Review: Outlast – Whistleblower

OutlastWhistle-StoryDisclaimer: This review does not contain spoilers for the base Outlast game.
Whistleblower is downloadable content for the original Outlast game, and while it tells different story and angle to the Mount Massive Asylum, it’s largely the same kind of experience that Outlast provided. It features largely brand new areas (existing ones are presented with a twist) as well as new and interesting stalkers for the player to run from.

Whistleblower sees players step into the shoes of Waylon Park, a software developer who works at the Mount Massive asylum. The game opens with Waylon sending an email, the same email that Miles Upshurr receives at the beginning of the original Outlast game that prompts him to head to the asylum. Of course, Waylon is caught doing this and thrown into the asylum himself, although sinister events begin to play out and Waylon is somehow let free. But he still needs to escape the asylum – and that will be half the battle.

Rather surprisingly, Whistleblower takes place before, during and after the events of Outlast. Despite being a prequel, the game seems to focus a lot more on Waylon himself as a character and the emotional turmoil he endures during his time in Mount Massive – little information about what is going on in Mount Massive is presented to the player outside of the odd file or two. Waylon and the supporting characters are all developed very well considering the breadth of the DLC.

In terms of pacing and tension, Whistleblower is very well focused and unlike the ending of the original Outlast game I would find it hard to believe any player would find Whistleblower’s ending unsatisfying – though I won’t specify if it’s a happy or sad one. As a pseudo-prequel, Whistleblower ties into the original game very well with lots of subtle nods to the original game too, so it’s best to have the events (or characters, at least) of the base game fresh in your mind when you take on Whistleblower as it does a great job of tying itself into the base games events.

Whistleblower holds nothing back. It is much more gruesome, much more macabre and much more deranged than the original game. Anyone who felt unnerved by the content in the base game should be warned that Whistleblower takes all of this amplifies it to a point where I’ve not really seen anything like it in a video game. It’s very intense. Be warned.

But as I said, it’s a fantastically written expansion of sort that manages to really add to the Outlast narrative without cheapening it. And it’s satisfyingly conclusive too.

OutlastWhistle-PresentationVisually, Whistleblower is more or less the same as Outlast. The game still brings its environment to life with ambient effects like subtle television glows, floating particles of dusk, buzzing flies and deep and thick fog and foliage. It’s still a dark and depressing game with an oppressive and dilapidated atmosphere. A few things have changed, however, that elevate it above the original game. Character models are less commonly recycled with most of the “variants” you come across in the asylum all having a unique (if not slightly deformed) look. Whistleblower also takes most of the tension outside of the asylum into swamps and courtyards – and while this is a nice change of scenery, fog covers up most of the visual shortcomings of these environments. Essentially, if you appreciated the dank corridors and rooms of the base game you’ll appreciate what’s offered in Whistleblower just as much.

As with the base game, the sound design is also top notch. Waylon’s heartbeat is synchronised to the controller’s rumble so every time Waylon is feeling tense or worried, the player feels physical feedback to assert this association. As we said with Outlast, it’s a clever yet simple way to feel connected to the player character, which is all the more important in a horror game attempting to scare someone.

The soundtrack is just as ominous as the base game, although it employs a few more tricks to really help to sell the idea of Mount Massive and its surrounding areas. When outside, there’s a very thick atmospheric layer of noises consisting of assorted screams and wolves, really giving the player an impression of the chaos ensuing across the entire complex – despite never seeing any of it.

Whistleblower knows just when to use ambient music, and when to use nothing at all to build its tension too, which is to be commended. Finally, one of the game’s two main stalkers has an audio cue that, as soon as you hear it, will instantly make you start stepping more cautiously. It’s yet another simple way to drill up anxiety in the player and it works surprisingly well in Whistleblower. As with the base game, the more vigorous tracks during chase scenes employ booming percussion and horns to ramp up the tension.

OutlastWhistle-GameplayThe core gameplay remains unchanged from the base Outlast game. Players find a camera (though the method in Whistleblower is slightly clumsier in terms of implementation) and must explore various parts of a crumbling asylum while trying to escape a cast of deranged and psychotic inmates. It’s simple and it’s effective, and everything that worked in the base game works well in Whistleblower. It is, more or less, much more of the same and feels more akin to an expansion pack than anything else.

One of the most annoying things about Outlast was its constant recycling of scenario encounters – namely the idea of “find three items in an open area and then escape” schema it employed much too often in the base game. These moments are gone in Whistleblower, and instead a lot of the encounters in Whistleblower have the player attempting to find an exit from an area while avoiding a stalker type enemy. It’s much more simplistic, but it also makes the game feel like more of a stealth game than anything as it’s quite hard to explore the environment while being chased by a cannibal or a sexually deranged groomsman.

The effectiveness of Whistleblower’s scares is easily due to its own variety. The stalkers themselves are both very unique and very well characterised – to the point where I might even refer to them as charismatic despite their macabre aspirations. A lot less of the “cheap” scares are employed and instead the game does a fantastic job of building up a scare rather than just throwing it at you suddenly – there’s barely any moments in the game where you won’t feel tense and anxious in Whistleblower. Other stalkers from the base game return briefly too, which is a nice touch to help establish Mount Massive as this one large cohesive environment. Essentially, the game’s pacing has been focused down to include only the best moments, cutting the “chaff” to provide an exciting experience from beginning to end.

As with the original game, Waylon can film certain items with his camera to write “notes” which tell his perspective on the events that are unfolding in front of him. Many of these are great and effective in establishing Waylon’s character and some of his backstory in a very subtle manner. Similarly, documents are strewn about the halls of Mount Massive which provide a backstory to the asylum and it’s benefactors as well as the stalkers that Waylon encounters. To find absolutely everything in the game, most players will take roughly four to five hours to complete Whistleblower, though those who just want to get the story done and dusted could probably get through the game in three. Considering all the new content and a price less than $10, it’s certainly worth it. Though like the first game, there is probably limited replayability outside of the masochistic Insane mode which eschews checkpoints in favour of good old frustration.