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'Outlast 2' drops you in a desert for a fresh batch of nightmares

Engadget Engadget 21/06/2016 Jessica Conditt

© Provided by Engadget

The Outlast 2 demo made me jump and shriek in the middle of the E3 show floor, in Microsoft's rowdy Xbox space where I was surrounded by swashbuckling pirates, roaring racing games and joyous fans. With my clammy fingers gripping an Xbox One controller, headphones hugging my ears, Outlast 2 sucked me in. Its setting, a pitch-black northern Arizona desert, was impressively immersive -- not to mention accurate to the actual Supai region that inspired it. I should know: I've backpacked through the area.

The Outlast 2 demo is horrifying, wonderful, gruesome and downright marvelous -- in a bone-chilling kind of way.

Outlast 2 stars investigative journalists Blake and Lynn Langermann, a husband-and-wife team who set out on a mission to uncover the truth behind the murder of a pregnant woman known only as Jane Doe. The search leads them to the Arizona desert's northern Supai region, an area nestled in the Grand Canyon and filled with towering mountains, rust-colored dirt, prickly cacti, massive waterfalls and sparse yet hearty vegetation. It's gorgeous (when it's not infested with murderous demons).

The demo opens with Blake and Lynn speaking over a helicopter's communication system, but their words quickly turn to screams as the copter spins out and crashes into the desert below. Blake survives -- glasses, camera and all -- and cries out for Lynn in the midnight desert landscape. From a first-person perspective, Blake begins scouring the land for Lynn, eventually running into a series of ramshackle houses and barns.

Some of the buildings are dimly lit, but other areas are completely engulfed in blackness. Just as in the original Outlast (which I adored), Blake can use his camcorder's night vision to see in the dark, lending a majority of the game an unearthly, eerie green glow. Also mirroring the first installment, night vision quickly drains the camera, sending Blake on a constant, frantic hunt for fresh batteries. This is on top of the constant, frantic hunt for Lynn and Blake's desperate attempts to outrun the violent demons and townsfolk occupying the small desert town. Outlast is a brilliantly panicky franchise, and from what I've seen, the sequel proudly continues this trend.

The tiny, scattered town is rife with religious imagery and bloodshed. Crosses hang from the doorways and under one canopy, flies swarm around a pile of blood and dismembered limbs. Dead bodies litter the village. Blake spots townsfolk as he searches the houses and shacks, though at first they simply stare at him with glowing green night-vision eyes and then fade silently into the night. After a while, though, they begin to chase him, intent on killing him. He screams for his wife, and he hears horrified shrieks in return.

Blake runs. At one point, I direct him straight into a cactus and it actually does damage, slowing him down for a second while he recovers. His breaths huff in my ears as he becomes more panicked, and bodiless whispers assault my senses, sending shivers down my spine. The townsfolk have flashlights, and Blake hides from their beams in a cornfield; the town is walled off in certain places, subtly nudging players in the correct direction while imparting the illusion of choice in an open world.

Eventually Blake stumbles across a well. As he peers into it, tonguelike tentacles emerge from the black pit and suck him down. He ends up in a vent system with a deep, malicious voice ringing in his ears. The demonic voice laughs as he crawls across the thin metal, peering backward every now and then with a single button press as other voices join the tunnel of terror. The vent eventually falls, and Blake emerges in a well-lit classroom covered in crosses and posters glorifying Jesus. He's landed in a Catholic school.

As if Catholic school weren't terrifying enough, the hallways are dark and filled with shifting, shooting shadows. As Blake walks along aisles of lockers, black silhouettes materialize and disappear by his side until eventually the entire hallway is overrun with ghostly energy, lockers banging open and closed in a riotous cacophony.

Blake is familiar with this school, and he makes his way into another hallway, where he begins screaming for Jessica, a young girl he once knew. She runs by, a small girl in a prim school uniform, and Blake runs into the hallway, only to see her body hanging from the ceiling. It's sucked up by demonic hands and tentacles as Blake yells her name.

Soon after, Blake finds himself back in the high desert, running from the townsfolk once again -- and from something much more sinister. As the tall, gangly men with flashlights hunt him down, their voices creeping ever closer, Blake runs directly into an otherworldly figure -- a woman with a horrifying, lifeless face and a giant, homemade axelike weapon. Blake falls on his back in front of her, and she brings the weapon down hard between his legs. He looks down as she rakes the axe head back, leaving behind a bloody mess where Blake's crotch used to be. Fade to black. Outlast 2 demo complete.

Similarly, my Supai hiking career may also be complete.

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