The Outlast Trials Review – For Glory And Gore

This Outlast experiment is best experienced with friends.

While opinions are divided on them, I’ve always had great fun with the Outlast games. The way they managed to make the found-footage genre of film into a playable experience is to be commended, but I also have always enjoyed how they’ve never shied away from a gory and violent horror experience. Now, you can enjoy that experience with friends in The Outlast Trials. While it’s lacking in some areas, I have enjoyed playing it immensely.

The Outlast Trials is a prequel. You play as a nameless test subject kidnapped by the Murkoff Corporation to participate in mysterious experiments. You and up to three other subjects partake in “therapy”, a set of trials, to assist Murkoff in collecting data on said experiments. It’s a much more barebones plot than previous Outlast games, though there’s some juicy lore to delve into through files you can find if you wish.

The Outlast Trials Review - Compactor in the Toy Factory Entrance

Despite this change in direction, The Outlast Trials stays true to the spirit of the original games. Each trial has you exploring a run-down, dilapidated location while evading aggressive stalkers. And while you won’t be filming things with your night-vision equipped camera this time, each test subject has been graciously provided with a set of night-vision goggles for each trial.

The most significant new addition here is the sanity meter. Certain enemies and traps will decrease your sanity meter, eventually causing your character to hallucinate. Non-existent enemies might randomly appear and rush at you – and while they’re predictable at times, they’re always startling. Lose all of your sanity, and you’ll encounter Mr Skinner, a fast stalker who will drain your health if you stay still for too long. It’s a clever twist, requiring you to sprint to get away from him and, without a doubt, alert the real threats in the room or mess up a perfect run.

The Outlast Trials Review - Night Vision

When you first boot the game, you’ll be in a communal area where you can see other players online. Each player has their own room, which can be decked out with cosmetic upgrades, but you can also upgrade your character here. It’s also here where you’ll decide which trial to go on together. The Outlast Trials has five maps to mess around in, each housing a main trial and two to three smaller challenges. Trials are lengthier, taking anywhere between an hour and an hour and a half to complete. Challenges are smaller, often remixing the map to the point where it feels new anyway, and usually takes between thirty minutes to an hour to finish. There’s a nice variety of objectives on offer here, too.

The main trials themselves are where I had the most fun. They have multiple phases, and they feel like an elongated sequence from films like SAW. In one of them, my group and I had to “bring judgement” upon a judge by infiltrating the courthouse, finding and disposing of evidence exonerating him, and chasing and executing witnesses due to testify against him. All while being chased by a maniacal police officer. It’s one of the many tense but intense moments in The Outlast Trials that I really enjoyed.

The Outlast Trials Review - Root Canal Ending

Challenges being shorter doesn’t make them an inferior experience, though. The objectives are often simple but twisted to fit the edgier Outlast aesthetic. In one, our group had to track down five bottles of bleach to pour into a soup to feed misbehaving children. In another, we had to feed loud children to a grinder, each child making noise whenever we picked it up, alerting potential stalkers. Mind you, they’re cardboard representations of children, but the twisted and macabre nature of the activities and what they represented still made things unsettling.

Most of the challenge comes from completing these objectives while evading a stalker. There’s a nice variety of other enemies in the game, too. Some will wait in a hiding spot, pouncing on you when you try to hide in the same spot as them. Others are more aggressive, listening for any sound you make and honing in on you when they discover you. You can use their sensitivity to noise to your advantage, distracting them by throwing objects, but doing so often means using an item you might be able to use to defend yourself later.

The Outlast Trials Review - Religious Broadcast

And while I loved the general gameplay of The Outlast Trials, I did feel there could have been a greater degree of variety in the more prominent psychopaths that headline each of the trials. Everyone who played the previous Outlast games will remember the psychotic groom who wanted to castrate you. The naked twins with the oddly shaped heads. Even Marta from the second game, if only because she looked like she wandered into Temples Gate straight from an Elder Scrolls game. The two significant psychopaths included in The Outlast Trials are great additions to the Outlast canon, but seeing them reused on later trials was a tad disappointing. I recognise these things take time to create, but it removes fear from a situation when your enemy is one you’re already familiar with.

Your performance is ranked at the end of each trial, and it’s incredibly satisfying to replay said trials and see yourself improve as you increase your therapy level and unlock new abilities for your test subject. These improvements come in the form of a rig, prescriptions for your character, tools, skills and medicine.

All of these upgrades assist you in approaching each of the trials. Rigs are a permanent, rechargeable item that might stun an enemy or allow you to see through walls. Prescriptions are perks that allow you to run faster, slide or even hold extra items. Tools are equippable items like slippers, which dampen your footsteps across broken glass. Skills are permanent perks that assist you in-game – such as recharging your stamina quickly while you hide. It’s a robust upgrade system that isn’t needlessly complicated and fun to coordinate with friends so that you have a team that complements each other’s abilities and weaknesses.

The Outlast Trials Review - Mother Gooseberry Approaches The Player

And yes, multiplayer is still surprisingly tense. You can team up with three other people to attempt the trials together, with the experience scaling up by increasing the number of objectives or enemies around the map. Multiplayer is easily the most fun to be had here. It can be so fun to explore together, but there are other little tricks that the games play on your team, too. In multiplayer, enemies dress up as your teammates and slowly approach you with a slightly misspelled gamertag above their heads, lulling you into a false sense of security before attacking you and running away. It’s a great little touch that encourages you to stay together and keeps tensions high even when sharing the experience with others.

When you’re done with the first round of trials and challenges, future ones are opened up that increase the difficulty while simultaneously upping the rewards. They’re remixed versions of the levels and encounters you’ve already played, but it can be fun to take your fully upgraded rigs into these and try to overcome them. It’s incredibly satisfying to see how much you’ve grown by even being able to overcome these more complex challenges, too.

The Outlast Trials Review - The Ending Of The Toy Factory Sequence

In terms of presentation, you already know what to expect if you’ve played an Outlast game before. The environments are dimly lit and run-down, dripping with atmosphere and subtle lighting that helps set the mood. Of course, you can expect all kinds of gore to be peppered around each of the levels. Bodies, limbs, heads and even genitals often can be seen lying around the floor. It’s edgy, but I appreciate that the team held nothing back when designing some of these macabre maps.

The sound design is similarly solid, offering tracks that heighten the tension, especially when hiding from a potential stalker, but also not being afraid to just let the sound of errant footsteps build the tension. I’ve talked about how, in the past, other horror games haven’t been able to read the room when it comes to music, but The Outlast Trials gets it so right. The voices of some of the psychopaths, especially Mother Gooseberry’s abusive puppet, are mainly a standout.

The Outlast Trials Review - Second Mission Area

The Outlast Trials is a fun little experiment that enhances the now-typical Outlast formula rather than evolves it. Multiplayer is a hoot, bringing a sense of tension that I was surprised to feel in a group setting. While this new focus inevitably means that solo players will feel shortchanged, The Outlast Trials still feels true to the spirit of the previous Outlast games without a compromise that a multiplayer focus would typically bring. It’s a fun time, and I can only hope it will continue to grow as time goes by.

The Outlast Trials successfully co-opts the Outlast formula into a multiplayer experience. It does a great job at offering what Outlast does best – macabre gore and tense horror with some genuinely gruesome objectives. But while it's fun to experience with friends, the solo players will find little reason to continue playing after the first program, and reusing some of the stalkers feels like a missed opportunity.
Great use of co-op
Still feels authentically like Outlast
Clever scares and tension
Not much appeal for solo players
Repetitious use of stalkers