Outlast Trials Review – Misery Loves Company

As a major fan of horror in all its forms, I’ve always loved the Outlast series. I was hooked from the moment I played the first game with its claustrophobic halls and the iconic green hue of night vision on my handheld camera. The sequel, particularly a scene involving a cornfield (if you know, you know), will forever be a mainstay in my nightmares. Outlast Trials has always intrigued me. What would happen if Outlast was multiplayer and cooperative? Could a live service surrounding this take on the series have legs? Now that Outlast Trials is out of early access and running its new “Prime Time” event, it’s time to see how this multiplayer variation compares to the horror of the prior two games. Does misery love company, or would it have been better to go alone? Let’s find out. A Fresh Take on the Series If you asked me about the viability of a multiplayer horror game a decade ago, I’d tell you to stick with single-player. Horror is supposed to be isolating and lonely. If you add people, you take away tension. Of course, recent years have proven me wrong on that front. Games like Dead by Daylight and other asymmetric titles have shown that you can add players without taking away scares. It’s all about the balance of power. Sure, you can have four people running around, but if their combined skills and abilities leave them vulnerable to what goes bump in the night, you can still achieve the scares you’re looking for. Outlast has always leaned heavily into this dynamic in its prior titles. You could never defend yourself. Your only option was to run, and your only source of visibility was limited to batteries you had to find in the environment. You never had the upper hand; you had moments to breathe, and even those were few and far between. It was oppressive, atmospheric, terrifying, and a little exhausting in long stretches, but it worked. Outlast Trials keeps much of this DNA intact but takes careful steps to make everything repeatable. The game is set in the Cold War era before the other titles in the series. It has you create a character who willingly volunteers for a series of trials, hoping they can turn their life around. The Murkoff Corporation wants you, and they’ll use everything from brainwashing to mind control to test the limits of your sanity and your humanity. Let’s just say that the corporation’s idea of “rehabilitation” comes from the school of Jigsaw and the SAW movies. Once you’ve finished a very tense opening that involves you erasing all evidence of your existence, the game puts you in a cell of your very own, and it’s here you’ll meet up with other players or venture into the trials on your own. Beyond the opening, the game’s story is limited to evidence you find in the various maps during your trials. There’s a good number of these for lore hunters, which I … Read More

Alan Wake and the Art of the Meta Narrative

Video games are no strangers to breaking the fourth wall or, in some cases, outright shattering it. There are countless examples, but none have struck me as profoundly as the recent Alan Wake II and developer Remedy’s Connected Universe. When Alan Wake was originally released on the Xbox 360 in 2010, it quickly became one of my all-time favorites. Still, since then, Remedy has grown, evolved, and even gone so far as to define the approach to crafting a self-aware narrative. Join me as I walk through how each of their titles has built upon this concept, culminating in the masterpiece that is Alan Wake II. A Brief Overview of Remedy’s Connected Universe Remedy Entertainment’s Connected Universe is a relatively recent development in the studio’s history, but it’s an important one and a key differentiator in their work. Fans have speculated that the studio’s games have been connected for a decade. Still, it wasn’t confirmed officially until the release of Control’s AWE Expansion in 2020, which was a crossover between Alan Wake and Control. Sam Lake, Creative Director at Remedy Entertainment, described the concept as: “The idea that the tales told in some of our games would be connected to each other, a connected world of stories and events with shared characters and lore. Each game is a stand-alone experience, but each game is also a doorway into a larger universe with exciting opportunities for crossover events.” The release of Alan Wake II furthers this bridge between it and the universe of Control, but other hints point to past titles like Quantum Break being involved (even if Remedy can’t outright confirm this due to legal issues that we’ll discuss later). The official bond between these two games has sparked speculation and excitement about what comes next. It’s an exciting time to be a gamer and a Remedy fan, but let’s talk about everything that led up to this blending of two worlds. 2010: Alan Wake Debuts on Xbox 360, and it Begins… It’s insane to me to think that Alan Wake came out thirteen years ago. I lived in an apartment with two roommates and worked full-time at GameStop. I remember getting the collector’s edition home and jumping right into it. It was magical, but given my unstable setup, something knocked the Xbox 360, putting one of those perfectly circular scratches in my disc. I had to beg the store manager at GameStop to swap it for another copy. It was not the best start, but we were back in business the following night. The layers of the original Alan Wake are pretty easy to spot. Still, they’re crucial for grasping how Remedy and writer/director Sam Lake’s style has evolved since that initial release. For those unaware, the game stars a writer named Alan Wake, who takes a trip to a small town in the Pacific Northwest called Bright Falls. He hopes to get past his recent writer’s block and spend quality time with his wife, Alice. Right off the … Read More

