The Outlast Trials proves that survival horror can be more fun with friends.

Screenshot of scientists from The Outlast Trials game.

The Outlast Trials is a four-player PvE game taking place in the Cold War era. The game's opening moments and lore paint a gruesome and wicked scene that will be familiar to series veterans but disquieting to those new to the Outlast universe. Players work their way through a series of experiments, each of which plays out on various large maps like a police station, a courthouse, a carnival, and more. The game involves many signature Outlast elements, such as carefully crawling through the dark in first-person while desperately seeking salvation before your night vision runs out of juice.

While The Outlast Trials does not consistently reach the same heights as the original Outlast, it is still memorably scary at times and plenty rewarding in other ways. As an indie team, Red Barrels has paved its way, and that may be why The Outlast Trials still feels like Outlast rather than some by-the-numbers project bearing the name.

The Outlast Trials, like its predecessors, includes plenty of dimly lit environments full of death, gore, and all sorts of macabre imagery. Sure, each game environment is not all darkness all the time. There are plenty of areas that are brightly lit, which just means it is that much easier to be spotted by patrolling enemies. In addition to being spotted out in the open, enemies can be alerted to your presence by making too much noise, setting off traps, or failing a variety of minigames. If you are unable to avoid detection, enemies will relentlessly pursue you in an intense game of cat and mouse. You can try to run away but limited stamina will make this difficult. Instead, you can try to out maneuver enemies by bashing through doors, jumping through windows, stunning foes with throwables, or just flat out hiding in order to end the pursuit.

The minigames present through various levels will feel familiar to players of other multiplayer horror games, such as Dead by Daylight. Starting generators or picking locks quickly and quietly is nerve-racking but not overly challenging. They are designed so the any mistakes feel like they were all due to user error and not through the game playing unfair. It should not take most players very long to master these various minigames though.

One of the main villains in The Outlast Trials.

Players must contend with various grotesque AI enemies, such as a prison guard who enjoys using an electric baton. There is Mother Gooseberry and her hand puppet and the Night Hunter that can see you easily in the dark with his night vision goggles. A supernatural entity named The Skinner Man will stalk you when you are poisoned and suffering from psychosis. These are just a few of the many enemies you were face. Without a doubt though, my favorite enemy is the Imposter. This is an enemy that looks basically identical to one of your teammates. The Imposter even copies the player's username but with a few "typos." During an intense moment of gameplay, it may not be easy to spot that difference in spelling. It is even harder to notice the difference in spelling when playing with randoms.

A new feature in this Outlast game is the ability to throw bricks and bottles to distract or stun enemies briefly. This is the simplest means of self-defense in a series that has only ever let players run and hide before. A more advanced, and satisfying, method of fighting back comes from a piece of gear called the Rig. Each Rig offers a cooldown-enabled special ability of the player's choosing. This device and abilities come with many upgrades that you can unlock over time. Each Rig offers a different area of focus, with one leaning more towards team heals and another that can throw mines, just to name a couple.

Despite being designed for team play, many of the mission objectives in The Outlast Trials can still be tackled solo. For example, while a team would have to turn on multiple generators in a pitch-black basement, a solo player may only need to activate one. Moreover, the game has managed to retain its signature horror elements and is just as scary as the previous titles in the series when played alone. This is great news for fans of the classic Outlast experience who may have been put off by the new direction the series was taking. They will still be able to find the same level of chilling horror that they have come to expect from the franchise.

In my experience, playing missions with a full team can significantly reduce the time it takes to complete them. A mission that could take up to an hour and a half when played solo can instead be completed in maybe just 30 minutes with a full team. Those who do enjoy playing alone may find the always-online nature of the game to be troublesome. There is no ability to pause in The Outlast Trials, which can often be frustrating if you need to step away for a few minutes. The only way to get around this lack of a pause feature is to tuck your character into one of the game's many hiding spots, such as in lockers, barrels, or underneath beds. While you are safe in these areas, you may still end up being kicked from a trial for being inactive for too long.

Co-op gameplay in The Outlast Trials.

