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The Outlast Trials Review

Horror on a conveyor belt

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Repetition is the antithesis of horror. Scary things lose their edge when you see them over and over. So it is interesting that some horror games have opted to repeat themselves, often with the help of randomization. Two indie games spring to mind, Daylight and Hektor, but their procedurally generated levels failed to impress. The Outlast Trials is not as bad as those abominations, but it has issues. It is also intended to be played repeatedly, with co-operative play for up to four players and numerous live-service aspects, bringing it closer to Dead by Daylight. Although it uses the run-hide-die mechanics established in the original Outlast, it stretches itself thin. For solo players, despite some early tension and good visuals, the experience lacks horror, story, and is full of tedium. When playing with others, The Outlast Trials sometimes offers the bare minimum entertainment that comes with just about every functional co-operative experience.

The Outlast Trials

Set in 1959, you play as an unnamed homeless person who has mistakenly signed up to the Murkoff Corporation to become a lab rat in their sick and twisted experiments. Set inside their large facility, across a number of movie-like stages, you will avoid deranged foes, hide in barrels, dissolve bodies, find keys, disarm traps, and perform gross acts of violence in order to be freed. Murkoff scientists watch from observation rooms while you crouch in dark corners. To help you out, they have kindly screwed night-vision goggles to your skull. After a brief tutorial in a Mansion and some basic character customization, you wake up in what appears to be a prison block, called the Sleep Room.

With the game’s multiplayer focus, up to 16 players (called Reagents) can be in the same Sleep Room at once, each with their own cell containing their aesthetically displeasing choice of wallpaper, severed limbs, and posters. Reagents can join up in groups of 2-4 or go solo and pick a mission via the terminal, and then they are taken by shuttle to the location. Once all tasks are complete, there is a mad dash to the shuttle for extraction. The Outlast Trials is an always-online game and so there is some movement lag when navigating the Sleep Room. There is no pause when playing alone either, although you can typically hide forever if away from patrols.

The game is split into three main programs, which roughly translate into difficulty modes. The starter program, Genesis, has all five launch maps: Police Station, Orphanage, Fun Park, Courthouse, and Toy Factory. Each has a lengthy multi-stage trial and two smaller challenges that seal off part of the level. Initially, the trials might take an hour because new Reagents play cautiously and learn the fundamentals. As you improve, you can expect trials to last about 10-15 minutes, even when playing by yourself. While there is adequate tension early, it quickly fades as things begin to repeat.

The Outlast Trials

The recurring goal is to be Reborn, which is available after passing enough trials. The Reborn process then requires the completion of a tougher solo mission, taking place in the Mansion used for the tutorial. Being Reborn unlocks the moderately challenging Project X program, which features the exact same missions but with stronger enemies, additional traps, and extra blocked doors. After doing this thrice—to see all three short endings—the difficult Project Ultra missions can be attempted. These are the same missions again, but require a vigilant approach, like when first starting out.

After completing a trial, you receive a letter grade on a scorecard. Higher grades are given for avoiding damage, not dying, and making less sound, which also provides an experience boost. Collecting the randomly placed items inside trials can increase success rate, with bottles that distract, medicine, adrenaline, lockpicks, and batteries that extend night-vision. Reagents can take as long as they need, but since experience is earned per mission, there is a propensity for haste to level-up quicker. At higher character levels, you can buy all the Prescriptions, which are permanent character upgrades that increase stamina, expand inventory space, or extend battery life. Reagents can also equip up to three Amps (that take forever to unlock), which change play style by hushing movement, granting a random item, or improving the recharge rate of the Rig when hiding.

Every player can pick from one of four Rigs—Heal, X-Ray, Blind, and Stun—that offer a powerful ability with a lengthy cooldown. The healing spray helps players beat missions via attrition if they patiently wait for it to recharge after being attacked. X-ray highlights enemies and resources through walls, although its range is short. The landmine, Blind, temporarily impairs hostile vision and is powerful if you know when and where enemies will emerge. Finally, Stun is a versatile device that can be thrown quickly at enemies to give players enough time to escape.

The Outlast Trials

Various hostiles roam the levels and react to sound and movement. Fortunately remaining hidden via stealth works fine because enemies speak their mind and a heartbeat sound plays when they are near. Regular foes wield machetes, search hiding spots occasionally, and are blind in the dark. Bigger grunts hit harder and can grab you, but tend to be dumber. Pouncers wait in hiding spots to force the player into a button-mashing sequence if they have no bottle or brick to free themselves. Some sneaky foes wear night-vision goggles and carefully patrol dark places, but they cannot handle the bright light. And a few are sensitive to audio, screaming if you make too much noise, like when running over broken glass or bumping into hanging cans.

Two main bosses sometimes have specific level introductions and often resurface at the end of trials. Mother Gooseberry talks to her hand-puppet and then uses the puppet’s drill to kill, and she’s the most disturbingly appealing of the two. Sergeant Leland Coyle fires off profanities while he hits with a shock baton, but he is tame in contrast. Both bosses change their patrols after Reagents complete objectives, which seems artificial, disappearing into metal doors to emerge further into the level.

At annoyingly regular intervals a special Pusher enemy leaves those same metal doors to patrol briefly. If the Pusher comes close, he sprays gas that causes psychosis. While in this state, a ghost will pursue and slowly erode health, so you have to run or use an antidote. The kicker is that all other enemies ignore Reagents suffering psychosis, so if you have to run somewhere far and fast, like back to the extraction shuttle, it may be beneficial to go temporarily mad.

