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  • Writer's pictureJames Stephanie Sterling

The Outlast Trials - Oh Doctor! (Review)

The Outlast Trials

Released: March 5th, 2024

Developer: Red Barrels

Publisher: Red Barrels

Systems: PC, PS5 (reviewed)

(Copy provided by publisher)

The Outlast Trials immediately nabbed my curiosity upon announcement. Exactly how would Red Barrels turn a game primarily about hiding into a team activity? What can you do to the influential but highly specific Outlast formula so four players can scuttle about in the dark while being pursued by spicy portrayals of mentally ill people? 

The answer, of course, turned out to be rather simple.

Red Barrels did almost nothing to the basic formula, and the result is something that works weirdly rather well.

So, The Outlast Trials is a four-player cooperative experience that really does just do the usual Outlast thing. The Murkoff Corporation is back and this time it’s been watching too much Saw, taking people off the streets and subjecting them to lethal but hilariously overdressed escape rooms in the name of “therapy.” 

Each stage is a mocked up scenario in which players must perform some form of horrid task, be it infiltrating a police station to murder a snitch, destroying evidence to undermine a trial, or showing indoctrination films to orphans. Many aspects of these highly ethical trials are simulated with simple animatronics, as if things took place in a fairground funhouse covered in blood and full of penises. 

Oh don’t worry, this is an Outlast game - you can expect to get facefuls of cock. 

Whatever the ultimate goal, the meat of each trial usually offers several objectives taken from a rather limited pool. As well as facefuls of cock, expect to spend a considerable amount of time looking for keys, finding fuel for generators, and performing simple QTEs to solve rudimentary puzzles. Also, you’ll look for keys a lot. I know I already mentioned the keys, but I felt it important to emphasize exactly how much of this game is a scavenger hunt where you spend ages looking for the right corpse to dig a mcguffin out of. 

Naturally, while you’re tuning radios, ferrying items, and performing other such basic tasks, you’ll be dealing with a whole bunch of lethal bullshit. Pat Sharpe’s Deathhouse is populated by a cast of eccentric silly-billies such as a murdersome matron with a drill-fitted goose puppet. There’s also a naked man who happens to be a giant so you really get a good look at his veiny tormentor. Enemies wander the halls looking for players to batter, requiring Outlast’s delicate gameplay blend to navigate - a blend of sneakily crawling in the dirt like a worm and running to cower in a filthy toilet stalls. 

Shattered glass lays in patches on the floor and tin cans dangle from the ceiling to serve as enemy-alerting traps, while a variety of more physically painful devices hide behind doors and lace the ground to electrocute or gas you. Speaking of gas, getting a blast of what perfectly resembles cartoon farts in your face inflicts Psychosis, a status that leads to health-sapping hallucinations and the like. Occasionally, you’ll be visited by Discount Jonathan Crane who fills your face with it so vigorously you’d think it was his dick. 

Y’know, because of how many penile facemasks you’ll have worn by then.  

Useful items thankfully litter the place as well - bricks stun enemies, bottles distract them, and various consumables can restore health, sanity, or battery levels for your precious night vision goggles. After a couple of trials you’ll be able to choose one of four Rigs that offer a beneficial effect on a cooldown - the Heal Rig, Stun Rig, X-Ray Rig, and Blind Rig, four pieces of equipment that I fear may be so obtusely labeled I’ll need to provide an exhaustive glossary of terms with this review. 

Of course, gameplay alone is never considered an incentive these days, so The Outlast Trials makes sure to keep patients checked in with a bunch of unlockable stuff between runs. Coins can be spent on new cosmetic items to wear about yourself or furnish your cell, with all manner of disturbing and absurd little ornaments to buy - including one of the least visually appealing dildos I’ve ever seen (and I know my unappealing dildos). Completion of trials additionally awards tickets to be spent on upgrades such as a baseball slide, stamina boost, or improved door bashing. 

Is that about it? I mean, there’s also an arm wrestling and chess minigame in the lobby, but this sentence is literally all I have to say about those. 

Needless to say, The Outlast Trial’s gameplay is fairly limited. No matter what the main objective is, the steps to completion involve many of the same basic activities broken up by slight occasional novelties like a ball-throwing carnival game. It’s an issue compounded by Outlast’s foundation as a series, since slow paced horror stealth in which the most viable tactic is running and hiding doesn’t make for the kind of replayable multiplayer experience you can just jump into for a few minutes of fun.

New trials and challenges are unlocked in a linear fashion and play out pretty much exactly the same each time, which compounds the stunted replayability factor since players want to keep moving forward rather than populating every stage. This seems to be reflected in the extreme difficulty matchmaking has when looking for a team to tackle specific Trials. Indeed, anything other than purely random matchmaking seems to get you a team if you’re not playing with friends, and even that can be spotty. 

While Outlast’s online state is nowhere near as unplayably broken as some launches lately, it can still take far longer than is suitable to find players. Fortunately, once a game kicks off, the experience has been rock solid and lag free, but these games of late really need to have better launches. It’s especially true of a game with solo style progression and gameplay that, while good, is nonetheless unlikely to have Overwatch’s longevity -  precious time’s a-wastin’!   

No matter my criticism and despite my weirdly sarcastic tone throughout this review, I must emphasize that Outlast & Friends works better as a concept than I would have expected, while the horror-stealth gameplay around which everything spins is often as tense and freaky as anything in the original (and the sequel if we really must acknowledge it). Things can get a bit repetitive, necessitating more breaks away from it than the average online game, but I do keep coming back. Scurrying about a hostile shithole with three other victims, pulling off a job that usually culminates in a Disneyland-grade animatronic spectacle, then fleeing to the exit in a frantic dash is just plain fun. 

Rather than run against the horror gameplay, cooperative additions simply speed up the process - with four people performing tasks, item hunting, or distracting enemies for each other, you essentially get a jauntier theme park version of Outlast’s whole deal, which is certainly in keeping with the overall vibe. 

That vibe is another reason why The Outlast Trials succeeds despite itself. Each twisted little story told in the trials are intriguingly disturbing, and a delightful amount of melodrama has been put into them. There’s so much amusing campiness paired with genuinely grotesque and violent imagery, producing sequences and challenges that are absolutely memorable if nothing else. The villains are exactly as hammy as they need to be, the set dressing is both fun and disgusting, and the audiovisual presentation is never not extra. 

While the strictly defined horror gameplay might not keep one hooked for hours-long sessions, The Outlast Trials’ style and atmosphere is worth several return journeys. It makes very few changes to the series’ usual stealthy scariness, yet the inclusion of three other players makes for a breezy version that’s pretty damn entertaining. Be aware that playing it alone makes everything take four times longer and isn’t particularly fun, but with even just one more player, some torture porny fun can be had. 

Plus penises.



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