Last year, indie developer and publisher Red Barrels debuted Outlast, a tense and gripping first-person horror experience about a journalist’s investigation and attempted escape from the fictional Mount Massive Asylum. Despite a disappointing conclusion that drowns in genre tropes, the game represented one of the best, most intense, and immersive gameplay experiences of the entire year, and the new downloadable episode Whistleblower continues that tradition.
Whistleblower begins before Outlast, following the worker who instigates the investigation before he himself is imprisoned in the gothic sanitarium. As the events of Outlast unfold, he frees himself and attempts escapes, aided only with a night-vision video camera identical to the journalist’s. This gives the gameplay an effective found-footage aesthetic, as the player is frequently dropped into pitch-black areas that are only partially illuminated by the camera’s blurry night vision, adding to the tense atmosphere and effectively allowing one to star in their own gruesome found-footage horror film.
While the graphic and sound design are both stunning, Red Barrels does stumble with the game’s narrative: The second that Outlast’s derivative lore becomes a known quantity is the second the game stops being scary. Fortunately, Whistleblower could exist outside of the main storyline, and keeping its events ambiguous and unexplained might even be preferred. The characters introduced within are genuinely horrifying and memorable; the highlight is a twisted character referred to as the Groom, whose ghastly genital-mutilating antics have to be seen to be believed.
Across the episode, Outlast’s combat-free action, wherein fleeing and hiding from enemies is the only way to survive, remains effective, but only to a point. Repeating these sequences shows how simplistic the enemy artificial intelligence is, making the inmates easy to avoid and breaking the immersion. After some time the chase sequences more annoying than frightening, and the unusual overreliance on verticality to escape never feels natural. Fortunately, the sense of discovery and exploration never lets up across Whistleblower, and the new areas of the asylum have plenty to offer, especially in terms of images one will wish they’d never seen. For Outlast fans and horror aficionados alike, a return to the demented halls of Mount Massive is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Outlast: Whistleblower is now available from Red Barrels. To purchase it, click here.