The Outlast Trials Review

The Outlast Trials review

Outlast was a seminal horror game during the era of Twitch streamers and reaction videos. It inspired a subgenre of run-and-hide horror games with an emphasis on grotesque imagery and shock value. This made it perfect for YouTubers to milk it for content since it was a shallow experience with simple and casual gameplay.

Outlast II was a bigger and much more confusingly told story that doubled down on utterly depraved depictions of violence and the ugliness of humanity. It told a seemingly unrelated story and had a new setting with some additional psychological twists to add to the sense of terror. Yet Outlast II couldn’t get the same audience as the first and it fell into obscurity.

After Outlast II‘s apocalyptic climax, the only place left to go for the series was into the past. Set in the late 1950s, players become the early human test subjects for the Murkoff Corporation’s experiments. This time, victims will be sharing their fear and will have to survive together. Can the Outlast formula work as a co-op experience? Find out in The Outlast Trials review!

The Outlast Trials
Developer: Red Barrels
Publisher: Red Barrels

Platforms: Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (reviewed)
Release Date: March 5, 2024
Price: $29.99 USD

The Outlast Trials starts strongly with a very entertaining and fast-paced prologue that is like a big-budget funhouse experience.

You get all the classic Outlast trappings with insane muttering naked guys who will slug you if you get too close and a lot of running around in the dark with night vision. The sequence climaxes with an encounter with a colorful stalker character who has a hand puppet with a drill in its mouth.

The introductory sequence is full of intrigue and thrusts you into the action while smartly drip-feeding clues about what is going on. You play as a custom-created avatar who was apparently some homeless nobody and now you are given purpose by becoming subject to Murkoff’s cruel experiments.

Doctors are shown recycling surgically grafted equipment from dead test subjects like they’re meat. You inherit some gnarly-looking headgear and chest piece that is drilled onto your person without anesthesia and then set loose into a facility that is like a mixture of a mess hall and dorm. This is your new home and functions as The Outlast Trials‘ lobby for co-op play.

The bum you play as has only one stake in all of this: do what you’re told and maybe you can make it out alive. The real story is mostly in the subtext and parsing through the beautifully dense and detailed environmental story-telling. As with prior entries, The Outlast Trials looks beautiful. While these games completely lack any sense of restraint, the art and design in every entry are impeccable and it is hard to not get engrossed in the grossness.

Every character looks gnarled and battered. Every inch of the game feels like you can smell the stink of rot and fecal matter slathered into crevices. Every piece of cloth looks like it’s stained in a mix of blood, urine, and encrusted semen. No matter where you go it always feels like you can get snagged on some jagged edge or get debris caught in the sole of your feet.

Every location and stage is artificially set up for the subjects. Everything is built within a massive facility or warehouse somewhere, with the subjects transported through tubes. While the settings are fake, the brutal violence is very real for the prisoners, and none of the scientists or doctors who can be seen behind glass will do anything or react to what’s happening.

The atmosphere feels utterly hopeless and bleak for whatever your avatar may be. You’re just a guinea pig to be poked, prodded, and stomped on by sadists who don’t see you as human. You are an object to be dissected and used and no matter where you go and what you do, you are powerless to do anything about it. Every step of the way you are a witness and victim to the true ugliness of humanity.

The Outlast Trials lacks a standard plot like in the prior entries. This game opts for a mission-based structure with smaller individual stories to facilitate online co-op play. It makes sense for the premise but it does come at the cost of an overarching narrative. Not that it matters because the real meat of Outlast games are the nightmarish scenarios and not so much the story.

Like always in every Outlast game, you can’t defend yourself at all no matter how nonsensical it would appear. In the first game, it made some sense that Miles couldn’t pick up a stick or makeshift weapon because early on, Dr. Trager cut off several of his fingers. It made no sense in Outlast II because Blake doesn’t hurt his hands until about halfway through the game.

The Outlast Trials was in a unique position to begin the story with the player-character undergoing a procedure where they can’t use their hands to fight back. This game has more opportunities than ever where it seems like the players could have feasibly armed themselves with anything lying around. The best it offers are bricks which are usually for distracting foes but can also be used to stun them if thrown at their face.

Half of the enemies are unarmed naked guys who should be at least an equal match. The other foes like screamers or imposters should be killable. Understandably, prime asset foes like Mother Gooseberry or Leland Cole can’t be killed because they’re like horror movie supervillains, but a majority of the basic threats are just as tortured and mangled as the player, and in some cases are in worse condition.

The Outlast Trials experience is mostly like its predecessors, but now you can do it with friends. You run, you hide, and you solve problems to make your way through a white-knuckle insane manhunt. While the parkour and platforming elements have been almost removed entirely, there are new mechanics to make up for it and they are a breath of fresh air for the franchise.

There is a life bar now, a sanity meter, inventory slots, and upgrades. As a test subject, you are given all kinds of experimental drugs for completing the sessions and they have all kinds of effects like being able to see through walls, access to stun mines, or the ability to heal your partners or charge their batteries. The gameplay becomes surprisingly varied for a stealthy co-op game, but it is still dumb you can’t ever fight back.

While The Outlast Trials can be played solo and is still enjoyable alone, it was designed to be played with others. A majority of the abilities are meant to be used in a party for support and there are some situations where the missions become unbearably drawn out because there will be multiple goals and a solo player will have to do each one by themselves.

The Outlast Trials is also perplexingly designed that playing alone requires an internet connection. This means there is no pausing the game and there is no stopping and playing later since there are no checkpoints. Making the solo mode still require an internet connection is a huge deal-breaker for a good reason.

The Outlast Trials will not be a sustainable experience later down the road when the servers are shut down. Even its solo mode will vanish and you won’t be able to enjoy what it has to offer, which happens to be some of the better Outlast content ever devised.

It is a shame that The Outlast Trials has a vague expiration date on it. Unless it gets an update that allows players to enjoy the game offline (with autosaving checkpoints), this will remain a difficult title to recommend to anyone who cares about their purchases.

Sure, The Outlast Trials is fun with friends, but what isn’t? It still manages to be enjoyable alone despite it leaning towards co-op. The day room has a few minigames to keep players entertained while a session forms. The arm wrestling is a laugh riot and you can even play speed chess, which adds a bit more value to the very replayable package.

The Outlast Trials is the best-looking, most varied, and replayable Outlast game. It’s full of tense scenarios and the gameplay is the most deep it’s ever been thanks to the upgrades and abilities. You can drop one hundred hours into this and still have unique experiences.

A lot of the issues present are the same sins that Outlast has always committed: being defenseless is a nonsensical mistake. The biggest blunder it makes is requiring an online connection for playing alone.

The Outlast Trials was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a code provided by Red Barrels. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. The Outlast Trials is now available for PC (via Steam), Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.


The Verdict: 6

The Good

  • Being chased in a game of cat and mouse by the most depraved freakshows is entertaining
  • Gritty and utterly vulgar imagery that makes you reel back with visceral disgust
  • Hilarious dark humor
  • The most varied and diverse take on the Outlast formula yet
  • Good arm wrestling minigame and speed chess

The Bad

  • Single player requires an online connection
  • Due to always being online, there is no pausing in singleplayer or checkpoints to resume later
  • Obnoxious "insanity" effects
  • You can't defend yourself where it would make sense


A youth destined for damnation.

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