Outlast Trials Review – Misery Loves Company

Outlast Trials

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 was happy to see. They drip-feed you information about the corporation and the experiments’ nature, but things remain fairly vague without them. It creates a sense of mystery, but I always prefer a balance of cut scenes alongside my documents or notes.

Honestly, though, a multiplayer game with this level of narrative is pretty rare, so I’ll take what I get. Outlast has a pretty rich backstory and world, so I’m hoping the game may receive some story-focused expansion as time goes on to delve further into the trials and the “assets” that hunt you throughout each one.

Where Outlast Trials comes up short in the story, it more than makes up for in the atmosphere department. The maps, while limited, are full of detail and sprawling in size. All manner of traps, hiding places, and loot are spread throughout to keep things interesting.

You’ll find batteries for your head-mounted night vision, health items, bandages, lock picks, and special items that restore part of your sanity. A typical trial involves entering the map alone or with other players to complete objectives and avoid standard enemies and the “asset” that patrols the area.

The objectives are interesting and varied, but like the maps and the assets hunting you, the limits of what’s here become apparent after a handful of trips through the wringer. There are only a handful of maps and only two distinct “assets” in the form of “Coyle” and “Gooseberry,” who are certainly terrifying, but only the first few times you see them.

Even so, the gameplay loop of Outlast remains intact here. You’ll need to hide beneath pieces of furniture, dive into lockers, duck inside barrels, and otherwise try to remain stealthy. Your night vision will be incredibly helpful as most areas are also dark. Unlike the other games, you have a few ways to defend yourself in the form of “Rigs,” but these have a long cooldown to keep the tension high.

The nature of your Rig will vary based on your decision, and it’s here that you can create a “class” of sorts. I went with the obvious choice: a rig that can stun enemies or the more aggressive “asset” characters. There are other options as well with their unique abilities.

Several NPC characters will unlock as you progress, allowing you to upgrade your rig further and purchase permanent perks that give you useful abilities without upsetting that all-important balance of power. Speaking of progression and customization, Outlast Trials really shines as a multiplayer and live service experience here.

Between each trial, you’ll return to the hub area, but your cell will always be your own. You can decorate it with cosmetics you unlock, change your character’s outfit and look, and really make it your own. When you exit your cell, you can see your screen name above it and even go to other players’ cells to see what they’ve done with the place.

From the wallpaper to posters to your bed to decorations around the room, the level of customization as you progress keeps you motivated to run just one more trial so you can unlock more interesting ways to make your mark on the game’s world.

I played with random players during my time, and while I rarely encountered anyone with a mic, I found that people generally understood how to cooperate and work together. Furthermore, teams who split up also managed to (mostly) survive the trial because all the required elements of the game can be completed in solo or cooperative modes. This is a small but very important and welcome detail. It’s great that Outlast Trials is multiplayer, but being able to do everything solo as needed ensures that you’re never left without options.

I’ll admit, when I first heard about an Outlast multiplayer game, I was skeptical. I shouldn’t have doubted Red Barrels, though; this is a very solid entry in the series that keeps the scares while also building a fun and repeatable gameplay loop to support the multiplayer and live service aspects of the experience.

Live Service Continues With ‘Prime Time’

Outlast Trials

As part of the ongoing updates for Outlast Trials, the game is currently running a “Prime Time” event from May 28th to June 18th, 2024. This event brought several new additions, some of which are permanent:

  • Multiple Assets are present in the same trial during the event
  • New breakable TVs can be smashed for additional tokens
  • Special event currency can unlock new cell props, player icons, skins, and posters.
  • Both of the assets have new, permanent abilities
  • Bleeding is a new mechanic that can only be remedied with bandages, which are a new item

It’s an interesting concept that I tested out after a few trials with one of the two assets stalking you. Running into both Coyle and Gooseberry in the same trial skyrockets the tension and difficulty in a fun way. You really have to be careful, and mistakes are punished immediately in this temporary mode.

In addition to the special event unlockables, you can look for even more specific evidence that adds to the game’s impressive collection of documents and lore. I like this aspect of the event, as it points to continued growth in the overall narrative.

As much as I like the idea of having both assets in the trials, it does highlight the need for more of these villain characters. The problem with having a limited set of distinct villains like this is that you get to know them, their attacks, and their overall design. They become less scary the more you see them, so seeing them both at once quickly reduces their scare factor.

This could be remedied with new assets, which I have to imagine are in the pipeline. These diminishing returns are a standard problem with horror. Anything becomes less scary as you get desensitized to it, but my hope is that Red Barrels will introduce a new asset in their next event to keep the variety (and the scares) coming.

Preserving the Outlast Look and Feel

Outlast Trials

From a presentation standpoint, Outlast Trials is unmistakably on brand. The series is known for shocking visuals, including blood, gore, nudity, and horrific set pieces. You’ll find all of that here in spades. Of course, another major aspect is the green-hued night vision, which you can always access via your head-mounted goggles.

Running, hiding, seeking out objectives, and doing so while managing your batteries for your night vision goggles is all peak Outlast, and it’s all here. The extra elements of progression and customization add to the experience instead of taking away from it.

Repeating the same maps and assets will eventually dull the edge of the horror somewhat, but events like the “Prime Time” one currently running are great ways to keep the gameplay fresh. These events, paired with new content and story are more than enough to keep me coming back.

Final Score: 8.0/10

Review code provided by the publisher

Article by – Bradley Ramsey
Insert date – 6/04/2024

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