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The Outlast Trials Review (PC)

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Red Barrels' long-awaited spin-off of Outlast has, with a little nudge and a shove, released on PC. And it's about time, too, what with Outlast 3 still being kept under wraps and all details on it being tediously scarce. Question is, was The Outlast Trials really worth the several years of twiddling thumbs and reliving the same recurring nightmare of foraging for alkaline batteries in the dark? Or, was it morally flat and directionless; a textureless bombshell with very little to brag about outside of its spiritual connection to the IP?

Don't get me wrong, The Outlast Trials bears the right to be deemed a worthy adversary in the realm of co-operative play. That said, this certainly isn't your run-of-the-mill Outlast experience, and it begs the question: has Red Barrels truly lost sight of what made the series that genre-defining pillar of strength it was back in 2013, or is it completely devoid of creative control over what should, in all honesty, be a striking return for the acclaimed anthology?

Welcome Back

To put you in the picture, The Outlast Trials is set long before the events of both Outlast and Outlast 2. In the thick of the Cold War, Murkoff Corporation—the same company that featured in the original game—seeks to use human guinea pigs by way of forcing them to engage in a series of barbaric and questionably sinister challenges. Like before, their aims are to brainwash those in their clutches, and ultimately assess their state of mind before spitting them back out — washed up, psychologically unbalanced, and laden with everlasting trauma. Nothing new there, then.

Narrative-wise, The Outlast Trials is pretty much on the same wavelength as its previous chapters. What's more, the fact that Murkoff Corporation also features as the game's primary punch bag does assist with fleshing out the lore ever so slightly. And, you know, that's great — because who doesn't love a little extra backstory drizzled over their prequel in this day and age? It was a safe move, and it paid off surprisingly well, despite being somewhat predictable and a little stale. Third time's the charm though, I guess?

A Prologue to Die For

The first twenty-plus minutes of The Outlast Trials sees you immersing in an atmospherically on-point labyrinth built on fever dreams and mechanical nightmares. And I'd be lying if I said these weren't some of the most utterly terrifying and body-breaking moments I've ever seen spat out from the realm of survival-horror. Not that I expected anything less from Red Barrels, mind you. Needless to say that the devs swung hard and true, and brought out its initial burst of shock-horror right from the get-go.

Equipped with a pair of night vision goggles, you're initially led to investigate a myriad of shadow-trodden tunnels and “death rooms”, each highly reminscent of James Wan's beloved SAW franchise. A rough fifteen minutes or so of tiptoeing through the shadows with your tail tucked firmly between your legs later, and you're suddenly in the real world. Surprise, surprise — it's an underground bunker, and you and a whole bunch of others are due to remain there until the next trial begins. Welcome home, patient.

On paper, this is all benchmark material—gold dust, even. And it fortifies Red Barrels' raw ability to create compelling worlds with convincing lore remarkably well. Plus, what makes this all the more impressive is the fact that The Outlast Trials is still in its early access phase, which of course means there are still plenty of padlocks to unlock and crags and crevices to burst open. And even now, in its current half-finished state, the framework has more than enough bells and whistles to give it a headstart. To that I say, kudos to Red Barrels; those guys sure know what they're doing when it comes to spewing out gore-filled theatrics.

Between Comical and Twisted

Where the original Outlast cast its focus on scaring the living daylights out of its players, The Outlast Trials instead relies on the atmosphere, and not to mention the sense of dread both you and your teammates bestow upon yourselves during each given trial. And it's because of this that, depending on the squad you end up with, the trials can either turn out genuinely horrifying, or borderline comical. But from experience, I noticed that the latter was more commonplace than anything else. Makes sense, though, what with laughter being the all-time remedy for fear and all.

Comedy aside, The Outlast Trials' bread and butter is evidently its hunger for shock value. True to its nature, it's actually rather grotesque—questionably twisted, even. And if you thought a severed head emerging from the groin of a battered male corpse was weird (thanks, Whistleblower), then boy, you've not seen anything yet.

