only the cultists but also Blake himself are meant to keep players guessing all the way up to the end.
Is it any good?
Trial-and-error play resulting in a sense of powerlessness and frustration keeps this survival game from reaching its full potential. Outlast II works hard to create a sense of terror and impending doom by limiting your vision through the inky blackness of its night landscapes and by stubbornly refusing to let Blake fight back against his aggressors, even when potential weapons lay all around him. And while its deeply distorted Christian themes aren't likely to have a very profound impact on nonreligious players, those with strong Christian backgrounds will almost certainly feel their skin begin to crawl while listening to the chilling, abominable monologues of the cult's followers and reading their deranged notes and letters. This is all in service of creating a sense of tension and unease in players, and it works pretty well -- except when it gets sabotaged by the way the game handles encounters.
Not being able to fully see the world certainly makes exploration harder (and often scarier), but it also denies a fair chance of avoiding a grisly end. Most encounters are pure trial and error, with players forced to feel their way around a dangerous environment crowded with enemies while looking for a way to progress or escape -- and typically dying multiple times in the process because they can't properly see (or sometimes hear) enemies or defend themselves once they're spotted. With each grisly death, the action becomes less intense and more frustrating; it ends up as less immersive and more an exercise in figuring out where the designers intend for the player to go. Forced mechanics -- such as disposable batteries needed to power your camera's night vision that last less time than it takes to read this review (yes, it's that kind of game) – serve to increase our aggravation rather than heighten our fear. Outlast II is undeniably shocking and gory and blasphemous and at times terrifying, but it ends up cheating its way to most of these objectives. Gamers enjoy a good challenge but also possess a keen awareness of what's fair. And they won't find much fairness in Outlast II.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the impact of violence in the media. Most game protagonists are perpetrators of violence, but since Outlast II makes its hero the victim, is this a more realistic depiction of how someone might handle the situation presented in the game?
Talk about religion. Outlast II shows how some people can manipulate religion -- and the faithful -- for their own purposes, so what precautions can religious communities in the real world take to keep this from happening?