The Outlast Trials Review | Xbox Series X

While not a completely tonal sequel, The Outlast Trials still is an amazing addition to the Outlast franchise.

By MariDead, Posted 24 Apr 2024

When thinking about survival horror games the genre appears to be split in two, there is the resident evil style of having limited resources but always a way to fight back if you need to, and there is the completely defenseless. While these games are very popular now, with Alien Isolation, Layers of Fear, and even PT being examples of some of the most famous ones, the genre was not as saturated in 2013 as it is now. While the idea of playing a defenseless protagonist wasn’t completely new, the side-scroller Limbo had done an excellent job of dipping its toe into this particular niche. 

Outlast was released in 2013 and took the defenseless protagonist to a whole new level. In the original game, you have a camera, and your bravery to defend you against the horrors of Mount Massive Asylum. You have no opportunity to fight back, you can only fight and run and the game makes this clear from the very opening. The most iconic imagery that is associated with the Outlast games, both one and two, is the green tinge of the night vision on the camera.

The Outlast Trials, Review, Xbox Series X, Gameplay, Screenshots, Survival Horror

When The Outlast Trials was first announced there was so much excitement for a follow-up to the Outlast games set in the same world. The idea of a multiplayer horror experience is not completely new, Phasmaphobia made a real splash in recent years for letting groups of people team up against a common, supernatural enemy. However, setting a similar style of gameplay in a world everyone knows allows the idea to move further in the gaming community, meaning more people have the opportunity to experience the new adventure taking place.

The story of The Outlast Trials is very simple. The game opens on footage of a poster advertising for the lost or lonely, stating that “We Need You”. It is clear to those who are used to the world of the Outlast games that this is a ploy by Murkoff Corporations, the main antagonists behind the horrors of the first two games, to lure in the vulnerable in order to use them for their twisted experiments. The poster lands on a sleeping person who appears to be sleeping rough, exactly the target for Murkoff who knows a thing or two about abusing those who are at their weakest moments. 

The person is dragged to a facility where they are put through a series of Trials, hence the name, in order to fundamentally change the victim they have got a hold of. It is at this point the player will have the opportunity to change their appearance and voice, although this will change little of the single-player experience, only affecting your teammates if you choose to play in the co-op mode. 

From here you travel through a house, guided by various mannequins and a voice over the radio that tells the story of someone’s life, and how they ended up in a position to need to be “fixed” by Murkoff. It is the aim of the trials to offer therapy, often in the form of torture, meaning those who survive leave changed. 

The Outlast Trials, Review, Xbox Series X, Gameplay, Screenshots, Survival Horror

In the house, you are taught the basic game mechanics as well as coming across your first few enemies who all follow the Outlast formula. A pursuer who thrives on the chance, and often has some sort of gimmick making them even more terrifying than a simple madman with a knife. The first example of this is a man with a puppet who appears to have the thing surgically attached to his hand. As he stalks you the man and the puppet talk back and forth in a way that certainly adds to the already terrifying situation you have found yourself in. 

Once you are through the house you are made aware of the facility you are in and have the chance to team up and go through different trials, each with a key, disturbing objective. While in these trials you are constantly watched by scientists in lab coats who sit in small, glass alcoves. They make notes and observe all those trapped in the terrifying world The Outlast Trials has created.

The original Outlast had very simple gameplay. Run, hide, get a battery for the camera, and then run and hide again. In Outlast 2 this was adapted a little, while there was still no way of fighting back, there were healing items and the camera worked a little differently. The Outlast Trials has had yet another upgrade. There is still the night vision, this time in goggles, not a camera but still requiring batteries, as well as healing items, plus some stun items have been made available.

The night vision goggles work much the same way as the camera did in the first two games, even to the point where you momentarily obscure your own vision for a moment as you put them on and take them off. They require charging from batteries that can be found throughout the environments, like the batteries from the first two games. The goggles are a great addition, them being strapped to the face of the player character means the player no longer has to face the cognitive dissonance required to believe a man could run through an asylum being chased by the huge and deadly Chris Walker while still holding a camera to his eye the whole time.

The Outlast Trials, Review, Xbox Series X, Gameplay, Screenshots, Survival Horror

The healing items were an addition in Outlast 2 that was simply not needed in the first game. In Outlast, if you got hit, nine out of ten times, you died. This was not always true of course, and if you did get away you would simply return to full health after a few moments, allowing you to reenter the encounter that just caused the hit. However, this was not a huge part of the game, and most enemies had a one-hit kill should they get hold of you. There was even a section of the Whistleblower DLC that had a canon injury that was a key part of the narrative.

