In The Outlast Trials, I've been gagged and dragged into a dirty operating theater. To my right, a man with lacerated limbs whimpers at the hands of a doctor crushing his skull. To my left, a surgeon cuts open another screaming patient with a circular saw. Ahead, a nurse approaches, tells me the Murkoff Corporation has obtained my public and private records, and demands that I consent to the company's surveillance as she injects a strange brown liquid straight into my eye. The nurse is then joined by a helper, whose apron looks better suited to an abattoir than a hospital, and the pair drill through my skull, forcibly securing a rusted night vision headset onto my face. Whether you're keen on the horror genre or not, you'll know within the first five minutes of The Outlast Trials if this game is for you.
Because while 2013's Outlast and its 2017 sequel Outlast 2, were both high-intensity first-person psychological survival horror games that pulled very few punches, The Outlast Trials lays it on very thick from the outset, with so much blood, gore and jumpscares. The third outing from Red Barrels' scare 'em up series isn't due until later this year, but, after going hands-on with its most recent closed beta, both its single and multiplayer features have sunk their hooks into me already – more than any game has this year since Elden Ring.
Fast and furious
I don't say that lightly. The number of great upcoming horror games on the horizon is frightening. With Silent Hill 2, Dead Space, Alone in the Dark, and Resident Evil 4 just some of the classic horror games being remade for a new age in the coming months, and with the likes of The Devil in Me, The Callisto Protocol, and Killer Frequency all due before the end of 2022, the horror genre is in rude health. And while The Outlast Trials isn't doing anything revolutionary per se, what it is doing – at this point, at least – it's doing very well.
Inspired by its series forerunners, with flashes of Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Left 4 Dead, and even BioShock in there for good measure, The Outlast Trials is an Outlast game playing to its strengths. It's bold, it's brash, and it's bloody unsettling, with more crazed stalkers and innocuous hiding places than you can shake a pack of well-placed batteries at. Everything in its twisted Cold War-era test facility setting is designed to expedite its gruesome, wanton violence (even more so than previous Outlast games), where it seems any previous restraint or consideration for horror tropes has been well and truly abandoned. Expect bloodthirsty medical professionals who've lost their marbles, myriad creatures who jump out at every turn, creepy mannequins, malfunctioning animatronics, porcelain dolls with spinning heads – and that's in the tutorial alone.
It's after this that The Outlast Trials really opens up. A hub area gives players their own room-meets-cell, with multiplayer features such as arm wrestling available to pass the time. This particular activity appeared to have little value during the closed beta, but I couldn't say if it, or other pursuits, will be more involved come full release. What was far more interesting, however, was the Trial Board – a job board-like terminal where players can jump into self-contained missions of varying difficulty, either in single-player mode or in four-player co-op. Each equipped with 'Rig' abilities to aid one another out in the field – such as 'X-Ray', that lets you spot enemies through walls; and 'Heal' that delivers area-of-effective health recovery – I jumped into a mission titled 'Kill the Snitch' with three others.
Hide and sleek
My guess is this will be the opening mission when The Outlast Trials arrives, so I won't spoil the specifics here. What I will say, though, is scrambling around the same space with three others while being chased by a hulking, chain-laden prison escapee, a mind-altering drug-shooting plague doctor, and a T-1000-alike copper armed with an electrified cattle prod, while you and your new pals try to restore power to multiple generators and search for keys sewn into the flesh of the recently deceased is… exhausting. But also great fun! And in a world of full of horror games either re-treading familiar paths with a fresh lick of paint, or slouching ever-so-slowly from the shadows of the greats that defined the genre almost 20 years ago, I admire Red Barrels' desire to push their own series in a new direction. Outlast has always been about keeping players on the edge of their seat, and from the little I've played of The Outlast Trials, I get the feeling that seat is no longer required.
Can this golden age of horror remakes sustain itself? I asked this question earlier this year when considering the vast amount of great horror games we've either received so far, or can expect in the coming weeks and months. In answering that question, time will tell either way, but in the meantime The Outlast Trials suggests it ain't slowing down any time soon. What might be a better question right now, is whether or not The Outlast Trials itself can sustain itself. The hour I played unfolded at breakneck speed, to the point where I reckon sustaining that pace will be one of the game's biggest challenges. With The Outlast Trials still officially due before the end of the year, though, I guess we'll also find out the answer to that one sooner than later.
Here are the best horror games keeping us up at night right now.