The Outlast Trials marks the most recent addition to the Outlast series. What distinguishes this game is the option to play alongside your pals. After participating in a presentation with the developers at Red Barrels, I gained insight into their motivations for creating The Outlast Trials and the influences on their design and narrative decisions. Furthermore, I tried the game for myself through hands-on gameplay before it was made available to the public via early access. Both experiences led me to conclude that The Outlast Trials is the perfect horror game for those like myself, who enjoy a variety of genres, such as survival horror, slashers, and puzzle-solving.
When Red Barrels set out to create The Outlast Trials, it faced a crucial question: How could they transform the success of the Outlast franchise into a multiplayer game? The studio’s answer came from three specific movies that influenced their game design, including Saw II, which highlighted the group dynamic of trapped victims, Rob Zombie’s 31, and the 1997 film Cube.
The next challenge was to justify keeping a group of players trapped. To address this, Red Barrels turned to three experiments that examined how humans would react under specific circumstances. It also drew from famous works about brainwashing to create the motivations of the Murkoff company.
One of the experiments Red Barrels used was the Stanford Prison Experiment, which simulated a prison environment and social roles. However, things escalated quickly, and the experiment was stopped after only six days instead of the intended two weeks. They also looked at the Stanley Milgrim Shock Experiment, which explored how people react under pressure.
Finally, Red Barrels drew inspiration from Robert Jay Lifton’s work on brainwashing and the famous film, The Manchurian Candidate. The latter tells the story of US soldiers captured and brainwashed during the Korean War to carry out a terrible plot against the US Government.
The Outlast Trials is set during the Cold War era when Murkoff Corporation subjects individuals to involuntary testing. These tests involve various brainwashing and mind control methods that are gruesome and often result in horrific outcomes.
A Trial is Broken into three phases:
- Break the Self
- Rebuild the Self
Merkoff’s construction of large hangars has a unique purpose: creating artificial movie sets to simulate various responses to therapy. Red Barrels made a brilliant narrative choice by incorporating this concept into a level design. With this newfound freedom, the studio is no longer limited to specific genres or traditional level design, allowing for limitless possibilities in their creations. I’m eagerly anticipating the trials it will unveil using this innovative approach.
The Programs system consists of a series of trials that allow participation in various Merkoff experiments. Three primary programs will be available for users to complete throughout the Early Access phase.
- Program 1: Police Station
- Program 2: Fun Park
- Program 3: Orphanage
- Program 4: Classified
After completing the first three Programs, you will gain access to the Classified program. This seasonal system is designed to offer you fresh challenges and experiences. Red Barrels has made an excellent decision by introducing a new Program each season, keeping the gameplay exciting.
As you progress through the Programs, you can complete several mini-trials, which take you to different parts of the map. For example, the first side trial will take you to another section of the Police Station and demand different objectives. Completing these side trials will earn you additional rewards and experience points.
Once you have completed all the tasks within a program, you will face a Final Exam that will test your skills, knowledge, and mettle. The exam will be a more challenging version of the program, making it difficult to complete.
To finish a program, you must tackle a series of objectives during the trial. These objectives may be risky and require careful consideration for the best solutions.
- Corpses: You will need to find the matching symbol on a locked to door and then search that corpse for a key. Search the wrong corpse and you will be punished.
- Precision Throwing: You will be tasked with throwing objects at targets while avoiding the bad guys on the map.
- Push Carts: You will have to push an object from one area of the map to another. However, there will be locked doors, enemies, and other annoyances that will try to stop you from doing so.
- Replace Movie Reels: You will be tasked with finding movie reels, carrying them to a specific location, and then putting them on a projector.
- Valves: In order to find the correct valves for you to spin you will need to follow their associated pipes through the map. These are usually guarded by traps or bad guys.
- Frequency Device: You must swap the broadcasting of songs to the more Merkoff approved radio station.
During each available program, you may need to complete multiple objectives simultaneously. For example, when pushing the Snitch in the Police Station, it will be necessary to search for the keys to unlock the gates obstructing your path.
Various tools can be utilized during a trial to make the challenging experience more manageable.
- Bottles: Can be thrown against the environment to distract enemies or used as a weapon to stagger them while you run away.
- Bricks: You can throw bricks at enemies to stagger and knock them down. There is also a Pharmacy ability that lets you immediately escape a grasper when it grabs you.
- Stamina Syringe: Used to help you run longer because sometimes a chase will go on longer than your normal stamina bar can handle.
- Lock Pick: Used to open containers that hold valuable items.
- Pro Tip: Be careful of traps within containers. You will see the trap in the corner of the box and will have a few seconds to back away from it before it goes off.
