April 20, 2024
The Outlast Trials crawls out of Early Access and onto consoles, but does the scares quadruple with its patients? The Finger Guns review:

Outlast has quickly become a household name for being a game series to scare the pants off anyone who plays it. The game’s most notable for its unrelenting atmosphere, without any means of defence (outside of night vision) and some seriously grotesque visuals.

From a personal standpoint, I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared playing a game before than playing through 1 & 2. However, The Outlast Trials is deviating from its humble roots of a claustrophobic single-player narrative and instead going for a multiplayer approach, switching up Red Barrel’s already heart-racing formula.

Miles did an excellent write-up for the game when it launched in Early Access last year, citing that the game’s solo-player experience could do with better balancing, and the amount of content feeling slightly lacklustre. So how does The Outlast Trials fare after a year of tinkering? Let’s just say you won’t have to put your hand in my chest to get the answer out of me – that’ll make sense, eventually.

The Truth Is, Therapy Is A Jerk-Off

The game opens with a cutscene of the grimy streets of a nowhere city, sirens echoing across the snowy pavements. A paper advert flies off a telephone pole and onto an unsuspecting person down on their luck. The ad reads “Are you lost? lonely? poor? confused? WE WANT YOU!!!”, with the ominous Murkoff Corporation logo printed at the bottom.

The person took the gig out of desperation, as the game quickly transports you into a first-person perspective, showing off the blood-soaked halls of the facility. Screams and panic ring through your ears and you can hear your player’s breathing becoming erratic. The ol’ trusty night vision goggles are screwed into your cranium and you’re thrust into a tutorial that teaches you the mechanics of the game.

If you’re familiar with the Outlast series, you may have a slight advantage with how Trials works. The key focus is stealthily avoiding the crazed maniacs that are out to kill you, across these honestly petrifying assault courses. Besides the tutorial being pretty linear, every other map doesn’t hold your hand as much, making the disorientation a great technique for the majority of scares. You can’t help but feel panicked when you hear screaming from across the room, while you’re fumbling in the dark looking around to find the objective.

Under Intense Pressure

You’re not completely helpless, however, as you have your night vision goggles (NVG), crouch, sprint (that uses stamina), as well as plenty of hiding spots to crawl into, acting as your baseline. Alongside the basic controls, you’ll also find various items to aid your journey such as health, antidote (for psychosis), batteries (to recharge NVG), bricks to stun enemies, bottles to distract and lockpicks.

Once you’ve gotten to grips with the whole contents of the kitchen sink that are thrown at you for 30 minutes, the real game begins. Whilst the story isn’t overtly told like the intro cut scene, there is a great deal of world-building given to the evidence you can find during your “therapy sessions”. It’s not an ideal way to receive such an interesting concept to the franchise, but at the same time, it doesn’t take away from the urgency of the gameplay.

I called them therapy sessions because the whole idea is that if you do enough of these trials, you’ll leave reborn. The catch is you’ve got to try and not die, and if you don’t die, you’ve probably just done some of the most heinous things imaginable, that no sane person can live with themselves having done them. Thank God this is just a game, eh?

No, I Don’t Want To Play A Game

Thus the gameplay loop of being reborn begins. There are 5 areas in total – a Police Station, a Carnival, an Orphanage, Courts and a Toy Factory. Every area will have a main mission and 2 or 3 shorter missions that may utilise different parts of the map. As I mentioned earlier, the areas are disorientating, their cavernous corridors coupled with no HUD assistance could mean you’ll be lost and hiding for a good while.

That’s not a slight on the design though; as the areas do have directional signs, sometimes a map overviewing the whole area, the onus is put on you to be perceptive of it all. There are also a couple of settings to assist you in finding objectives a little easier, but inversely you can have absolutely no HUD and really get immersed in the horror. You’ll start your first therapy session at the police station, with the objective being “Kill the Snitch”.

In the mission, there’s a “snitch” in a cell that you’ll have to cart to his electrocution. To do this you’ll be pushing him along rails like a rollercoaster. Not as easy as it sounds, however, because there are locked gates along the way with a symbol attached to them. These symbols are tattooed on corpses and you’ll be reaching into their chest to take out the key. It’s so grotesque but you’re more concerned about getting caught which makes the atmosphere is viscerally overbearing.

