The Outlast Trials – PS5 Review

The Outlast Trials is a co-op focused survival horror game from Montreal studio Red Barrels who, despite some pedigree working in the industry previously, have a softography that, so far, only includes this game and the two previous Outlast titles.

Set in a Cold War-era experimental facility, The Outlast Trials, exists in the same universe as the main-line games in the series (we’ve seen conflicting reports of it being a prequel to them while other sources say it’s unrelated) but where the first two games were narrative-driven single-player experiences, this game has an altogether different focus.   Instead of playing as a named protagonist, you’re just a nameless victim who has been captured by the evil Murkoff Corporation (seemingly the only narrative link to the first game) and, for some reason, have had a set of night vision goggles drilled into your skull permanently.  The opening cinematic is as bleak and gruesome as anything we’ve seen in a game and it sets the tone for a game that is surely not for the nervous.

Instead of a traditional campaign, the game essentially locks you up with a group of other players.  The Murkoff facility itself has a few upgrade stations to it and an aesthetic that channels that Fallout style dilapidation and style.  A disinterested nurse sits there reading a trashy romance novel while other players challenge each other to arm wrestling and chess.  However, you’ll be more interested in those titular ‘trials’ as that’s where all the action happens.

A terminal lets you start the first of five trials and then a shuttle whisks you, and up to three other co-op players, away to a mocked-up police station.  All the locations the game offers are created by Murkoff within the facility and populated with unnerving mannequins but they feature locations such as an orphanage and a fun fair.  All the sorts of places you wouldn’t want to go to in real life but now even worse.

You are tasked with entering the police station, solving various puzzles, killing an informant and leaving.  It kind of echoes some of our memories of Resident Evil II but set in an even darker universe.  Thankfully (and we won’t be using that word often) the darkness is one of the few allies you’ll have in this world as it soon becomes apparent that there are more than mannequins in these levels.  Psychopaths also roam the rooms and corridors and they present a really big problem for you.

These enemies wander around the level, essentially on patrol, and if they see you, they’ll make a b-line right for you.  If they get you, you’ll usually be grabbed for a while, hurt and then dropped.  At that point you need to run because, just like the other Outlast games, you’ve got no way of stopping them beyond stunning them for a second or two with a brick, bottle or mine.  So, you’ll generally run away until you can get enough distance between you and them and then you’ll probably end up crouching in the dark for a while until the coast is clear.

At first this seems particularly tricky.  It’s kind of like being chased by the Tyrant or Lady Dimitrescu from the Resident Evil games.  They’re attracted by noise, which is an issue as there are noise traps all over the place, and if that’s not bad enough, over time more and more of them get added to the level.  It’s not exactly fun at first and can be pretty overwhelming but once you get used to how things work, you’ll start to improve your chances of survival.

On the plus side, this all makes for some of the most tense, and genuinely scary, gameplay we’ve seen in a game for a while.  It’s kind of like playing Alien Isolation, albeit mercifully much shorter, but with a less familiar foe.  Whether it’s a big, scary woman, the puppeteer with the drill puppet or what we’re just calling Electric Rob Halford, the variety and character of the psychopaths is a lot more interesting than seeing everyone’s favourite xeno walking around bolt upright like a guard at a WW2 prison camp.

It can all be quite repetitive, and even a bit annoying when you’re trying to clear objectives while being stalked constantly, but there is so much tension and drama that you cannot help but be engaged with all the action.  And with more event types being promised in later updates, there’s plenty of grim horror being promised to players.  And certainly the feeling you get when you survive a trial is pretty exhilarating because of how long some of them are.  So when you’re at the end and having to jink past a psycho while waiting for the shuttle to arrive and take you to safety, it’s pretty exciting stuff.

Once you complete a trial, you’ll earn tokens that can be spent on upgrades for your ‘rig’ which enables you one of four abilities; x-ray vision, healing, stun and blinding.  These aren’t exactly game changers and feel pretty limited at first but you can improve them a bit.  You can also spend those tokens on prescriptions which offer passive perks which again aren’t great but do give you some mild improvements.  The upgrading options here aren’t great generally and aren’t nearly as satisfying as something like Risk of Rain 2 but they’re okay.

You also earn cash which can spent on upgrades for your character’s personal cell.  These range from furniture to decorations (such as wallpaper and posters) but again, they aren’t great.  Especially as everything has that shabby Fallout look to it.  So if you want to spend your resources on a rusty bed or whatever, that’s fine.  Of course, there’s a bit of monetisation involved if you want certain items but none of it is essential.

There are some niggles with the game, albeit nothing ruining.  As with Alien: Isolation, it feels like the enemy’s location isn’t always consistent.  Like you’ll go in to a new area, through a locked door, and they’ll be there waiting for you.  The level design can be very complicated and a faff to figure out (seriously, most of this game is just trying to figure out where to go).  We also didn’t like some of the objectives as they’re just there to slow you down and make you a target (we’re looking at you, babies that we had to feed to a grinder).  And when you finish a level, there’s a lot of loading gates and screens before you get back to base.

The best aspect to The Outlast Trials is probably the presentation.  With its shadowy but highly detailed visuals and effective use of sound, everything here is designed to upset you but it does a good job of it.  We’re big fans of at least four of the Saw movies, so we’re definitely marks for this type of thing and it really does all sell the horror aspects of the game which are pretty much on point.

For us, the game was something that got better over time and while there’s not a whole lot to it, anything more than this would have started to get boring probably.  There’s only so much hide and seek you can play before you’ll want to pick up a game with a gun in it.  But if you want to join some buddies for a thoroughly miserable experience, in a good way, then this game delivers well on the premise and offers up something a bit unusual in a genre that’s long since been out of really fresh ideas.

The Outlast Trials
7 Overall
+ Nails the atmosphere and the scares
+ Well-presented
+ Co-op works well
- Can be quite repetitive
- Sharp learning curve at first
- Doesn't always feel fair
The Outlast Trials does something a little different with the survival horror genre and gets a lot of good mileage out of its Fallout-meets-Saw aesthetic. It's not always exactly what you'd call fun though and there are questions over the variety of it in its launch form but we grew to like it a lot.

About Richie

Rich is the editor of PlayStation Country. He likes his games lemony and low-budget with a lot of charm. This isn't his photo. That'll be Rik Mayall.

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