The Outlast Trials Review – Gory Fest for Four

The Outlast Trials Review

We’ve all had the unnerving experience of watching a gory horror film or playing a gruesome game alone. Maybe in the dark, with headphones. It can be terrifying. But take that same splatter-fest and gather a group of friends, and it’s a whole different ballgame. A bunch of buddies riffing and goofing on the gore makes even the most horrific horror bearable and even fun. That’s the premise behind The Outlast Trials.

Developer Red Barrels’ Outlast games are kind of the Saw of single-player horror games: gory, explicit, and sadistic. While The Outlast Trials can be played solo, it’s really conceived as an up to four-member survival horror game. Although the single-player experience is easier in some ways, it’s also a bit more unsettling. Groups have the disadvantage of a more challenging time, but a less intensely serious one as well.

Story Lite, Violence Heavy

The end-caps narrative does little more than set the scene. As a volunteer for a scientific study, you and your friends have unwittingly become hostages to the evil Murkoff Corporation. To escape, you need to endure and survive a sequence of five “Core Program” challenge scenarios. Some story elements and antagonists come from the mainline Outlast games, but no matter. All you need to know is, things are going to get real bad, real quick.

The Trials take place over a series of beautifully designed and executed environments, like a carnival, toy factory, police station, and orphanage. In other words, the scenarios traffic in already unsettling imagery and then pile on the explicit gore, rampaging enemies, dismemberment, and torture. Each level has a large collection of minor enemies and a pair of mini-bosses that relentlessly pursue the players. One of the most tension-inducing elements of The Outlast Trials is that the enemies are whip-smart and relentless. The grunts might be easily dispatched but the Prime Asset boss is always a formidable foe.

Of course, if your squad had an arsenal of weapons, the encounters would be trivial. But you don’t have weapons. Throughout the game, you and your team find and upgrade some tools and perks like thrown explosives, traps, or heat sensors to detect enemies. A good team working together and synergizing their tools and tactics is very rewarding, but the randomized environments toss in all sorts of traps to keep everyone tense. A particularly brilliant — and frustrating — mechanic disguises an enemy as a team member, just waiting to be accidentally killed.

The Question of Staying Power 

To keep players invested after a successful run, The Outlast Trials does its best to mix things up for repeated plays. There’s plenty of character customization, and each iteration of the levels is randomized in terms of loot and enemies. In addition, there are weekly challenges that include modifiers that increase enemy difficulty, drop new items or perks, or strip players down to the gear essentials. However, the five stages don’t change. In this sense, the game can get a little stale. The Outlast Trials seems absolutely perfectly positioned for a steady drip of new levels or DLC.

While it’s hard to take The Outlast Trials’ extreme imagery too seriously, that doesn’t mitigate the fact that it does explore some really, really dark themes. Whether played for laughs or not — and by and large, it is — dismemberment, torture, sadomasochism, and gratuitous violence might not float everyone’s boat. On the other hand, anyone coming to The Outlast Trials from the Outlast games probably has at least some idea of what they’re in for.

Visually, they’re in for a treat, though predicated on the assumption that bubbling tanks of human hearts or recreated crucifixions can be artistic. Levels are effectively lit and extremely detailed. The musical score by Tom Salta does its share to amp up the terror by a factor of ten. The environmental audio is precise.

Acquired Dis-Taste

Although it can be played solo, surviving The Outlast Trials is better and more fun with friends, although they’ll need pretty strong stomachs and a taste for extreme imagery. The Outlast Trials has strong survival puzzle mechanics, a good bit of macabre humor, and a confidently over-the-top presentation. It’ll need some additional content over time for real longevity, but the foundation is strong.

***Xbox Series X code provided by the publishers for review***

The Good

  • Fun group mechanics
  • Excellent level design
  • Gruesome and terrifying
  • Effective sound and music

The Bad

  • May be too extreme for many
  • Limited level variety
  • Not as fun for solo players