Layers of Fear (2023) Review – What’s Old is New Again

One of my favorite horror series in gaming is Layers of Fear. Since the original’s release back on PC, I’ve always loved its combination of atmospheric environments, chilling soundtrack, and its stories about artists driven mad by their craft. With the release of Layers of Fear 2023, the series compiles remakes of the first two games with all the DLC, and some new content to round out of the package. With Unreal 5 powering this new coat of paint, I was eager to dive in and experience it all over again. Let’s find out if this new version has enough layers to keep you interested, or if the repetition of playing the games again will drive you mad. More Than a Remake Layers of Fear 2023 is a joint effort between the original developer and a new developer who worked on the collection. It includes a full remake of the original title, the second game, and the DLC from the first game. It adds an additional story to the first game from the wife’s perspective, and the story mode also includes a new story about a writer who ties everything together from her place in a lighthouse. Separate from the story mode, which flows through all of this content, incorporating intermissions where you play as the writer, you can also use a chapter select to play specific content from the games and use a separate save file to experiment and get different endings. As a Layers of Fear fan, this is perhaps the most amazing package one could hope for. Not only do the games look and play great in Unreal 5, but the added story elements and chapters expand the universe even further, and do a great job of tying the games together better than ever. Those who didn’t enjoy the games originally probably won’t be swayed by this, but one thing I will say is that some new gameplay elements have been added to spice up the horror. Namely, in the first game there is now a lantern that can be used to banish the ghost of the painter’s wife, who shows up to stalk you at key points. These sections do devolve into you running around trying to find three of something so you can progress. This tends to be grating because she really keeps up with you, and your lantern requires time to recharge between focused blasts of light. I much preferred the sections where she was chasing you and you just had to find the way forward. This was more compelling than going in circles as you search for keys, gears, or the like. The second game also incorporated chase scenes in the original and the new version that I liked for similar reasons. The story of Layers of Fear 2023 benefits greatly from the new content that adds the writer as a new character. Her intermissions do a wonderful job of making you feel like there’s something greater behind the scenes pulling the strings … Read More

Amnesia: The Bunker Review – Greatest Hits Horror

The Amnesia series from Frictional Games is one of the all-time horror greats. I was a fan of Frictional even before their breakout hit, though, back when Penumbra was their brand of horror. While that series has remained dormant, the bones of it still exist even in their latest release: Amnesia: The Bunker. In Amnesia: The Bunker, you play as a soldier in WWI who must evade a monster within an underground bunker long enough to facilitate your escape. It’s a simple, but effective premise with a unique setting. Is this enough to put this series back on the top of horror gaming? Let’s find out. A Streamlined Return to Form, but Does The Old Formula Work? The last Amnesia game, Rebirth, was met with mixed reception due to a number of factors. On the one hand, it was much larger in scope than prior games, which are usually limited to a few locations. The narrative was also far more grand and sci-fi than I think many expected. It was also low on scares, though it did have them. The penalty for death wasn’t very severe, and large portions of it were tense, but lacked any true threat to the player. Contrast this with the first game in the series, where you’re always on edge, and it’s easy to see why Rebirth didn’t quite land. With Amnesia: The Bunker, it’s clear that Frictional Games wanted to go back to their roots. The concept is simple, the horror is constant, and the tension is nigh-overwhelming. It worked wonders back in the day, but I left my experience with The Bunker wondering if perhaps things became too streamlined? Amnesia: The Bunker begins in the trenches of WWI, where explosions rock the screen and bullets fly during the tutorial. It’s a different kind of horror, but effective nonetheless. It’s not long, though before you awake in an underground bunker and soon find yourself alone with only the promise of a monster to keep you company. The mechanics are refreshingly simple this time around. You are armed with a crank flashlight, a revolver, and limited inventory space to explore the bunker with. Much like a sort of roguelike structure, you have a central safe room with a map, a stash, a crafting table, and a generator that lets you recoup your losses between journeys out into the Bunker. While prior games in the series had you steadily lose sanity in the dark, that mechanic is absent from Amnesia: The Bunker. Instead, the monster that stalks you is afraid of light and therefore becomes a constant threat in the dark. The aforementioned crank flashlight helps, but the sound of winding it up gives away your position. Thankfully, you can fuel up the generator in your safe room before heading out to look for supplies and a way forward. Don’t worry, there’s a catch. The fuel in the game is finite, so you’ll want to make the most of your time while the lights are on, … Read More

Ghostwire: Tokyo February Showcase: New Details and Release Date!