- Health Bottle: Used to heal your life after taking damage from enemies and traps.
- Antidote: Used to prevent the Slimmer Man from killing you during a trial.
- Pro Tip: Always have one in your inventory at all times. You’ll never know when you need it, and not having one can cost you a life.
During the trial, I always had many tools at my disposal. My inventory slots were consistently full, and I frequently switched out items to use them on the spot, preventing any from going to waste. As a result, I found that certain Rigs and Pharmacy perks were less essential, and I prioritized ones that couldn’t be accomplished with any of the tools above.
Apart from the standard tools, you can enhance your character’s abilities by procuring additional skills from three distinct NPCs who are also residents of the Sleep Room. To acquire these skills, you will require a virtual currency known as Tickets.
- Rigs: You can purchase new rigs which unlock new hardware for your character. For instance, you can unlock a mine that will explode when an enemy triggers it. The explosion will create a smoke cloud that confuses them.
- Pharmacist: You can purchase new abilities for your character that will allow you to survive easier. For instance, you can buy a sliding ability that will let you quickly slide through small holes in the environment.
- Amps: Contraband materials that help you survive even more in trials. However, you must be level 10 to unlock these.
During the trial, you will face seven distinct adversaries. Each of them reacts differently to the surrounding environment, and you must respond accordingly to evade their attacks.
- Grunt: These are big melee enemies that will knock you over if hit
- Eye Hunter: Has goggles like the player but can’t turn them off
- Berserker: Blind big baddy that can hear really well
- Pouncer: Hides in hiding spots. The player must notice them or be attacked by them.
- Pusher: It gives you a solid dose of a drug that causes hallucinations
- Skinner Man: Chases you while you are under the influence of drugs. You must outrun him or find the antidote to escape him before he kills you.
- Screamer: Got to be silent around him. If he wakes up, he will scream and attract other enemies.
In my experience, the Grunt has been the most bothersome foe. They persistently pursue you unless you successfully evade them, necessitating a lengthy trek to the opposite end of the map. Once you’ve managed to shake them off, they will generally return to their standard patrol path, which often includes critical objective locations.
The Sleep Room is crucial as the social hub and central area between trials. Red Barrels has recently introduced a progression system with several new options previously unavailable during the closed beta. This development is fascinating as it adds depth to the gaming experience. As I completed different programs and earned cash, I had a great time designing my room in the Merkoff facility. Another impressive feature is that while in The Sleep Room, you can view other players’ rooms, providing insight into their fantastic designs.
Furthermore, you can customize your character’s appearance, including their face, hair, and voice. You can also personalize your night vision goggles, shirt, pants, and more, ensuring that patients do not look identical. I appreciated this feature as it enhances the game’s immersion, and running around as the same-looking character can be a bit jarring.
Solo and Multiplayer Experiences
There’s no difference in the experience whether you play solo or co-op. The number of players in a trial doesn’t affect much. Red Barrels wants players to decide if they want to go through therapy to gain their freedom and, if so, how. I completed all three programs and their mini-trials while playing solo. It’s doable but definitely more challenging because you don’t have anyone to help distract enemies while you complete objectives.
In the Fun Park trial, for example, you need to push the Root Canal cart to the end of the ride. However, the main antagonist of that trial will chase after you while you try to do so. So I had to evade the antagonist, push the cart, evade again, push again, and repeat until I completed the objective. I finished each primary program in about 70 minutes, but I think it would take about half that time with an entire team.
It’s important to note that a constant internet connection is required for The Outlast Trials, even when playing solo. This is because the game client needs to connect to the servers for The Sleep Room. Although some may view this as a downside, it enables Red Barrels to keep the game updated with fresh content. Additionally, pausing the game during a trial is impossible, but there are no timeouts. I’ve found myself hiding in a locker and walking away from the game while taking a short break outside to walk my dog.
Red Barrels is approaching the development of The Outlast Trials like a television show. It plans to follow a development and release strategy that mirrors a TV show’s initial development. The anticipated path includes the following:
- Closed Beta: Served as their proof of concept
- Early Access: Serves as their pilot episode
- Version 1.0: This will be their first season
You can also expect the following content to be added during this deployment process:
- Therapy will improve overtime as Murkoff improves their methods
- New trials and challenges will be added regularly
- The Murkoff facility will be expanded
- Existing characters will have their own arcs
- New foes and allies will be introduced
- Unexpected events will be added like the shuttle breaking down
The release of The Outlast Trials on consoles is expected during the Version 1.0 deployment period. Although there is no definite timeline for the Version 1.0 release, Red Barrels is eager to achieve this milestone as soon as possible, encouraging news for the game’s longevity.
- This article was updated on May 19th, 2023