The Outlast Trials

Run and hide is the name of the game. Like its predecessors, there is no way to kill or permanently disable hostiles. So if you’re spotted, you should turn a few corners and find a hiding spot—in a locker, under a desk—or enter a dark room. Enemies do not chase far on the easiest difficulty but they have significantly more speed and endurance at higher levels. Since foes patrol near objectives, getting them to chase is helpful; part of the core gameplay loop consists of running circles to lure foes away.

Undertaking missions solo is not enjoyable because objectives are repetitive and time consuming. Starting a generator requires finding fuel, slowly filling it up, activating two switchboards, and cranking it loudly three times, which is a pain if enemies are near. Trying to find the hidden codes in the Courtroom map is frustrating when a boss keeps cycling through the area. Many levels feature randomly placed objectives, like hidden keys or child mannequins to carry slowly. There may not be navigational hints, so you spend minutes looping through areas, running loops around enemies, occasionally going insane. Some maps are miserable mazes, even after replaying them a few times, because areas look similar in night-vision and the game randomly seals routes to make navigation tiresome. One of the worst mechanics is found in the Toy Factory level, new in the 1.0 release, where numbered boxes are placed on conveyor belts for collection down the line. But if an enemy appears, you may have to forgo immediate collection and the box takes another 30+ seconds to do another lap.

Co-operative play reduces the chore factor but rarely feels adequately balanced or fun. Three players will only need to start two generators, which is so much quicker than playing alone and starting one. With four players, there is a chance you can run around without much danger because enemies are off chasing other players. Two players seems the best for most trials, as some areas are too cramped for more and co-operation is natural. Voice communication and a ping system also help. Regardless of the player count, dividing and conquering saves precious time when it comes to finding those needles in haystacks, but there will be moments when one item remains missing after a decent search, and then it is hard to know where to look next.

The Outlast Trials

Violence, gore, nudity, and depravity have always been part of the Outlast series but this time it is different. There are many corpses and trails of blood to see, which is great, but most of it becomes background noise when revisiting maps. Each trial begins with a repeating violent montage, which is unnecessary on replay and means waiting two minutes for trials to begin. Terrible acts of violence are mostly used as a reward for finishing all objectives, and this time the players are pushing the buttons. Scenes include drilling through somebody’s spine, smashing a judge’s head with hammers, incinerating a naked man, and sawing a person’s legs off while they writhe in pain. The senseless repetition and predictable application mean these moments actually diminish the franchises’ brand of horror.

With its live-service ambitions, the game wants Reagents to keep playing. Weekly events feature the same trials with modifiers, like puddles of broken glass that cause bleeding and enemies that can hear voice comms. General randomization is meant to help too, with traps moving in a similar way to what Frictional did with Amnesia: The Bunker. But playing the starter program once is more than enough. Finishing all programs takes about 25 hours, but getting there is a massive grind that is absolutely not worth the effort.

And it is a pity because underneath all of this is a well-made game. The Murkoff integration is awesome and levels generally look excellent, assuming you have time to stop and smell the blood-covered roses. Framerate is good during regular play, although there are rare 5+ minute loads when playing with others and a slow group finder. Interestingly, the game propagates audio through a portal system, which means hearing enemy footsteps from door openings instead of through walls. This is a cool idea, in theory, although the sound cuts off abruptly sometimes and trying to pinpoint enemy locations is annoyingly difficult beside thin walls.

The Outlast Trials

Despite featuring similar gameplay to its forebears, The Outlast Trials is a tedious and repetitive run-away simulator. The raw fundamentals of the series have been tortured until it is no longer about surviving under trauma and instead about exploiting AI and enduring overused mechanics. Deranged foes camp objectives and players must run circles through maze-like levels in search of randomly placed items. Solo players might find a few spooks early, but horror is quickly replaced by boredom. For those that like doing the same mundane tasks with others: the floor is yours, to cover with enough viscera to drive anybody loopy.

Our ratings for The Outlast Trials on PC out of 100 (Ratings FAQ)
Presentation
80
The maps all look great, with plentiful detritus and gore. Although the audio is good, the portal-based sound system occasionally falters and makes it hard to pinpoint enemies.
Gameplay
50
Enemies camp objectives and force the repeated deployment of dismal looping mechanics. At times it can be like searching for a bloody toe in a haystack of severed fingers.
Single Player
40
Although it can be completed solo, it is sometimes awful to play alone because tasks are boring and protracted. There is little story outside the uninteresting logs you can find inside trials.
Multiplayer
60
With a small team of similarly experienced players, undertaking trials is occasionally enjoyable. The boring tasks foster cooperation, but it usually only provides the bare minimum of entertainment.
Performance
(Show PC Specs)
CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600
GPU: ASUS 6700 XT DUAL OC 12GB
RAM: 16GB DDR4
OS: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
PC Specs

80
Runs well, although there are network issues in the Sleep Room and the Group Finder can take a while.
Overall
58
Like squeezing blood from a stone, The Outlast Trials is a repetitive chore that features monotonous searches and running laps through mazes until there is nothing left but pain and the option to share the misery with others.
Comments
The Outlast Trials
The Outlast Trials box art Platform:
PC
Our Review of The Outlast Trials
58%
Mediocre
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
The Outlast Trials is ranked #1743 out of 1971 total reviewed games. It is ranked #21 out of 25 games reviewed in 2024.
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Switch
1743. The Outlast Trials
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Screenshots

The Outlast Trials
12 images added 39 days ago
Videos
The Outlast Trials - Teaser Trailer
Posted: Jun 13, 2020 21:11
The Outlast Trials - Gameplay Reveal ...
Posted: Aug 25, 2021 15:19
The Outlast Trials - Closed Beta Trailer
Posted: Aug 23, 2022 16:25
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