The Outlast Trials Early Access Review – Cooperative Horror Done Right

With The Outlast Trials, developer Red Barrels is trying something new by bringing a co-op horror experience. How well does this work out?

Posted By | On 22nd, May. 2023

The Outlast Trials Early Access Review – Cooperative Horror Done Right

The Outlast franchise has enjoyed quite a bit of success with its two single-player outings in the form of Outlast and Outlast 2. With the third game, however, developer Red Barrels decided to try something that most horror games can’t really pull off effectively—co-op. How well the game pulls off having up to three friends with you while you skulk around dark, dinghy hallways with no way to fight back against the monstrosities you’re pitted against is quite an interesting subject.

Let’s get this out of the way, while it can be played completely solo, The Outlast Trials definitely treats co-op as the main method of playing. Most of the more interesting level design and mechanics largely come from the game’s co-op, and when played in single player, The Outlast Trials feels like little more than a retread of the games we already played back in Outlast and Outlast 2.

Despite its focus on co-op, however, The Outlast Trials still largely relies on its jump scares and creepy atmosphere to scare you. You’re not going to get some deep-rooted psychological trauma like the Silent Hill franchise from this game. Rather, The Outlast Trial is hoping that it’ll continue to scare you well into the game by suddenly showing you a horrifyingly-disfigured face. How well this works can be up for debate; players tend to have different levels of tolerance for this sort of thing after all, and while some of us might find jump scares rather dull after the first couple of times, others might still find it incredibly compelling horror.

"The Outlast Trial is hoping that it’ll continue to scare you well into the game by suddenly showing you a horrifyingly-disfigured face."

The other side of the horror in The Outlast Trials comes from its mechanics. Since you can’t really fight back against the horrors you’re in the room with, you instead have to rely on stealth and whatever item you can find. Throw an empty bottle to distract an enemy while you quickly jump into a nearby locker to hide, for example. You can also find more advanced tools, like a smoke mine, that lets you scurry away if an enemy ever gets close enough to where you might have planted it.

The atmosphere in The Outlast Trials is quite thick too, owing in large part to the fact that you’re going to be spending quite a bit of time in darkness. Coupled with the rather excellent sound design, The Outlast Trials can feel incredibly creepy, especially when you can only hear the ever-closing sounds of your enemies’ heavy footsteps, or the distant screams of an ally that has been discovered. You can, of course, use your night vision goggles, but they eat up battery at a rather alarming rate, and you’ll be better off saving them for when you have no other real options.

Interestingly, The Outlast Trials bears a surprising level of similarity to indie co-op horror shooter GTFO, where players are put through rigorous missions with scarce resources as they try and avoid as many grotesque horrors as they can. While GTFO is a much more difficult game, The Outlast Trials still bears a striking resemblance in how some of its levels look and operate. The comparisons might also be helpful since there just aren’t that many well-made level-based co-op horror experiences out there aside from indie titles like GTFO.

The Outlast Trials

"The Outlast Trials can feel incredibly creepy"

The Outlast Trials, in its depiction of dark and dingy hallways and rooms, is a great-looking game. The strength of the game’s visuals are exemplified in some of the monster designs, showing you every grotesque feature in minute detail. Even when you’re in pitch darkness and the only way you’re looking at the game’s levels is through the grainy sepia tones of your night vision goggles, The Outlast Trials still looks pretty good. This can largely be attributed to strong art direction that was undoubtedly honed over the course of developing the last two Outlast games. The player characters themselves might not look too impressive to begin with, but the ability to unlock cosmetics does a lot to make looking at other players’ characters much more pleasant.

The game ran quite well on my mid-range gaming PC equipped with a Ryzen 5 3600, a GeForce RTX 3060 Ti, and 32GB of RAM, and despite having the game installed on a SATA SSD, the loading times were short, aside from the first time the game loads up. Throughout my time with the game, it was able to manage frame rates of between 80 and 140 with the settings mostly set to the highest available option at a resolution of 1080p.

"The Outlast Trials doesn’t really do anything too clever with its storytelling"

The story in The Outlast Trials minimal at best. Sure, there are a few cutscenes here and there, and your overall goal is pretty clear right from the outset, but a lot of the more interesting details about the story can only be uncovered through exploring the game’s levels and finding secret documents and other collectibles that give you the true glimpse of just how messed up your situation is.

Taking place during the Cold War, The Outlast Trials is a prequel to the original game. The player has been abducted by a certain corporation and are forced to go through incredibly brutal and unethical experiments. Players have to co-operate and go through the titular trials in order to win back their freedom, and along the way, gather enough evidence to bring light to the corporation’s shady dealings.

The Outlast Trials doesn’t really do anything too clever with its storytelling, instead focusing on providing a tight experience that isn’t too hampered by the need to go hunt for the right documents to get the full picture. Despite its reliance on collectibles, The Outlast Trials tells its story in quite a straightforward way, and you won’t ever really find yourself being too lost on what you’re supposed to do or why you’re doing them.

the outlast trials

"The Outlast Trials bears a surprising level of similarity to indie co-op horror shooter GTFO"

It is worth keeping in mind that The Outlast Trials is in early access, and the game will undoubtedly see quite a few changes, especially when it comes to things like balance that can end up having spiraling effects on the overall enjoyability of the game. I also couldn’t get The Outlast Trials to start up on the Steam Deck to run some more tests, but I’ll chalk that up to it being a pre-release build of an early access title.

The Outlast Trials is a fun experience, especially when played in co-op. Sure, its horror may not land too well for some players—it didn’t for me—but the experience itself was a lot of fun. Even joining online games with strangers never gets boring or frustrating, and playing with other people is always a good way to lower the tension if the game gets too scary for you.

Aside from its co-op, however, The Outlast Trials doesn’t do much new, and if you’re not a fan of the kind of horror game where you can’t fight back, you likely won’t find much to enjoy here. If slow-paced gameplay where you’re essentially helpless against horrifying monstrosities but still have to complete missions sounds appealing to you, The Outlast Trials will be something you want to keep an eye on.

This game was reviewed on the PC.


THE GOOD

Co-op is fun; Excellent atmosphere; Interesting story and setting.

THE BAD

Jump scares can get dull quickly.

Final Verdict:
GREAT
Despite its focus on co-op, The Outlast Trials presents a strong early showing through its early access release. It runs well, has an interesting setting and story, and the co-op can be incredibly fun if you play it with the right group. The only downside is that jump scares might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
A copy of this game was provided by Developer/Publisher/Distributor/PR Agency for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.

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