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The Outlast Trials Review

With all of the gory appeal of a cheesy horror movie, The Outlast Trials works even better than it did when
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. There’s just something magical about hiding with your besties in wardrobes and under beds as a deeply rude lady with a power drill for a hand hunts you down. What better way to spend a Friday night with the lads? Each of its death games is unique and filled with devilish and gruesome horrors, including formidable killers with cunning and lethal AI, and upgrading your character’s abilities and gadgets is a fantastic reward for surviving all those bloody corridors. Its biggest weakness is that there just aren’t that many levels to play, which isn’t a great feeling when matches are supposed to be all about striking fear into you and your BFFs. Still, my crew and I had a lot of fun with The Outlast Trials, even if that novelty bled out quicker than we would have liked.

For those tuning in to this multiplayer torture porn extravaganza for the first time, The Outlast Trials is a cooperative survival-horror game distinguished by its ridiculously macabre vibes. You and up to three of your friends become inmates in a “rehabilitation” center and “volunteer” for a series of death games that have you eluding rampaging sadists (entirely unable to defend yourself) while completing puzzles, like opening a series of gates using keys fished out of discarded corpses or searching for hidden psychopaths using a proximity detector, before making a mad dash for the exit. While you might think being hunted by vicious maniacs is an intensely terrifying experience, the over-the-top nature of these villains, who take a taser to their crotch or perform ventriloquism for their hand puppet sidekick while they chase you, made me laugh way more than it creeped me out. The fact that you spend each mission in the company of your fellow inmates as you saw the legs off of innocent prisoners and toss a wagon full of animatronic children into a wood chipper only adds to the hilarity. And that chaotic mix of grisly violence and absurdism somehow go together like popcorn and a good slasher flick, resulting in hours of riotously good times.

I really can’t think of anything out there quite like it.

It’s also just cool how original The Outlast Trials feels! It bizarrely takes the well-known survival horror genre and turns it on its head by making it an amusing four-player cooperative sport – like the demon lovechild of
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– and I really can’t think of anything out there quite like it. I didn’t think that hodgepodge of ideas would go together as well as they do, but it almost immediately becomes apparent just how much potential it has once you’re holding your breath with your buddies as some creepy lunatics search for you in the dark.

If you were hoping for a good story, though, you’ll dive a whole lot deeper into the chest cavity of corpses in search of items than you ever will into some kind of meaningful plot. While longtime fans of the
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series will find plenty of lore to pick through in this prequel in the form of classified documents scattered about and a few references here and there, there certainly isn’t much of a proper tale to absorb, with only an opening and closing cutscene setting up a very minimalist reason for you to run rampant through The Outlast Trials’ murder sports. That’s a bit disappointing (given developer Red Barrels’ pedigree for telling creepy stories in the single-player Outlast games) and I certainly would have welcomed the opportunity to meet the facility’s director and maybe get some extra bits of context between the bookending cutscenes we got. Instead, you listen to a few messages come through on your radio in between missions before heading back out to be some nine-foot-tall monster’s favorite chew toy.

The Outlast Trials is impressively polished.

Having clearly done some serious tweaking during its Early Access period, The Outlast Trials is impressively polished. Environments and characters are crisp and the whole thing runs with minimal dropped frames on both the Xbox Series X and PC. It’s also great to see that, unlike many of its multiplayer contemporaries these days, I encountered almost no bugs or performance issues after 20 hours of time with it. Most impressive of all, though, is that the enemy AI feels legitimately intimidating to go up against. They rush after you and rarely miss an opportunity to make you pay for getting caught out in the open. That’s a big deal, because it forces you to take every level much more seriously and rewards those who can work together as a group, especially on harder difficulties.

On the other hand, there just aren’t that many interesting things to do. After a brief tutorial, you’ll run through five main trials: The Police Station, the Orphanage, the Carnival, the Courthouse, and the Toy Factory, then you’ll tackle a final exam before rolling credits. While each of the levels is unique and haunting in its own way, after our third or fourth time slowly crouching through the Orphanage to put film reels into projectors, my crew felt our excitement wear thin in a big way. You’re also given some minor trials (called Challenges) to run that make use of the same settings from the main missions and are much smaller in scope, which are a nice bonus, but they don’t add a whole lot of variety to the mix, and we were still easily able to clear everything in well under eight hours.

There just isn’t enough to keep my interest long-term.

Thankfully, you’re given a ton of reasons to continue grinding and leveling up your character, as additional difficulty options open up that make each trial ridiculously more challenging. Some of that comes from things like making enemies more numerous and stronger, but other times it can be from additional booby traps all over the place. Leveling up a few extra times could unlock a perk that lets you carry an additional item (like healing items or bottles to distract enemies) or grant you some slippers that allow you to walk on glass without making noise that might alert your adversaries, and those upgrades are absolutely great incentives to keep playing. But since you’re expected to run the same handful of stages over and over again in order to get them, only to return to those same levels to then put them to use, it becomes dull in short order. There just isn’t enough to do to keep my interest long-term, despite an enticing menu full of unlockables to chase.

It’s especially odd that all five stages make use of only two antagonists, given the series’ remarkable roster of memorable psychopaths. Three of the levels and the tutorial all feature Mother Gooseberry, a psychotic puppeteer who’s more annoying than scary, since she speaks in a super irritating cartoon voice and repeats the same bits of dialogue constantly. The other two feature Officer Coyle, who is much more entertaining thanks to his more varied and comedic ramblings as he stalks you, but is still a bit overused. That’s not to say there aren’t other baddies looking to peel your face flesh right off, but they’re pretty generic – like a giant, lumbering neanderthal who tries to stomp you flat, or a creeping villain with night vision goggles who can hunt you in the dark. I’m not sure why one of these lesser minions wasn’t developed into a main antagonist to add variety to the two overused baddies we got, but it sure seems like it could have helped with some of the monotony that eventually takes hold.

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