Sony is hosted a livestream for Ghostwire: Tokyo on February 3rd, and we were eager to see some new details! The title comes to us from the developers of The Evil Within, so horror seems like a safe bet, but let’s dive in and see what the stream revealed! Highlights from the Ghostwire: Tokyo February 2022 Stream! Among all of the new horror titles coming to PS5, Ghostwire: Tokyo has stood out for its focus on Japanese horror, and the pedigree of Tango Gameworks who developed The Evil Within 1 and 2 prior to this title. The first thing that caught my eye again during the showcase were the enemy designs. Not only are they 100% terrifying, but they showcase a lot of variety in their designs. Whether it’s the classic woman with long black hair covering her face, or the girl in a yellow raincoat, or the headless schoolgirl dancing around the environment. The Slender Man-esque enemies in business suits with a blank slate of a face are really unsettling as well. The game goes beyond style though, and as part of the opening moments in the showcase, we learn about a number of mechanics and the first-person combat. Tango Gameworks describes the game as an action-adventure thriller with paranormal elements, but it still feels like a horror game to me based on the visual alone. You seem pretty powerful to fight back, however. The combat focuses on a power called “Ethereal Weaving” which has you channeling elements like fire, water, and air to chain together impressive looking attacks. The animation during the combat is stunning, and it makes me hope the combat is as fun to play as it is to watch, because it’s thrilling in motion. The storyline takes place in Tokyo after the population vanishes and a mysterious fog sweeps through the city, bringing all manner of supernatural monsters with it. You are possessed by a spirit who gives you your powers, and gameplay seems to be fairly open world with a grappling mechanic and Tori gates to cleanse to remove fog from areas that are infested and will drain your health. In addition to the combat, they also mention strange distortions that mess with time and space, which you’ll need to enter as part of the story. I could see these being more traditional horror and maybe less combat focused, but we shall see. The stream above eventually shows a chunk of gameplay before showing interviews with the developers. Seeing everything in motion is truly impressive and gives me high hopes for how the combat will look and feel in the finished game. We also know that the release date is soon! March 25th, and preorders on the PlayStation Store get you 3-day early access. I’m not totally sold on the main character or story just based on how rigid the cutscenes felt, but I am all in on the style and setting. What did you think of the stream? Are you picking up Ghostwire: … Read More

DARQ Complete Edition Review – To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Nightmares are the perfect subject for a horror game, but puzzles within dreams can often be difficult to get right. After all, nearly everything goes in dream logic, and the basis for dreams leaves you with endless possibilities. What works in the real world may not work in a dream, or it could behave completely different. Now that I’ve tied your brain into a knot, let’s talk about DARQ Complete Edition, a horror-tinged puzzler for PS5 that combines the base game with two DLCs. As a young boy trying to survive his terrifying dreams, should you follow him into the dark, or should you just leave him be? Let’s find out! A Game About Nightmares Where Dream Logic Reigns Supreme DARQ Complete Edition is a game about a boy named Lloyd who has recently become adept at lucid dreaming. Unfortunately for him, his dreams on a nightly basis are consistently nightmares that put him in twisted environments and force him to face terrifying creatures to survive the night. That’s about as far as the story goes here. On the one hand, I like the open-ended nature of the gameplay, and to its credit, the style and atmosphere are excellent. The lack of story also plays well into the pacing, allowing you to quickly jump from one night to the next since there’s not anything to do in Lloyd’s house area. It’s a double-edged sword though, because the superb style and atmosphere beg explanations. How did he become so good at manipulating his dreams? Where are his parents? Shouldn’t somebody replace those boards with an actual door in the stairwell? The game never offers any real answers or context behind everything, but the ending of the main game and the two DLCs do offer plenty of fertile ground for theories when you sit back and take it all in. For fans of games like Limbo, Inside, or Little Nightmares, DARQ Complete Edition is a game that has as much or as little story as you’d like based on your own takeaway. The game never tells you what it’s about, but it’s clear that it was crafted to convey some sort of meaning. It’s not a style that works for everyone, but for me I enjoy a little more story or context where possible. I’m not above speculation, and I enjoy it, but I felt like DARQ Complete Edition could have left a few more breadcrumbs to round out its narrative. Story aside, DARQ Complete Edition is a puzzle game at heart, with some light stealth mechanics throughout each chapter. The base game isn’t terribly long, but the addition of DLCs in this package helps things feel more fleshed out. The puzzles themselves are usually spread across the level, requiring you to gather the correct items or navigate via switches and levers. One particularly mind-bending aspect of DARQ Complete Edition is the way you can walk along walls or ceilings at your leisure. The way LLoyd presses his hand against the wall … Read More

