If you’re like me and are a lover of survival horror and psychological thrills, chances are you’re well-acquainted with the Outlast series, renowned for its heart-stopping scares and intense atmosphere. With the newest entry, The Outlast Trials, developer Red Barrels adds a fresh twist to the formula while keeping the heart-pounding essence of the series intact.
Set against the bleak backdrop of a mysterious Cold War experiment, this prequel brings a chilling multiplayer element to the mix that ramps up the tension and fun in equal measure.
So, let’s see how we got on when me and my partner tried to become better versions of ourselves with the help of the Murkoff Corporation.
Setting the premise
The Outlast Trials draws you in with its first-person perspective and a simple premise – survive. Like its predecessors, the game demands strategy and quick thinking as you traverse dimly lit corridors and hide from monstrous enemies, all while juggling the scarce resources at your disposal. Here, however, the solo-player option is complemented by a four-player cooperative multiplayer mode, amplifying the feelings of dread and camaraderie in equal measure.
Unlike with other games in the series, this time around you’ve almost been recruited (although partly mislead and against your will) to take part in experiments. You stay at a main base operated by the Murkoff Corporation, who are trying to improve their subjects by putting them through a series of trials, challenges and exams. There are three trials in total taking place at a police station, a fun fair and an orphanage. There are then two extra programs to complete after mastering these, one of which you’ll have to tackle each challenge one by one to earn your freedom.
The locations themselves look fantastic but aren’t actually real like with the locations in the other Outlast games. Instead, you are taken on a shuttle to warehouses where environments have been built to test you, and researchers can be seen looking on at your progress as you try and survive.
Gameplay and how best to survive
In the dark world of The Outlast Trials, your night-vision goggles are your best friend, the only source of light in the eerie gloom. The need for regular recharging of these goggles with scarce batteries adds a tension-filled resource management aspect to the gameplay. To add to the challenge, players can only carry three items at once, creating intense decision-making moments where you weigh the benefits of different items such as anti-psychotic drugs, lockpicks, or healing items. Although you can upgrade yourself to expand your inventory with an extra slot.
For those familiar with the Outlast series, the lack of direct combat won’t be a surprise. The Outlast Trials heavily emphasizes stealth, turning each corner of the map into a potential hiding spot and each footstep into a potential alarm. The introduction of RIGS, amps, and pharmaceutical enhancements – each with its own strategic benefits – adds a new level of depth to the gameplay. This strategic complexity, combined with the chilling atmosphere, makes The Outlast Trials a heart-racingly satisfying experience.
It is important to mention though, you won’t be able to equip a RIG until you level up a bit. There are four to choose from, each with its own unique ability, and if you play in a team, it can be beneficial to have each player equipped with a different one so you can make the most of the benefits of each.
Whether you fancy seeing through walls, healing yourself or other players, placing mines that can blind enemies, or throwing a device to stun enemies temporarily and disable traps, there is something for everyone. This diversity in abilities adds an extra layer of strategy to the gameplay, keeping you on your toes as you navigate the treacherous trials.
A rewarding experience
Another big change that comes to The Outlast Trials, is that you are graded on every challenge, trial or exam that you take. The better you do, the bigger the rewards. These range from earning XP, earning money and unlocking items to decorating your room at the Murkoff Corporation facility.
You’re able to customise the way you look, from your hairstyle to the clothes you wear. And you can even decorate your room with posters, ornaments and even change the wallpaper, carpet and bedding. All of this makes the game a little bit more personal and makes it feel more rewarding when you unlock new stuff.
And as mentioned, you can also level up. Each time you do you are awarded more rewards, but also tickets. These tickets can be used to purchase the abilities in the game that can see you improve your stamina, develop the ability to walk across glass without making a sound, and of course, upgrade the features of your RIG.
All of these rewards combined, really help add some replayability to The Outlast Trials as you look and aim to improve every aspect of your character, to give you a better chance at survival. And hopefully, prepare you for some new tougher challenges that hopefully lie ahead in the game’s future.
