May 18, 2023
One thing Red Barrels has always managed to do is the scare the living shit out of me. Whether it’s creeping around an asylum or running away from a cult of utter psychopaths, the fear factor seen in the Outlast series has always been the most oppressive and terrifying within the horror genre. While The Outlast Trials is just as scary, I’d love to have been a fly on the wall in the writing room because these developers have factored in some of the most disturbing and creepy creations I’ve ever witnessed in the video game medium.
Right from the tutorial, you’re thrown in at the deep end. You’re introduced to the Murkhoff Corporation, the same one that reopened the asylum in the original Outlast, except this time we’re in the era of the Cold War. The one moment etched into my brain revolves around a rather stocky dinner lady/maid-type character with a puppet on her hand (with a drill for a tongue) who cuts out a patients eye then drops him into a meat grinder right in front of you. The whole scene is shocking and bloody, yet it sets the tone for what you’re going to see more of, albeit in more creative and uncomfortable ways.
The one big difference between Outlast and Outlast 2 compared to this latest entry is the implementation of multiplayer. Previously played all on your own, these trials can be experienced with up to three others. For those aware of the Saw franchise, you’ll be familiar with the idea of completing sick and depraved objectives for survival. The Outlast Trials has you entering one of three environments to do just that, except a whole new dimension is opened up by working with others. Sometimes, the most memorable moments don’t come from the sheer disgust of what you’re looking at, but from the unintentional humour of seeing a teammate soil themselves and listening to them scream.
There’s not a lot to do at present in The Outlast Trials. One can presume new maps will become available, with new abominations and goals, but for now, you’ll trek around a police station, a fun park, and an orphanage. Each map comes with a selection of objectives more messed up than the last. If your limit are games like Resident Evil, then Red Barrels go even further in its gore and vulgarity. However, if you have no limits and enjoy sawing up bodies or watching a man get electrocuted to death, welcome to hell! There’s more than enough to turn the most stable mind to mush, and I’m all for it.
Many of the tasks involve simple minigames like getting a generator to turn back on or broadcasting a radio frequency, however, when doing this at the same time as trying to escape a deranged murderer, it leaves you in a constant state of panic. This fear keeps you on your toes, and if you’re playing with friends, these tasks become a little more complex to balance the difficulty level when in multiplayer. Another clever idea at play in The Outlast Trials is psychosis. If you get hit by a trap or are attacked by an imaginary creature known as the Skinner Man, you might start to see things that aren’t there, altogether losing your collective mind. This psychosis can affect your friends, too, as you might start seeing things they can’t, adding a clever aspect to playing in groups.
Although The Outlast Trials has a lot of potential, there are a few issues in terms of enemy AI. On the one hand, the enemies stalking you are too ruthless. While sneaking around and being cautious is great, once they’ve seen you, it can take a while to escape, and even when hiding, they might appear seconds after you decide to emerge. I also had some of the weirdos get stuck between objects, such as one monstrosity continuously shake between a dummy and a doorway. It’s lacking a bit of polish, but the overall visuals are detailed and pretty horrific. You never quite know what you’re going to see or hear, and that’s something Red Barrels has done fantastically well.
As you garner success through successfully completing trials, you’ll earn XP that can be spent on improving your rig. By doing so, you’ll unlock new abilities that can help immensely, such as being able to see enemies through walls. You can also decorate your cell with cosmetics, a hub space for when you’re not participating in trials, adding another layer to what The Outlast Trials is in its current state. I often found it weird seeing other inmates walking around, knowing other players are going through this hell on their own terms, and it’s unlike anything I’ve experienced before.
The Outlast Trials isn’t at its most optimal right now (hence the early access), and yes, there’s plenty of room for improvement. AI needs tweaking, and some of the bugs need addressing, but there’s a great idea at its heart, and I
had plenty of fun appreciated what’s currently on offer. The maps are batshit crazy and filled with some truly messed up ideas, however, as a fan of the Saw franchise and previous Outlast games, I knew exactly what I was getting into. The psychosis stuff is cool, and the fundamentality of the minigames work as a vehicle to drive home the terror, resulting in both a stressful and smart multiplayer.
Moment to moment gameplay is fun
Disturbingly brilliant characters and settings
Sparse on content
AI is unbalanced
A few bugs
The Outlast Trials is possibly the most deranged the series has ever been, with plenty of smart ideas albeit quite sparse on content.