The Outlast Trials once again gives you a front-row seat to the horrifying experiments performed by Murkoff Corporation, but this time, you can bring your friends along for the horrifying ride.
In the third installment of the survival horror franchise, you become part of Cold War era experiments aimed at producing sleeper agents, and hints of something MK Ultra fill the space between screams. Murkoff’s researchers kidnap you, brutalize you, and then put you through a series of gruesome trials, forcing you to complete objectives in different unsettling locations.
If you survive, you’re ranked on your performance and rewarded with platitudes, gear, and room decor based on your success — or lack thereof. Ultimately, you earn tokens that can buy your freedom, letting you become “reborn.”
With such a drastic change to the formula of the first two games, I was concerned that The Outlast Trials wouldn’t be able to capture the same atmosphere found in Outlast and Outlast 2. Shifting from a single-player focus to a multiplayer co-op game could have dramatically decreased the fear factor. By its very design, I was afraid the oppressive feeling of isolation would disappear.
It didn’t take long for my concerns about The Outlast Trials to be laid to rest. Even in Early Access, the atmosphere is similar to the first Outlast, and perhaps even more so. The introduction alone is far more intense, bloody, and unsettling than I expected.
That splatterfest of an opening cutscene leads into the tutorial, which you play solo, learning the basics of movement, stealth, and how enemies patrol and respond to environmental cues like sound. For the most part, things like controls are the same as in previous games, so you’ll be familiar with them if you’ve played an Outlast title in the past.
True to the series’ style, when you aren’t in an actively frightening section of the game, there’s an unsettling feeling that oozes from your surroundings. Between mannequins on tracks guiding you along and acting out portions of your life to bits of brainwashing playing over speakers and a terrifying woman with an equally petrifying puppet trying to kill you, it’s clear that you’ve returned to a Murkoff facility.
Beyond this, The Outlast Trials lets you play solo or with up to three other people in challenge areas it calls Trials. Partying up with other survivors doesn’t affect the story or general gameplay aspects, and since you don’t fight the enemies trying to kill you, having more players doesn’t necessarily make things easier. Instead, the opposite can happen. And often does.
You’ll encounter a variety of enemies with different attacks and weaknesses, and while you can kick them, throw objects at them, and confuse them, you can’t kill them. There’s always something stalking you.
Enemies sensitive to sound will alert when you walk over debris or open a door too quickly. This also means that your party members can make noise that gets you in trouble — or attacked — and can endanger others nearby. You can also use this to your advantage, having one teammate distract enemies and pull them away to buy you time to complete an objective.
You’re also able to adjust elements of the game called Variables to make trials more difficult if you choose. Then, as you play and earn currencies and increase Therapy Levels, you unlock upgrades that can make the trials easier still. However, that doesn’t mean that things are easy if you don’t want them to be. There are, conversely, settings to make your time in the Murkoff Trials even more difficult.
Since The Outlast Trials is in Early Access, it’s possible that these mechanics will be adjusted, but I found them to be a decent foundation for the game.
To further immerse you in the living hell you’ve been thrust into, you can create a character and customize your Murkoff cell. There isn’t really a need to have customization in The Outlast Trials, but I like that it’s not only included but more extensive than I expected.
The customization suite isn’t as robust as some other tools in other games, but it adds to the feeling that you’re in these situations, that you’re really being chased, and that your sleeping cell is your own personal space in the facility, and it’s a place where you have a measure of control.
For your cell, you can adjust the wall and carpeting, you can add wall decorations that you earn through playing trials, and you can place objects on the tables, too. Even the tiles around the sink in your cell can be customized.
Then, there’s character customization. You get to do a bit of this before starting the game, but your cell offers a few more options. In addition to the starting options, you can change the appearance of your clothing and trial equipment using the mirror.
On top of that, there are more practical customization options. Similar to how you can customize the trials using Variables, you can also approach them differently before the Trial even starts. You do this by adjusting your loadout since you can only take a few items with you, and the ones you choose will affect how you complete the trial’s objectives.
Overall, I was impressed by these relatively small details that let you express yourself through your character and cell but also adjust your equipment to better fit your playstyle.
The Outlast Trials Early Access Review Impressions
- Nails the classic Outlast feeling
- Surprising customization options
- Unique currencies earned through playing
- Fully integrated to play solo or in multiplayer
- Possible lack of replayability
- Variables are the only way to change the difficulty
- Short timer for starting trials
My biggest concern right now is how Red Barrels will inject replayability into The Outlast Trials. It was stated in an Early Access preview that the developers plan on rotating the programs, and that would change up the locations and trials that you can play through, but how that works in practice is difficult to judge at the moment.
I felt that the current version of The Outlast Trials fits into the series while adding mechanics that can keep it both interesting and tricky despite the possibility of multiple players working to complete objectives. It’s going to be a game that I keep my eye on as it goes through its Early Access period and moves toward a full release, and I look forward to seeing how it will change.
[Note: A copy of The Outlast Trials was provided by Red Barrels for the purpose of this Early Access review.]