Something’s in the air lately, and it clearly isn’t love. No, this is the unmasked stench of death at the hands of the nefarious Murkoff Corporation – which fans of the Outlast series may remember as the same entity that thoroughly mismanaged Outlast 1’s Mount Massive Asylum and erected Outlast 2’s creepy radio towers. The dastardly experiments continue in The Outlast Trials, a first-person horror survival sim that – and I’m putting this lightly – finds all the best ways to unsettle you. I had an extremely tense experience playing the tutorial and the first level on an ultrawide monitor in a dark room, but if you don’t want to go it alone, you can now bring up to three friends with you in a series first. Thus, Trials is potentially the next great co-op horror survival game.
The first two Outlast games revolved around the unfolding story of an investigative journalist uncovering a dark mystery, but in this Cold War-era prequel, you play as a prisoner vying for your life in a Squid Game-like race for survival across several titular trials. As such, The Outlast Trials sees you trying to outrun, out-sleuth, and outsmart your fellow inmates – who are often violent and heavily disfigured, making them awfully terrifying when they jump out of closets and pin you to the floor in classic jumpscare fashion.
These scares are definitely more in line with American chainsaw horror than some of the darker, more psychological horror one might expect from, say, a Silent Hill game. However, The Outlast Trials commits to the bit with excellent sound and level design that exudes eeriness, even when you can’t hear the screams. Areas are often difficult to parse without the use of your night-vision goggles, which can quickly deplete and only recharge with a scarce battery resource – making it pertinent to only use night-vision when absolutely necessary. On the other hand, open lighting is both a blessing and a curse insofar as you can only effectively stay hidden in dark areas, and since you never get to fight your opponents head-on, using stealth to your advantage is an absolute must.
It’s great that you’re given a very limited amount of inventory space – three slots in total – which means you’ll constantly need to think about which items you’ll carry around to support your playstyle. The Outlast Trials competently balances its inventory and its loadout customization system, which can tip the scales of your own playstyle in a certain direction – changing your relationship with the items you choose to prioritize in your inventory. In my own preview, I experienced the Police Station level on Easy mode, which meant the map was scattered with healing and anti-psychotic items, batteries, and lockpicks. On tougher modes, these items will likely be scarcer, making the whole thing a much more cerebral fight for survival.
The good news is there are plenty of ways to survive it all – if you’re smart. You never get to brandish a weapon against your unhinged assailants, but as previously mentioned you can equip a multitude of different perks and mods to give yourself an edge, not unlike the perk system fans of Dead By Daylight have grown accustomed to. In my own demo of Trials’ first level, I chose the X-Ray rig, which temporarily granted me the ability to see through walls and see in the dark without draining my night-vision battery, and it was so useful in spite of its reasonably long cooldown that a lack of battery pickups posed much less of a challenge. This was just one of several available rigs to choose from at the start, and the others seemed equally viable. But it does seem like itemization goes far deeper. There’s an entire menu dedicated to customizing and piecing together a loadout with several different factors, and I’m excited to see how deep The Outlast Trials takes its strategic interplay.
Once you’re finished surviving – or if you fail to survive – you can always head back to the hub area. This seems like it’s heavily tied into story progression, but it’s also where you’ll meet up with other players and engage with Trials’ multiplayer co-op mode. According to developer Red Barrels, fans of the series may even get to meet returning characters in this hub area, though the hallmark feature here is the ability to customize your character with special loot and gear you’ve unlocked through gameplay. You can even deck out your personal cell to show off to your friends, or you can sit down and enjoy some casual arm-wrestling between sessions.
Source: IGN Video Games All