As The Outlast Trials is very much a survival horror game at heart, it ends up being quite a bit less frightening the more people there are in a group. I found that the perfect balance between difficulty and tension came when I played with just one co-op partner. It ended up being this remarkable blend of tense, heart-pounding moments broken up by equal parts laughter and jokes. Still, there is something to be said about playing with a full party. Larger groups are perfect for those who enjoy an easier-going survival-horror experience.

As players progress in the game, they can unlock new cosmetic items and decorations for their personal rooms and for their characters. More importantly, advancing through the trials will lead to the ability to unlock several different active abilities, passive abilities, and different Rig upgrades. Something I found particularly interesting is that basically every skill and ability felt vitally important. One ability allows you to quickly bash open doors with a single strike, another gives you a speed boost when taking damage, one ability reduces the duration of psychosis, another gives you a small heal when you enter a hiding spot, and so on. Usually in these types of games, there is some meta type loadout that you feel like you must use to succeed. Such is not the case in The Outlast trials.

In addition to character abilities, there are also four Rigs to choose from. Each comes with its own unique perks that can complement your play style. Of course, you are quite limited in what abilities you can take with you into a trial. With how useful nearly every choice can be at any given time, there really is no "wrong" choice in what to pick. If playing as a group, try to pick abilities that fill in gaps in the team structure, otherwise, you should pick options that best fit your play style.

As you progress through the game, you will earn rewards each time you level up. As you grow in power, so does the game's difficulty. Later trials offer far greater challenges and difficulty when compared to the earlier ones. This means that while you do feel more powerful as you progress, you may never get to a point where you feel like you are overpowered nor invincible.

Gameplay from The Outlast Trials.

Those who have conquered all there is to offer in The Outlast Trials will probably make a return any time there is a limited-time event underway. For example, the Toxic Shock limited-time event kicked off right around the time I received my review key. These events, including the recent Toxic Shock event, give players a chance to experience unique mission types, earn unique gear, and even find new pieces of lore from the game world.

When there are no limited-time events underway, The Outlast Trials tend to offer up weekly challenges to players. There are usually a couple of different challenges available to players at any given time. Each one takes place in an existing level but they offer a variety of different objectives, spawn locations, difficult encounters, and rewards. Despite taking place in maps you already completed, the different objectives and encounters make each challenge mission feel like a fresh experience. These challenges tend to rotate in and out of the game frequently, with the aim of keeping things from getting stale and to get players coming back each week to try something new.

Outside of an opening cinematic and introductory tutorial mission, the overarching story in The Outlast Trials is not quite as front and center as fans of the previous games may have hoped for. A majority of the story is drip-fed to you through collectible text logs and files that are randomly hidden within each level. The Outlast Trials does offer a "complete" story in that it does feature a final story beat. At the end of your trials the character you created is allowed to re-enter society as a sleeper agent awaiting activation. The catch here is that once that character leaves, you bring in a fresh character and basically go through the trials again. You do retain all your previous unlocks on the new character, making the entire scenario feel most like a "New Game+" option commonly found in single-player experiences.

More co-op gameplay from The Outlast Trials.

The Outlast Trials is a great multiplayer horror game that retains the thrills and chills of previous Outlast games while adding some light-heartedness when playing with friends. The content you earn after each successful mission feels adequately rewarding. I must applaud the fact that Red Barrels managed to create an impressive gameplay loop that continued to be enjoyable even after several hours of playing. Despite not being a fan of almost everything Outlast 2 related, I can say that Red Barrels won me back over as a fan thanks to The Outlast Trials. My only regret is that I waited so long to enter the program.


Score

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Additional Information

  • The Outlast Trials
    • Developed by: Red Barrels
    • Published by: Red Barrels
  • Price: Starting at $39.99 (USD)
  • Platform reviewed on: PC (Also available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S)
  • Release Date: March 5, 2024
  • ESRB: M for Mature 17+ (Intense violence, blood and gore, sexual themes, nudity, drug reference, strong language)
  • This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.‚Äč

Additional Screenshots

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