Is there still a fear factor?
The Outlast Trials taps into the primal fear of the unknown and the unseen, leveraging it to create an environment of relentless suspense and anxiety. Where earlier games in the series might have relied heavily on jump scares for quick adrenaline spikes, The Outlast Trials prefers to weave an elaborate tapestry of psychological dread that permeates every aspect of the game.
The enemy design in The Outlast Trials is truly unnerving, featuring a cast of grotesque characters each possessing their own unique attributes and behavioural patterns. From a menacing prison officer brandishing a stun baton to a deranged lady armed with a puppet wielding a drill, each antagonist is distinct and terrifying in their own right. Another foe, a figure swathed in darkness spraying chemicals that induce psychosis, adds a layer of psychological terror that continues to torment you long after you’ve evaded him.
The enemies’ unpredictability enhances the fear factor in The Outlast Trials. Never knowing where and when the next danger will appear keeps you in a state of constant suspense. You might encounter a hulking brute who can toss you around like a rag doll, or an elusive character hiding in the shadows waiting for the right moment to strike. The developers have done an exceptional job at creating a collection of enemies that are as memorable as they are fearsome.
Adding to the tension is an array of cunningly hidden traps scattered throughout the game’s levels. Wooden spikes lurk menacingly behind doors, unhinged individuals hide in your potential hiding spots, and broken glass strewn on the floor serves as an acoustic trap, alerting enemies to your location. The presence of these traps means you must always be alert and aware, pushing the tension up another notch.
Room for improvement
I’ve really enjoyed my time playing The Outlast Trials with my partner. Although I did admittedly have to do the tutorial and final trial for her because she’s a scaredy cat and struggled with the solo sections of the game. But it was great fun playing with her, and although she stormed off on more than one occasion because I’d get angry I died or ‘shouted’ at her for doing something wrong, she always came back to play for more.
The problem was, the game offers a decent challenging experience. Made easier when you have a full team, so we got used to using the “find group” feature and inviting randoms to join us on our mission to escape the facility. But it doesn’t always work and is the one area of the game that needs improving. Now we expect issues in an Early Access game, as this is not the final version, so we take issues we’ve experienced in The Outlast Trials with a pinch of salt due to this.
But the problems for me lie with the fact, you have a specific trial you need to do, you want a team and no one in your lobby joins. So you click to find a group, but it sometimes makes you join others, who could be doing missions you’re not looking to complete yet, or have already completed. Now, it’s nice to help people occasionally, and can be a good way of getting your XP bumped up. But it slows down your own progress toward freedom.
And then, you had the other issue where sometimes, you join a group or people join you, and you can’t start trials. It just keeps resetting. Sometimes this was easily solved by leaving the group and someone else inviting everyone back, a good way of getting people to do the trials you want as well. But sometimes, it seemed to be a deeper server issue and you’d have to exit the game and rejoin before it let you do anything.
But they are the only main issues we faced playing The Outlast Trials. Besides occasionally feeling like the doors we tried shutting behind us as we try to run away from whatever lunatic is chasing us down, and either it doesn’t shut them out, or it locks you on the wrong side of the door and makes you easy prey for the predator after you. This could also be down to my poor timing though, so who knows?
Overall thoughts on The Outlast Trials
The Outlast Trials is a bold step forward for the Outlast series. The combination of cooperative multiplayer, diverse character abilities, and strategic gameplay takes the series’ classic survival horror elements and amplifies them, creating an experience that is as nerve-wracking as it is enjoyable.
In the world of horror survival games, The Outlast Trials has firmly established itself as a challenging, yet exhilarating contender. It not only evokes the spirit of its predecessors but also cleverly extends the Outlast narrative into uncharted, yet thrilling territories. Whether you’re an Outlast veteran or new to the series, this game is a must-play. And we can’t wait to see what new trials possibly arrive in the future.