Outlast: A Masterclass in Horror

The Outlast series succeeded in scaring the wits out of anyone brave enough to play it. With the third major installment - The Outlast Trials - set to release later this year, let's consider how the first two entries made the series an icon of its genre.

Outlast: A Masterclass in Horror

Red Barrels studio created the stuff of nightmares with Outlast 1 – a dread-inspiring first-person survival horror game that used the psyche of the human mind to maximize the player’s fear factor. It quickly became a favorite choice for game-streamers and their audiences, further pushing its popularity and sales. These factors gave Red Barrels enough reason to push for a sequel, which came four years later in the form of Outlast 2. This, too, quickly cemented itself as one of the most terrifying games ever created. Now in late 2022, Red Barrels hopes to replicate this success with its third major installment – The Outlast Trials, set as a prequel to the first two games. But which elements should it try to implement from its previous two titles? Let’s take a look.

Psychological Horror

What really made the series a true survival horror experience is the atmosphere it creates, thus reducing the reliance on traditional jump scares. The eerie hallways gloomily lit with malfunctioning lights, the ominous soundtrack that shakes you to your spine, the cries of agony of the condemned villagers, and the muttering of religious verses by your pursuers as they try to capture you for some sort of human sacrifice, all create a powerful environment for Outlast to use its greatest weapon: fear of the unknown. This is because you will always wonder what danger lies around the next corner, even if there isn’t any. Due to this fear, when a jump scare does happen, it will make your blood run cold.

A grim warning of what could happen to you.

A grim warning of what could happen to you.

A large part of this immersion is down to the choice of locations, each hiding a terrible truth. Outlast 1 takes place in Mount Massive Asylum, a psychiatric hospital in the remote mountains of colorado for the insane that has since been turned into a secret center for gruesome experimentation on live humans. The second game occurs in a remote village in the Arizona desert, inhabited by cults participating in extremely disturbing rituals. Both these locations created a sense of hostility and dread when I played them. From what we know, The Outlast Trials will also occur in a similar research facility as the first game, so it’s already on the right path.

Fight-Or-Flight? No, Just Flight.

What makes Outlast so unnerving is the inability to fight back. The characters you control – in both games as well as the Whistleblower dlc – are not trained fighters. Investigative journalist Miles Upshur and cameraman Blake Langermann are ordinary people like you and me, and as such, they cannot fight back the raw horrors that await them in Mount Massive Asylum (Outlast 1) and Temple Gate (Outlast 2). Should you be seen by your pursuer, your only hope of escape is to run and hide in the shadows. This truly adds to the feeling of helplessness you experience throughout the game as you know that you are completely defenseless against the demented, blood-thirsty psychopaths out to kill you.

Run. Now!

Run. Now!

Now, from recent trailers, it seems that The Outlast Trials will, in fact, give the players some degree of ability to fight back. This is a quite significant departure from what set the series apart from other horror games like Resident Evil and may just cause Outlast to lose its charm. However, one thing I have learned over the years about video games is that change can be good sometimes. So maybe this shift in gameplay will bring a different dimension to the series.

A Terrifying Cast of Villains

Outlast thrives on the diversity of its villains. In the first game, you encounter a fanatic priest who thinks you are a religious ambassador for some holy mission. In Outlast 2, we encounter similar villains in that they consider you to be a bringer of a religious revolution, a sign of changing times. It’s interesting how the story of both games is heavily revolving around religious views.

You don't want an appointment with this doctor....

You don’t want an appointment with this doctor….

There are other types of villains as well. For instance, the Walrider – a manifestation of the horrifying experiments being conducted at the Mount Massive Asylum. The villain I found most disturbing, however, was the mutilated, mad doctor who tortured inmates in the most painful way imaginable for his amusement. The important takeaway is that each villain in the series brings a slightly different dimension of horror to the narrative.

If The Outlast Trials is to be a success like its predecessors, the developers must ensure that they bring in a strong set of antagonists. We have already received some news about these villains, and the recently released images look frightening already.

Mother Gooseberry - one of the villains in The Outlast Trials

Mother Gooseberry – one of the villains in The Outlast Trials

To sum up, Red Barrels needs to focus on making The Outlast Trials as immersive as possible by using visuals and sound to strike fear into the gamer’s mind. Further, they should introduce a fearful set of antagonists capable of making the blood run cold. These two elements will play a substantial role in determining the success of The Outlast Trials.

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