Red Barrels’ excellent Outlast was one of the earlier PlayStation 4 indie releases, deploying at the start of the year to critical acclaim from many corners of the enthusiast press. Plotting a return to the survival horror format of old, the core campaign served up a tense survival horror affair that found you using a video camera to not only record the horrors that you encountered, but also illuminate your macabre surroundings. Now, several months on from the main release, Outlast: Whistleblower aims to take you back to Mount Massive.
The add-on expands upon the original outing’s fiction, putting you in control of Waylon Park, a contract computer worker who tips off Miles Upshur – the protagonist of the main game – about the inappropriate activities that the Murkoff Corporation are conducting at the Mount Massive Asylum. Cleverly, the content actually serves as a prologue and epilogue of sorts, bookmarking both ends of the core campaign, while also working its way through the game’s main timeline as well.
This actually works extremely well, and the plot benefits as a result, serving up a more interesting narrative than Upshur’s time at the asylum. The developer has certainly responded to some of the lesser criticisms pointed at the original release, as this slice of story serves up several interesting characters, and the whole affair has a lot more meat to it than the main outing.
However, from a gameplay perspective, this offers very much more of the same – albeit in the best possible way. The abovementioned night vision camera makes a welcome return, as does the overarching sense of hopelessness. Alas, there’s much more variety to the enemy encounters this time around, as the hide-and-seek sequences repeated throughout the core campaign swap out the single hulking enemy for various different antagonists.
It still grates a little, but the distinctive nature of the different foes helps to keep things feeling fresh. This is true of the fear factor, too, which relies a little less on cheap jump scares, and instead works harder to concoct slightly more creative scream-worthy scenarios. There’s one particular moment – which we won’t spoil for obvious reasons – that had us whimpering behind the sofa for a fair few minutes.
There are a few balance tweaks to speak of, too. As with the original game, you’ll need to replace your batteries in order to use the night vision functionality on your camera. However, these valuable resources appear to drain much faster than in the main game, meaning that the intensity of the experience is amplified. Granted, this does mean that you’ll spend more time scavenging for the valuable cylinders, which can be frustrating if you want to move on with the story.
It perhaps doesn’t help that you’ll be revisiting many of the same locales as Miles Upshur, even if this doesn’t feel quite as much of a rehash as it could. In a way, this is the main game in reverse, though there are some new areas to explore as well, which tend to segue in and out of the existing environments seamlessly.
Of course, the fact that this add-on is built from the same blueprints as the main game means that the load times when you transition between districts remains a real mood killer, even if there are fewer instances of this occurring. The visuals remain comparable, too, though the addition of some neat fog effects does add to the spooky vibe, especially when it reflects the light from your camera, adding a great sense of place to the whole affair.
The audio work is similarly atmospheric, though we did encounter some occasions where it was a little out of sync, particularly towards the beginning. This actually killed the impact of one particular scene for us, which is a bit of a shame. Still, we suspect that many will be thrilled of the respite, as this expansion really cranks up the already excessive gore. It can feel a bit much at times – we have strong stomachs, but even we found ourselves turning away on occasion – so whether or not you can handle it will depend on your tolerance for horror.
Outlast: Whistleblower doesn’t muck around with a formula that’s already proven to work, and it subsequently succeeds at extending the spooky atmosphere of Red Barrels’ survival horror release. The new campaign accompanies the original game well, and even improves upon it in many ways. It also ups the ante in the terror department, hitting harder and more frequently, without relying too heavily on jump scares. As such, if you liked the main game, this expansion is a real scream.