Outlast 2’s more “cat and mouse” style gameplay had a lot more smaller enemies rather than a series of boss encounters from the first game. This meant you took little hits throughout the game and had to have the ability to use a bandage to heal between these smaller hits. The Outlast Trials is a direct continuation of this, seeming to strike the balance of the fear of a one-hit kill boss, with the constant pressure of managing healing items.

This works perfectly in the horror scenario set out as the battery chargers for the night vision also take up one of your three item slots. This means you will often have to choose between a healing item and additional batteries. As well as this, there are many objective items that can take up a slot. 

As well as taking up an item slot, some of the narrative items are very encumbrance for the characters to carry around. In the opening tutorial, which is a solo adventure, this is demonstrated by destroying some files while being pursued and having to try to evade the attacker without the use of sprinting. When you are further into the trials and are doing them as a member of a team, it is a very different affair. These moments can truly test your teamwork as you have to decide as a team who will carry the items and who will distract the enemies away from the now vulnerable member of the team.

The Outlast Trials, Review, Xbox Series X, Gameplay, Screenshots, Survival Horror

This is a fantastic mechanic as it means you have to have really good teamwork to make it through these sections. There are noise traps around the various trials that can be devastating when triggered at the wrong time but can also be utilized in such moments to help keep members of the team in precarious situations safe.

The other new addition to the gameplay is the stun items that allow the slightest hint of being able to fight back. Now you don’t have an infinite sprint, instead running out of stamina after a short amount of time, kiting enemies for infinite distances is no longer an option. Instead, you have to make use of the stun items that can be found in the trials. These give a small amount of time for you to run away or hide, as well as allowing any teammates to escape should they need to. The stuns could have been genre-breaking, giving the player a way to fight back, but they are scarce enough to be one of the best additions.

The co-op mode is the real winner of The Outlast Trials and a big part of what keeps the game feeling fresh and new. While there are many people who love to replay a horror game over and over, maybe wanting to try a higher difficulty or a speed run, there are just as many, probably more, who will only play a game once if it has nothing new to offer after that once. The Outlast Trials avoids this by incorporating a cooperative mode. 

Being able to play a game like this with friends adds a whole world of variety to the possibilities within the gameplay, keeping the experience fresh no matter how many times you play it. An example of this is in Dead By Daylight. While there are constant new IPs being added to the game the core gameplay is still the same. Turn on 5 generators, open the gate, and leave without being put on the hook. It is the online play, however, that keeps people coming back, and the variety that this offers.

The Outlast Trials, Review, Xbox Series X, Gameplay, Screenshots, Survival Horror

By allowing the options of playing with friends, making mistakes everyone has to work together to fix, or even just trying to get each other killed, a whole new element of replayability and fun has been added to an already fantastic franchise. The option to continue adding more trials to the game as it grows also means there is an opportunity for longevity there.

Yes, this can make certain elements of the gameplay a little less scary, having someone to help you out in a bind will never be as scary as having to make it out on your own, but when the gameplay is this fun, maybe it is okay to lose a little of the extreme horror in the first 2 games in the series. 

As always, Red Barrel has done a fantastic job with the graphics in The Outlast Trials. The gore is truly horrendous but in the best way. In some moments some of the facial features hit the uncanny valley as they attempt to reach as close to realism as possible. However, in a horror game, this can end up being a blessing as much as it is a curse. 

There is nothing like the sound design of the Outlast games. If you want to spend several hours cringing at bone-crunching, blood-sloshing, and endless wet slaps of unidentified matter hitting the ground, then Outlast is the way to go. The Outlast Trials is no exception to this. The sound design is perfectly horrifying and the amount of times you will leap out from your chair as various weapons power up around you is nearly uncountable. The voice actors for each of the available player voices do a really good job of acting suitably horrified, really helping with the immersion as you move through the trials.

The Outlast Trials, Review, Xbox Series X, Gameplay, Screenshots, Survival Horror

The Outlast Trials is an amazing addition to the Outlast franchise. While not a completely tonal sequel, although it could be if you chose to play the trials alone, the heart and soul of the first game and DLC in particular are all over this one. The enemies are terrifying and the additions to the gameplay all work perfectly with the great bones of what was already there. This game is worth playing every time, especially if you can get a team together. 

Mariella Deadman (@MariellaDead)
Editor, NoobFeed

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General Information

Platform(s): PC, PS5, XBSX, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher(s): Red Barrel Games
Developer(s): Red Barrel Games
Genres: Survival Horror
Themes: Co-Op, PvE
Release Date: 2024-03-24

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