I’m Not In Here With You, You’re In Here With Me

Every session plays out more or less the same: infiltrate the building, stay hidden, complete the objective and get out. Of course, the objectives themselves differ but the fundamental gameplay is the same. Playing solo is definitely doable and in ways the best way to experience Outlast, as it retains that army-of-one feel, where success is entirely on your shoulders. It makes playing through the missions nail-biting, but it also makes the mission 3x longer.

Playing with friends dilutes some of the fear factor. One person can distract the stalking maniacs whilst the other gets on with the objective and if need be, easily swap the aggro. It makes everything way more efficient, which is the goal as you’re graded every session on your performance. Being quicker, using fewer items and taking less damage will amount to a better grade and thus better XP.

As you level up, you’ll get a currency that lets you upgrade your character at the various vendors in the hub world. The Pharmacist boosts your personal abilities, like better stamina, bigger inventory etc. The Engineer supplies an ultimate-style ability to have things like an AOE of heals, see enemies through walls or a throwable to stun enemies. You can only have one at a time, so having a team with a variety makes a big difference. At level 10, you’ll also unlock The Shadowy Dame who provides amps, think of them as perks.

Outlasting Everyone

It takes a good 10+ hours before you get into the full rigamarole of The Outlast Trials. Once you get enough tokens to escape (You’ll need 20), you’re thrown back in to take on even more trials of torment. This time, however, you’ll have modifiers affecting your playthrough. Maybe less inventory space, no heals, or deadlier characters.

It’s a neat way of keeping the game feeling fresh, once you feel like you’ve mastered the missions at the beginning but if you’re not hooked on the gameplay loop, you may find the goal disappointing. You gain money per trial letting you buy cosmetics in the game. This can be to either change your clothes up (although you’re in first person) or decorate your room (somewhere you’re not really just going to hang out in).

It’s a strange design and I don’t think Red Barrels has fully nailed the driving force on why players should carry on playing once they’ve seen all the areas. Moreover, there are a handful of enemy types across all maps that will have a change of design but ultimately act like the ones you’ve seen in other areas.

You’ll have a boss-like figure, a giant that does heavy damage, general stalkers, stalkers with night vision (they gave me palpitations when I saw them for the first time) and what I like to call freaky little weirdos that hide to just jump out at you. The AI on them isn’t great but it does mean they’re not entirely oppressive and unfun to come up against. If you’re playing in a team, you’ll also come across AI imposters that have a jumbled name that may look like yours and act like stalkers too sometimes.

Trial And Error

On the performance side of things, the PS5 version runs at a stable 60fps and the overall graphical fidelity is quite impressive. Lighting is Outlast’s main source of scares and these house of horrors look incredible for it. Screenshots for this review won’t do it justice because I want to keep it somewhat PG, but Red Barrels were not holding back on their twisted ideas in art direction.

Everything is coated in blood like 2013’s Evil Dead, the overuse of mannequins is like an episode of Brainiac from hell in the best way, the plethora of traps that can catch you out if you’re not perceptive is nerve-racking, the dense amount of rooms with all sorts of detritus to navigate through or hide behind is dizzying and it’s all just so well put together.

I think it’s very easy to compare it to Saw or Hostel but The Outlast Trials really has a distinct yet familiar setting and it looks the best kind of worst. With friends or alone, the game delivers what Outlast does best and Red Barrels have thought carefully about both playstyles with its near-perfect attention to game balancing. It’s just a shame there’s nothing really pulling me back after I’ve seen all there is. However, that’s not to say I’d be lining up at Murkoff Facility if there are more maps to cry in a corner in, later down the line.

The Outlast Trials pulls off a great multiplayer horror experience, whilst keeping the spirit of the franchise alive and screaming. There’s not a whole lot to keep you playing after exploring all the levels and the gameplay itself can feel quite repetitive. With that said, there are some brilliant scares and clever ways to keep you on your toes if you so desire to keep going back to therapy.

The Outlast Trials is available 5th March on PlayStation 5 (review platform), PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC via Steam.

Developer: Red Barrels
Publisher: Red Barrels

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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