Red Barrels has somehow been making Outlast games for a full ten years now and, although some of us at PX aren't huge fans of this franchise in general, we do appreciate the things that it does just a little differently than others.

Of course we're talking about the fact that these games give players heightened senses of perception, but then all but remove the ability to defend yourself, leading to many hours of skulking around incredibly unwelcoming environments, mostly in night-vision mode, as you avoid very silly enemies and work towards completing a series of menial tasks ad nauseum. Sound fun? Then read on.

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The original 'mainline' entries, Outlast and Outlast 2, cast you as a fully-fleshed out character, a journalist if we remember correctly (hopefully a games one, haha) and in this prequel spin-off there are ties to the wishy-washy narrative that ran through those games for fans to point and shout at. However, don't expect a story that has anywhere near enough meat to actually dig into and enjoy, as any narrative here is simply a means to direct you to all the Saw-style sneaking around and getting murderized, and in this regard The Outlast Trials remains way too similar to its forebearers.

As a game that's been in early access on PC since back in May of last year, there's plenty of polish on display in terms of the wonderfully detailed and hugely atmospheric police stations, fairgrounds and...well...creepy orphanages that you'll need to sneak around, and there's even a brand-new level that's been added for this full console release. However, as nice as all of this shiny stuff is, we just can't get around the fact that mechanically - and in terms of its non-existent ability to shock and/or scare - we find ourselves unsatisfied and disinterested in the core gameplay loop here. Add a couple of pals and it gets better than the witheringly dreary solo experience, but the fact remains that it's all a little too dull and repetitive to hold the attention for very long.

In The Outlast Trials you're cast into a Murkoff facility where you, and a bunch of other unfortunate individuals who can be played by your pals, have to complete a gauntlet of suitably disgusting trials involving lots of blood, amputations, keys hidden in bodies, pee, poop, and instant deaths from nowhere that'll have you lobbing your controller at the TV. So just your average Monday afternoon down Pure Xbox towers, then. It's a cool concept, ripe for all manner of experimentation, narrative twists, gameplay surpri...oh now, wait none of that happens, but they do have a lot of blood.

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Indeed, one of our main complaints with this series over the years has been how it seems to approach the idea of fear as something that is borne out of men electrocuting their own testicles whilst stood in a large body of water, or a fountain of crimson red spurting impossible amounts of heart juice all over the ceiling. It's a very...adolescent...approach, one that suits the Saw style well, but it's so loud and nasty and it's just in no way mentally frightening or disturbing. Unless rolling our eyes is some sort of sign that we've shat it.

The various stages you're funneled through as you fight for your freedom are full of rather boring enemies who hover around crucial points of interest too (would it hurt to have them do proper patrols?), and as you don't have any weapons you'll need to crouch all of the time and move slowly around areas. But be careful! There are patches of glass on the floor, cans hanging on strings and a bunch of other things we've never seen in a video game before, that can alert the enemies to your location. If this happens you'll need to...yes, you guessed it...hide in a bin, or a locker, or under a desk in plain sight. Wait for the enemy to forget you are there, and then continue to plod around and fix circuits or hold down buttons for set amounts of time.

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To be fair, each trial here does mix things up well in terms of themes, and they all have their own enemy types and challenges, but scratch below it all a little and you'll quickly find it's all much of a muchness with regards to the things you'll spend time doing.

Add in some friends and all of this incredibly dull business does become somewhat fun. Now, it's not fun in the way you might expect from a horror game, like tense, sweaty, scary and stuff, but it does descend into complete farce and chaos often enough that shouting at your pals, trying to move through areas and work as a unit with the game's simple command system, well, there are good times to be had with the right people. It's hard to keep smiling though, honestly, with dodgy enemy AI (harder difficulty are straight-up unfair in how telepathic your foes are), night-vision batteries that keep running out and so many deaths that you just could never have seen coming. It feels like a bitter war of patience-attrition in single-player and in multiplayer things manage to rise to...well...let's say not bad.

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If you've enjoyed what Outlast has served you up so far, you'll likely have a good enough time here - as long as you have friends along for the ride. However, overall we reckon much more could have been done to infuse what is a genuinely good idea for a horror game with some proper scares, meaningful teamwork aspects, far more interesting and varied objectives, and enemies who are up for more than just standing around and waiting. Not bad for fans, then, but a much harder recommendation for everyone else.


The Outlast Trials is a cool idea, a spin-off that funnels players through a gauntlet of twisted levels with a gameshow/Saw movie vibe. However, as good as it all looks and sounds, with plenty of levels and tons of customisation to dig into, the core gameplay here is just way too bland and repetitive, it's in no way scary, and the only real fun to be had is in getting a bunch of pals together to laugh at your misfortunes and all of the violence that ensues.