To give you an idea of how far south Red Barrels went, one can only point you towards one of the three available trials currently wedged in the early access version of the game. On one hand, you've got a trial that forces you to hurl mechanical children into a meat grinder, and on the other, you've got a task that involves turning an orphanage into a haven for all things unholy. Clearly, the guys over at Red Barrels had it in their right minds to ruffle a few feathers here, to which, in most cases, it did — and rather beautifully, might I add.

And the Gameplay?

But what about the actual gameplay? Well, therein lies a question that very few people can answer. Seeing as it's still in its early access state, it's fair to say that one or two bugs come with the territory. But having said that, one of The Outlast Trials' biggest issues isn't with its graphical mishaps, but the enemy AI. To put it short, it's laughably unfair, and at times borderline ridiculous to even comprehend. An example here would be having to hide in a barrel, only to have the creature stalking you suddenly grind to a halt beside you and wait for you to emerge. It's funny at first, but not so much on the twelfth attempt. Go figure.

The good news is, The Outlast Trials does actually foster a pretty sturdy multiplayer-based framework. And again, while it does help to have a team who'd bend over backwards to aid you in your time of need, generally dollying about does also conjure an all-round enjoyable experience. Regardless of the people you have in your selected squad, rummaging about in the dark looking for generators and completing other bog-standard and slightly mundane tasks is still, all things considered, a simple yet effective way to get the blood pumping. And those cat-and-mouse chases? Well, evidently there are a few bolts that could do with tightening in later patches, but for what it's worth, there's still a whole lot of game left to chew into. It's just that, well, it doesn't quite feel like an entrée yet.

But Is It Outlast?

In regards to the horror elements that Outlast is so famously known for — yes, there are certain aspects that link it to the others in the series. That said, these ingredients only truly shine when tasted alone; whereas playing with three others tends to spoil the immersion and add a frosting of slapstick humour to the mix. Now, depending on your playstyle, The Outlast Trials can cater to one of two types of audience, which, in ways, makes it a double-edged sword perfectly capable of entertaining one side, but at the cost of spoiling the other.

But is it really an Outlast game? At its core, yes. But having said that, I couldn't help but experience drawn-out bursts of nostalgia that often took me back to scenarios depicted in Back 4 Blood or any other four-player survival-horror for that matter. At times, it didn't feel original enough, and instead only transported me to worlds that I felt I had already seen a few dozen times before.

Granted, Red Barrels has done a fantastic job at porting the stealth and overall thrill of the chase to its latest iteration. But when all's said and done, it isn't quite on par with the earlier chapters which, in all honesty, defined an entire generation with little more than the assets it had in its possession at the time. Truth be told, The Outlast Trials could've very well sampled these stale waters and still managed to make it taste like a freshly brewed elixir of bone-shattering horror.


Red Barrels' attempt to divert the course and shoot for something a little more interactive is commendable at best, but when all's said and done — The Outlast Trials just isn't what you'd expect from a saga that, prior to its arrival, had already built the framework for something truly exceptional. And while the latest entry isn't entirely disappointing by today's standards, it does lack a lot of the IP's core charm and aesthetics.

Needless to say that, in spite of its change of direction, The Outlast Trials is still a fantastic co-op game in general, and not to mention one that has more replayability than the vast majority of big-budget battle royale IPs. And while its trials are still under construction, the trio of circuits it does have in its arsenal are hardly barren or devoid of any joy. Bottom line is, if Red Barrels is able to tighten a few screws and tweak that half-baked AI, then sure, I for one could look past the fact that this isn't an Outlast game at heart. Under the right guidance, though, it could be more. And if there's anything that The Outlast Trials needs to one-up its award-winning cousins — it's more.


The Outlast Trials Review (PC)

Out With the Old, in With the New

While Red Barrels’ attempt at giving Outlast a fresh coat of paint is commendable at best, The Outlast Trials just isn’t quite as aesthetically pleasing as its predecessors. And while it makes for a superb co-op game, it isn’t quite the staple of horror we were hoping to entwine with.

Jord is acting Team Leader at If he isn't blabbering on in his daily listicles, then he's probably out writing fantasy novels or scraping Game Pass of all its slept on indies.