The Outlast Trinity is the perfect horror package for those who appreciate jump scares and body horror. With a trio of protagonists that represent the world’s most devoted pacifists, gameplay revolves around tense stealth sections, typically followed by panicked chase sequences as you try avoid a myriad of deranged antagonists and their devoted followers. The tension and terror is amplified thanks to the restrictive first-person perspective and player movement. Unfortunately, the core gameplay mechanics don’t change much across the three titles and, while each game is fairly short, it is up to the narrative, characters and locations to keep you pushing forward. [Ed - I wouldn’t make it past the title screen!]
The flashback sequences in Outlast 2 progress from unsettling to terrifying. It also has the best blood-filled corridor since the original F.E.A.R.
As far as narrative goes, all three titles stick to a strong horror opening before introducing sci-fi elements. Outlast sees investigative journalist Miles Upshur travel to the Mount Massive Asylum, owned by the shady Murkoff Corporation, after a tip-off by a whistleblower. After a slow and terrifying introduction, you’ll find yourself forced to navigate numerous areas of the overrun asylum, avoiding a hulking warden that stalks you throughout the game while also circumventing some incredibly deranged prisoners that have carved out their own territories. These antagonists are easily the highlight of the game, each one a grotesque figure, indulging in the most horrific acts on the surviving prisoners while stalking the hallways and verbally taunting the player. As you push forward, you’ll uncover documents and survivors that slowly reveal the truth behind the incident, all leading up to a rather unexpected ending.
The Whistleblower DLC, unsurprisingly, places you in the shoes of software engineer Waylon Park shortly after he sends information to Miles. The story focusses on Wayland’s attempt to escape while avoiding both deranged former prisoners, one of whom is the most terrifying of villains of all three titles, and the surviving Murkoff staff who attempt to cover up the incident. The conclusion ties into the ending of the first game and wraps up the narrative in classic horror style.
All three titles will drag you through some dark and terrifying scenes that make everyday locations nightmarish.
Outlast 2 has very few (well hidden) links to the first game but understanding those events go a long way to explaining some of what video journalist Blake Langermann and the new antagonists may be experiencing. Blake and his wife Lynn have travelled to rural Arizona to investigate the unexplained death of a young women and, as would be expected, a helicopter crash soon leaves them separated with Lynn captured by a fanatical religious cult that believes they must murder pregnant women to prevent the birth of the antichrist. Unfortunately for Blake, they are but one of three insane cults that occupy the region, each with an unhealthy interest in Lynn and Blake.
To make matters worse, Blake’s mental state deteriorates over time and he has increasingly dangerous flashbacks to his childhood at a strict Catholic school. As in the first game, unique antagonists will stalk you through multiple areas, including one terrifyingly powerful female enforcer who wields a deadly pick axe and excels at driving it into your avatars crotch.
While violence against women in fundamentalist religious societies remains a global problem that deserves to be tackled in media, the nature of these games and the emphasis on gratuitous body horror sometimes undermines the impact. While the game never displays gender violence directly, multiple hateful scriptures coupled with repeated evidence of violence, over roughly eight hours of game time, quickly diminishes the impact. It is rather the slow and tragic unravelling of Blake’s past that kept me hooked, dealing with the abuse of children in schools. Just be aware the game takes a one-sided view on these issues that some may find too broadly offensive.
Expect to spend a lot of the time admiring the world in shades of pixelated green.
All three titles require the player to move stealthily or run through environments patrolled by increasingly psychopathic individuals that would like nothing more than to brutally murder you. The perspective, ungainly movement (by design), restrictive environments, and terrifying antagonists are paired with incredible sound and visual design. Admittedly, a lot of these moments are thanks to classic jump scares that can wreck your cautious stealth approach and send you fleeing down twisting corridors, hoping to break line of sight and find a place to hide, or a crawlspace through which you can escape. The series distinctive mechanic is the use of a camera with a night-vision mode that provides your only source of light in many pitch-black environments and a zoom function to spot distant threats. In Outlast 2 it allows Blake to document events and has a directional mic for detecting distant enemies. Naturally, these features consume a limited supply of batteries.
Both the first game and Whistleblower DLC encourage stealth; you’ll often find yourself sneaking from hiding spot to hiding spot while avoiding patrolling enemies. There are times you’re forced to run but it’s usually up to the player to decide when to risk making a break for the exit. Outlast 2, on the other hand, frequently forced my hand even when it was clear an enemy had no line of sight on me. I can only assume there are far more event triggers in Outlast 2 and these can bug out if the player takes an unexpected approach. Far too many times, I found enemies would walk directly towards my position in cover, with no regard for logical pathing, and the unique antagonists that stalk you throughout the game would immediately converge on my position and drag me out of any hiding spot. It made for a much tougher and more frustrating experience in Outlast 2. Mercifully, a recent patch was released to tweak the difficulty and removed bugs. Even with patching however, the sequel is clearly designed as a far more action-focussed experience, forcing the payer to flee and dodge enemies far more frequently.
Unfortunately, all three games are prone to encounters that require very specific routes to survive and these events can become frustrating trial-and-error runs, often coupled with poorly placed checkpoints. These moments can ruin the pacing and turn fear into frustration especially as they were more prevalent in the sequel.
Meet Marta. Terrifying in every encounter, especially when the game bugs out and she instantly knows your position.
While sprinting, walking, creeping or crawling through each game, you’ll be bombarded on all sides by disgusting visuals and terrifying audio. Body horror and an abundance of gore was clearly the design focus. While you don’t often witness violence, except when on the receiving end of a violent execution, evidence is everywhere with corpses and viscera splattered across every surface. The second game has so many corpses lying about that you’d think a city-sized population was crammed into a small corner of rural Arizona. Between scenes of extreme violence and the hazy green glow of the night-vision lens in oppressive darkness, the game does a great job of keeping the player unsettled.
For those interested in the technical details, all three titles run consistently at 1080p/60FPS and while the second game has some more open, vegetated areas, most environments have the distinctive grey-brown, grungy look so common with Unreal Engine 3 titles.
The visuals, coupled with a fantastic soundtrack and excellent directional audio, ensure navigating any environment becomes a tense affair. When stalked by enemies, the music incorporates teeth-grating violin squeals, suddenly ramping up in intensity when you are spotted. The voice actors that provide the mad ramblings and maniacal monologues you’ll hear from both common foes and unique antagonists deserve special mention. While most plot details are revealed in documents and scripted sequences, it is always worth listening to your enemies, preferably from a good hiding spot, to get a better appreciation of their own distinct delusions.
It’s hard to describe any scene as “beautiful” but the outdoor locations in Outlast 2 can impress.
Played back-to-back, the Outlast Trinity collection begins to feel a little stale as the basic gameplay loop barely changes. That said, each title features its own slowly unravelling narrative, intimidating foes, terrifying locations and slowly builds up in intensity towards the conclusion. I just wish there was a little more variety in some encounters and less trial-and-error gameplay. If you are a fan of combat-free horror titles, such as the Amnesia Collection, this is solid choice – especially at the low retail price. However, Alien Isolation and Resident Evil 7 have proven that you don’t need an illogically incapable protagonist to generate fear and I hope going forward Red Barrels will learn from those games if they create another horror title.
Enjoys games with awesome stories and characters, along with new and interesting hardware. Dislikes day-one patches and driver updates.
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PS4, Xbox One
5 May 2017
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