In Rays of The Light Review – Shadows of The Future

My first experience with developer Sergey Noskov’s work was 7th Sector on the PS4, but I was impressed with the level of fidelity, the smart puzzles, and the superb atmosphere. When I heard about his new title, In Rays of The Light, I knew I had to check it out. This is a remake of a 2012 title from Noskov called The Light, and it comes to us with a modest price tag to reflect its intentional short run time of a couple hours. Some of my favorite experiences in gaming come from these bite-sized experiences, but does In Rays of The Light leave a lasting impression, or does this haunting trip through a post-apocalyptic world leave little to remember? Let’s find out! A Brief, but Powerfully Atmospheric Adventure In Rays of The Light is game that prides itself on the strength of both its presentation and its atmosphere. Despite giving you a rusted pipe to carry around early on, the game won’t throw enemies at you. This is a methodical adventure through the ruins of a post-apocalyptic world where the end has already come and gone. It’s up to you to explore, solve some puzzles, and ultimately learn more about what happened. One thing I noticed early on is the haunting atmosphere that clings to everything around you. The game’s music is excellent, but the its the absence of it that really drives home how alone you truly are as you walk the halls of a school that has spent what seems like decades succumbing to nature. The early portions of the game have you exploring various rooms, hunting down keys, and reading notes through the main building before venturing outside and eventually into the basement. Throughout all of this, In Rays of The Light always makes you feel like someone could be waiting just around the corner. Despite the abandoned nature of the environments, there’s this feeling of a missing presence in all of the rooms and throughout the grounds surrounding the building. It’s a combination of things, from objects and furniture strewn around the rooms, to clever use of music and audio, to the methodical pace of your movement. Even hitting the run button doesn’t quite move you fast enough to really fly by the details around you. One thing I will say is that the default sensitivity is a little low, but I was able to turn it up in the options menu on PS5 to where it felt more responsive, though quick reflexes are not a requirement. While there isn’t much in the way of spoken dialogue, I do recommend having the subtitles on, as they seem to control whether you see messages such as “there’s no power” when you interact with objects. You’ll also get translated subtitles for the times where there are spoken lines if this is turned on. There’s no real direction throughout In Rays of The Light, but this allows you to explore and complete the various elements of the game … Read More

Resident Evil Village Review in Progress

The Resident Evil series has always had a special place in my gamer heart, but with the way the series went back to horror in RE 7, I truly fell in love all over again, even if Ethan Winters wasn’t the most compelling protagonist. His struggle, and the struggle of the Bakers was incredibly easy to relate to and sympathize with once the answers were revealed. With Ethan, Chris, and Mia all returning in Resident Evil Village, along with the lovely tall lady vampire Lady Dimitrescu, I have been incredibly excited to jump into this next entry. At this point, I’m about 75% finished, and while I want to see everything before I assign a score, there’s plenty to talk about now, so let’s dive in and talk about it! Werewolves, Vampires, Zombies, Oh My! I remember when the rumors first emerged about this Resident Evil title. They said that it would, quote, “piss off fans” because it was going to include things like werewolves. Well, I’m a fan, and I’m not pissed off at all. On the contrary, I think the fresh new enemies and the lore that comes with them are a refreshing change of pace for the series. Another thing that’s interesting about Resident Evil Village from a story perspective is the fact that the developers sought to create a “horror amusement park” based on interviews, and that’s a bit different than RE 7 which was more focused on the Bakers. Here we have a sprawling Eastern European village and five distinct villains, including the focus of the internet’s collective attention, Lady Dimitrescu. The game doesn’t lose its identity by packing in so many villains, and I actually like the variety it offers, but it does feel like the game is whisking you from one setpiece to the next at times. For example, the portion of the game with Lady D and her vampire daughters feels pretty fleshed out, but the next two areas aren’t quite as long, though one of them is utterly terrifying. While this is noticeable, it does make for great pacing and very little downtime. Even exploring the village between major areas to search for hidden treasure and new routes via items you’ve found is peppered with fights that range from a couple enemies to minibosses that guard some of the game’s more valuable treasures. There’s a wonderful sense of place throughout every environment though. Part of that is thanks to the incredible details and lavishly crafted environments, but part of it is also the superb sound design and tension that permeates almost every moment. The game also relishes in making you feel overwhelmed, but does so sparingly. When it does happen though, holy moly do things get intense. I feel like the game does a great job of employing different types of horror, ranging from psychological to the fight for survival against overwhelming odds. The boss fights are also excellent, with unique mechanics and some truly ghastly transformations. As I mentioned in … Read More