My heart is in my stomach, or more specifically, someone else’s heart literally is in my hand as I try to hit enough targets to earn a ticket and escape the spine-chilling horrors of The Outlast Trials' fun fair before one of the several test subjects catches up to me and turns me into swiss cheese.
My team’s objective is simple: make our way through the fun fair completing the trials and tasks while navigating the countless booby-traps, landmines, and bloodied mutilated subjects whose sole goal is to hunt down our team and tear us limb from limb.
There’s a naked man with a hammer, an electrifying old test subject, numerous grunts, and even a gas mask-wearing scientist who doses you with drugs that will turn your trial into a psychosis-heavy nightmare. Be warned; you do not want to see what’s at the end of the psychosis-induced tunnel. But unfortunately, you probably will. A trial lasts around an hour, with various stages where Murkoff will force you to complete challenges ranging from pushing carts to searching dead bodies. Unfortunately, there are plenty of chances to get electrocuted or gassed, thanks to the maze-like setting and complex puzzles.
After being hunted for sport for the better part of an hour, my head is heavy, my heart is pumping, and I decide to take a mental health break in a nearby barrel, (one of the 43 I hid in). The screams and shouts from my poor team, who have been left to find the last heart and complete the fun fair game, wash over me. I may have the remaining heart pumping cold blood in my hands, but I’ll be damned if I venture out of my barrel only to get gassed, impaled, and shouted at again.
Trial and error (mostly error)
I was apprehensive when I heard that Red Barrels was developing a multiplayer Outlast game. After playing the previous titles in the series, the terror of being isolated, whether in a mental hospital or in the wilderness of North Arizona, gave me an unrivaled terror. Isolation is one element that makes this survival horror series so disturbing.
However, The Outlast Trials takes the terror from the first few titles and modernizes it in a multiplayer environment. Despite having a coop option, this survival horror game straddles the line between true terror and the joys of playing multiplayer brilliantly. Even in a team, players will regularly find themselves cut off from the group, isolated in an unknown location.
In this way, it’s not all that dissimilar from the original titles. In Outlast 2, you start the campaign with your partner, who is quickly taken from you by a malicious cult. This sudden isolation makes the horror of facing the cult alone unbearable. It is this fear that players will experience in the trials when the security of a team is suddenly taken from you at unexpected moments. In the chaos of the experiments, you are constantly separated from your team by aggressive test subjects and environmental traps. While you can go back and help your fellow players, many may choose not to for the sake of self-preservation.
A bright future
The Outlast Trials marks a new beginning for Red Barrels and its impressive IP in ways other than its fantastic multiplayer. It's the developers’ first step into a live service game.
This next step for Red Barrels has been carefully thought out, intending that this survival horror game cements itself within the horror community and will be around for a long time. In a preview for The Outlast Trials, game director Alex Charbonneau described how “this is the beginning of something new, creating an environment which is a living and breathing world.”
With three programs available to play through, a cluster of tasks and challenges that will provide the player with various ways of completing the trials, and the prospect of seasonal refreshes, there seems to be a whole lot of content planned for this next installment in the Outlast franchise with Charbonneau banking on “several seasons in the future”.
The fact that I’ll be plagued by dark spectres for many seasons to come fills me with a strange joy. After screaming, wailing, and a slight concussion thanks to a misplaced shelf and a horrific jumpscare, I ended the hour trial with the words, “That was fun; we should play again tomorrow”. Perhaps I dissociated, or the concussion knocked the sense out of me, but the fact that despite the excruciating torment, I’m raring for the next group venture into the Murkoff facility. This speaks to just how fun the multiplayer is for this survival horror game.
Despite my heart palpitations, I feel comforted in the knowledge that Red Barrels has poured its heart and soul into The Outlast Trials. With horrifying yet hilarious multiplayer action, an atmosphere familiar to old fans and exciting for new ones, and a fleshed-out plan for the future of the survival game, there’s a lot to love. I, for one, can’t wait to see what barrel I’m forced to hide in next.