Outlast quickly became an internet sensation before it was ever released to the public. One could barely peek into the internet without seeing scads of videos of unfortunate players screaming, crying, and even leaving rooms as a result of playing the game. I was a little hesitant myself to try the original release since hype rarely lives up to the… well…. hype. Luckily, I enjoyed my time with the game. It was every bit as scary as advertised and the mechanics built around the scares were also solid throughout. Developer Red Barrels knew they had something good and now only a few months later we have our first taste of DLC in the form of Whistleblower.
Players of the original will remember that journalist Miles Upshur was drawn to the nefarious doings in Mount Massive asylum thanks to an email from an employee tipping him off. In Whistleblower you play as that employee, Waylon Park. The story is a prequel, but only really takes place a few hours before the events of the original title. It’s a clever avenue that the game takes as it keeps the original Outlast completely in mind and relevant, making you feel as if you’re playing a part in the events that you already know will eventually take place. The story in Outlast, while largely explained, was a tad convoluted and some further exposition could have tightened things up, which is what Whistleblower attempts to do. Whether it is completely successful in this attempt is a bit spotty as a few things become clearer while other things stay in the dark, both literally and figuratively. As it is however, Whistleblower is a tight, decently told prequel story that makes the events of the original game a little more coherent, if not entirely so.
On the gameplay side Red Barrels took the classic “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach. The mechanics are nigh religiously faithful to the original game for good or ill. There really is not one thing you’ll be doing in this game that you didn’t do in the original. There’s lots of searching creepy halls, running from psychos, hiding in and under things, climbing into vents; it’s all here and hasn’t changed a bit. You even collect files to flesh out the story and scribble notes on a notepad when you witness certain events. On the one hand the familiarity is a good thing as you can jump right into the game without any need to acclimate yourself to the controls. It all still works exactly as it did the first time and although the familiarity is good for immediate immersion, I often felt as if I was just playing the same game again. Since the protagonists in both games are pretty much silent, it’s hard to differentiate between them if you’re not paying attention. Again it felt as though I was playing the same game and had I not known about the different character, I probably would have failed to notice. Even the video camera makes a return. In the original, it made complete sense why you had a video camera with you; Miles was a journalist investigating a story. Waylon however is not and the coincidence that he finds an identical video camera that just happens to be in the room with him, is almost too much of a stretch. That being said, even though I felt much of the game was a retread, it still works exactly how it should and is a pleasure to play.
What about the scares you ask? Well, don’t worry, Whistleblower has you covered in this department. As this is a quicker, leaner slice of a game the scares and tension come at you hard and fast right out of the gate. You really will not have time to catch your breath from one sequence to the other. The developers were obviously intent on making sure that every minute of your time with this game would be spent with the upmost tension. Everything that was scary about the original is back and cranked up to the next level. I thought at first that exploring the same environment would strip the game of some of the terror, but not so. Every hallway, room, and underground sector is simply dripping with foreboding and dread. I never once wanted to walk through a door into a darkened room, but I also didn’t want to stand in the blood soaked hallways either. Red Barrels did a fantastic job of extracting every ounce of tension out of the environments that they could.
The psychos you’re hiding from are also just as terrifying, some even more so. There’s one crazy cannibal that pursues you through most of the game with a small electrical saw and hearing its high pitch metallic squeal echoing through the empty halls of the asylum will send sweat down your back every time. Other antagonists show up as well, each one as disturbing as the last. There are even a few cameos from the original game that fans will enjoy (or not) running into.
The only downside to the unrelenting terror is that Whistleblower often finds itself journeying into areas that may seem too graphic. I’m not sure if perhaps the developers thought that they needed to up the ante for the second outing or not, but there are several scenes and images in this game that are, frankly, hard to stomach. Absolutely nothing is held back in terms of visuals, sound, or sickening plot developments and sometimes it felt as if the envelope was being pushed simply because it could be. Your tolerance for what takes place will vary greatly depending on what kind of gamer you are and while much of the goings-on did make me feel uncomfortable, they did not ruin my experience with the game.
There are also a few technical hiccups that pop up occasionally. The game is a pretty polished experience, but some little details show that a bit more development time would have been useful. Frame rate keeps up admirably and the graphics are still nice and smooth, but there were a few other things I noticed. At one point a manic was supposed to be brandishing a knife at me, but his character model failed to load and all that was on screen was a floating knife and his disembodied voice. There are also some textures that don’t quite mesh with the environment around it and some shadows are noticeably absent, the most prominent being boxes or other things you are standing on, which gives the comical illusion that Waylon is walking in mid air. Again, the technical issues are not game-breaking, but they are noticeable.
On the whole, Whistleblower is more of the same and depending on who you are, that can either be a good or bad thing. I would have enjoyed a bit more variety but it’s hard to argue that when the gameplay is so solid. The important thing, however, is that Whistleblower keeps the scares coming at a break-neck speed and if that is the criteria by which you judge this game, then it succeeds emphatically.
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