A Fetish for Religious Tropes in Outlast 2

In Outlast 2, religion is merely a prop for shocking the player’s sense of propriety.

Written by Jonathan R. Clauson / Published on June 14, 2017

Running from a 7 foot woman in a grim reaper outfit, spewing religious nonsense who wants to plant her equally tall pickaxe in my groin is tiring. I lost count of how often this happened. She always sees me before I see her, and I became resigned to the fact that she can either see through walls or I’m hitting an invisible trigger point. After 4 hours I am exhausted.

"Red Barrels has simply fetishized the most disgusting depictions of human behavior and packaged it in the most overused and uninspired trope: religion."
As a Christian, you might find my love for horror games odd, given their penchant for the demonic, but I love the heart racing tension coupled with mumbling “no, no, no, no” to myself while staring into a dark hallway. Silent Hill 2 nails this tension and stands as one of all time favorite games. I had hoped Outlast 2 might provide a similar experience based on the hype and reception of the first game.

In a sentence, Outlast 2 is for the horror genre what a sledge hammer would be for brain surgery.

I don’t consider myself prudish, however, Outlast 2 made me extremely uncomfortable. Watching Passion of the Christ is disturbing. Pictures from wartime atrocities are disturbing. The discomfort of these, however, serves a purpose: to remind us of the suffering of Christ and the horrors that humanity is capable of.

In Outlast 2, a crucified, skinned, and dismembered corpse is in your face two minutes into the game as the appetizer for the torture porn to come. Like Orpheus descending into Hades, Blake (your character) will witness a large array of bizarre and disturbing religious, violent, and sexual images.

What all of this serves is not exactly clear. The basic premise is simple enough: Blake and his journalist wife are flying out to a remote area to investigate the death of an 8 month pregnant Jane Doe found on the side of the road with forensic ties to the area. The helicopter crashes after a bright light and noise, Lynn (Blake’s wife) goes missing, you take control of Blake, and suddenly religious cultists are trying to kill you . . . or lick your face and rape you.

You cannot fight back. You can only run and hope that the wall or door you are running to actually opens . . . which is unlikely. The game quickly devolves into trial and error and breaks all the tension the moment the autosave finishes, forcing the player to slog through more religiously tinged sex and violence that flirt with the “AO” rating.

The world of Outlast 2 is filled with blood soaked cribs, piles of dead babies, first person death scenes with your groin being split open, and journal pages of women wanting to be sexually violated by the most fat and grotesque religious leader committed to screen yet. The “Christians”, as the game calls them, have more in common with Jonestown than any modern Christian gathering.

Christianity and Catholicism is often the scapegoat in entertainment (Life of Brian, Dogma, Religulous, etc.) Outlast 2 specifically calls its baby killing cultists Christians. As a Christian, I’ve grown a thick skin after a while, but Outlast 2 tried its best to pierce that layer. More confusing, were the frequent flashbacks Blake kept having about he and his wife’s mutual friend from their time in Catholic school. The girl was abused by the priest and eventually committed suicide (or murdered, it is not clear). In any other horror game, the flashbacks would have a tie into the events happening now, however the flashbacks have nothing to do with the events in this quaint little murderous berg.

Oh, and there is a suspicious corporation messing with people’s brains which is supposedly why everyone is incestual, homicidal maniacs. Many players will miss this completely as the corporation is only mentioned in one random journal note lying about, but it undermines anything interesting the game may have been trying to say with its religious imagery.

When the credits rolled 6 hours after starting the game, I was tired. To be sure, all religions can benefit from healthy critiques. Red Barrels has simply fetishized the most disgusting depictions of human behavior in a game and packaged it in the most overused and uninspired trope: religion.

Outlast 2 doesn’t really have anything to say about religion, it was merely the most readily available prop for shocking player’s sense of propriety.

About the Author:

Jonathan Clauson started as an on-air producer and on-air talent for Clear Channel Radio. He graduated from Full Sail University and moved into marketing for EA Tiburon. He is currently the News Editor and Podcast producer for both GameChurch and Christ and Pop Culture.

  • Millennial Minister

    I’ve felt that every time a game tries to draw from the “Christian Extremist/Fundamentalist/Cultist Villain trope.” Even the last Tomb Raider painfully tried to somehow make Christianity the villain and the hero. However the overall theme that the game ended on was “It’s bad to want to live forever- both here on earth (and even in heaven?)

    My favorite games in recent memory have been Firewatch and Life is Strange. Firewatch says little to nothing explicitly about faith, but I’d argue it is implicitly a very religious journey. Life is Strange seems to pidgeonhole the “Christian” in the first elipisode, but says some very subversive things against that trope in that characters and many other’s stories.