The Outlast Trials: in balance between horror storytelling and multiplayer

Outlast is one of the most promising horror series in the modern gaming landscape. Already from the first chapter it was possible to guess that, while not changing the rules at the base of horror video games, the fright in the player was the result of the work of a well-oiled machine (with the blood of the protagonist), in which the he jumpscare device found the right space without stealing it from the atmosphere. Now that we have tried the Cloded Beta from The Outlast Trialsnext iteration of the series, we can tell you one thing: it has potential to sell.

The disturbing plot, the helplessness in the face of those who try to kill us in the worst possible ways, the claustrophobic locations soaked in blood and various fluids: all these ingredients are part of the terrifying equation of The Outlast Trials, partly inherited from Outlast 1 and 2; partly added to an unexpected and, it seems, layered online multiplayer experience. Are you ready to face your trials, fears and phobias and to “heal” for the good of science and society? Murkoff is looking for you to test her innovative treatment method …

In Outlast’s darkest lore

The cloud of narrative horror that envelops the events of The Outlast Trials is traversable shedding light on lore and previous history to what happened in Outlast, Outlast 2 (to learn more, here is the Outlast 2 review) and the various DLCs.

In fact, a short introductory film lays the foundations we need to overcome what will become, once the game is over, the initial tutorial (or a part of it) set in a Murkoff “rehabilitation facility”, which is confirmed as evil and twisted as it is. more than the Umbrella Corporation. Let’s contextualize: we are in the midst of the Cold War, the people are suffering from continuous economic crises and ensuring sanity is not among the priorities of world governments. Thus, by handing out recruiting-style flyers “we want you“Murkoff attracts homeless people and stragglers in search of social redemption, promising healing, health and serenity … only to then involve them in a series of very sick survival challenges organized in a special structure crowded with cruel jailers. But don’t worry: before you launch yourself in the fray the diligent doctors Murkoff they will not fail to install night vision goggles on your skull, obviously equipped with flawed and very small batteries; all without anesthesia and with tools that we would not define as “properly sterilized”.

In short, after the intro we are literally thrown into the lions’ den, called to orient ourselves through dark corridors to learn the basics of the movement system: running (beware of stamina), stealth and jumps. Shortly after, a dilapidated house that promises (and maintains) an atmosphere “a la Resident Evil“stands in what almost looks like a movie set, complete with studio lights and” extras “.

In particular, we are talking about mannequins of the worst kind: self-propelled and slightly destroyed (and covered in blood). Thus begins an escalation of increasingly frightening and grotesque situations, based on the classic body horror and capable of generating strong emotions in the players.

We therefore learn to use tools to restore sanity, physical health, night vision battery and more, to hide in / under various furnishing accessories (desks, lockers, etc.) and in general to escape from enemies much stronger than us, who try to “make our skin” (literally).

This tutorial session in complete solitude lasts relatively short and is very similar to the original Outlast experience, but teaches all that is needed to prepare us for what awaits us during the online multiplayer “trials”. Which not necessarily, then, we will have to face in company: let’s just say that it is strongly recommended. At the end of the main story tasted in the tutorial we leave the haunted mansion with a lump in the throat that does not go down: eager to learn more about the developments of a plot evidently less explicit than in the past, more linked to the concept of lore and environmental narration. However, it will be worth leaving the solo mode behind: our personal room called the “Sleep Room” awaits us.

Sleep Room and multiplayer

The Sleep Room is, videogame speaking, an online lobby structured as a common room of a building halfway between a classic 60’s asylum and a prison. In fact, both NPCs and real players who are connected to us at the same time roam the corridors and common areas of the structure. The beauty is that every “test subject” it is potentially different from othersthe result of a personalization screen with a meager (for now) number of options available including faces, hairstyles and other physical characteristics.

Nothing to “pull your hair” we could say to stay on the subject, but it is still nice that taking into account the online nature of the game it was decided to make its survivors editable. It is reasonable to expect, however, that further elements of distinction for the characters will be made available in the course of development and post release. Maybe related to the completion of specific missions, given that the whole play system is structured on the overcoming of tests set in a specific setting created by Murkoff for test the skills of those involved. Let’s go back a little bit to explain how to approach a multiplayer mission: from one to four players enter a room in the Sleep Room, equip a series of passive skills to choose from among life recovery, stamina recovery, reduced energy consumption of the night vision device and more (most of the options were locked in the Beta). Then, the four are put to sleep and awaken shortly thereafter in a chosen location before falling asleep, characterized by a theme, a goal and a level of difficulty.

During our test, the police station was particularly impressed: a claustrophobic and labyrinthine setting, crossed by shortcuts, dotted with electric traps and armed and dangerous agents; there is no shortage of the classic “doors that can only be unlocked on one side”, the environmental mini-puzzles and other expedients to slow down the pace of the players between a scare and another. Such missions can also be done alone, at the cost of clearly increased difficulty and a longer time to complete.

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Often, in fact, the objectives to be completed in order to leave the setting involve solving two or more identical puzzles, which a coordinated team can complete simultaneously in half the time. This does not mean that the Beta game alone was less or more valid: it was just different. Perhaps, at most, with friends in voice chat The Outlast Trials can be “less scary”, as it happens for other online experiences (let’s think for example of Phasmophobia).

For this reason, as we mentioned, the tests always tend to complete the objectives by separating the players: when you are alone in the dark garage of a police station, no one can hear you scream. No one who can or wants to help you, at least.

The Outlast Trials: in balance between horror storytelling and multiplayer