Risk your life and your sanity to expose the horrors of an insane asylum.
PC Release: May 6, 2014
By Ian Coppock
It’s finally here! That damn review I kept promising to write like a good blogger, but kept pushing off like an asshole. Who here thinks it’s been too long since I reviewed a horror game? (Raises both hands).
And, of course, if you missed the title card, this review brings us back to the universe of the scariest game I’ve ever played, and one of my favorite horror games: Outlast. Whistleblower is a DLC that was crafted and released not long after the main game. We’re about to return to the Mount Massive Insane Asylum, which is a facility not unlike the one Red Barrels should be incarcerated in for genius, if truly terrifying, horror-craft.
Outlast: Whistleblower is a piece of DLC content featuring a new story and characters, set in the same remote asylum that journalist Miles Upshur investigates in Outlast. This time, your character is Waylon Park, a freelance software engineer under contract by the insidious Murkoff Corporation. Disgusted by the company’s brutal experiments on the asylum’s patients, Waylon decides to send the anonymous tell-all email that begins the events of Outlast, making you the eponymous whistleblower.
Unfortunately, Waylon’s cutthroat superiors are unimpressed with his handiwork.
Not long after sending off the email, Waylon is administered an “anesthetic” by a sadistic guard’s boot, and “volunteers” for the same horrifying experiments being performed on the asylum’s mutated inmates. Lucky for Waylon, the monsters break free and shut off the power before he can be turned into one of them. But, they now have free run of the place. I’m not so sure conditions have improved.
From there, Waylon’s only goal is to get the hell out of hell, and he’s got his work cut out for him. Mount Massive’s mutated inmates start running amok, murdering their tormentors and destroying the facility they so hate. As Waylon, armed only with the video camera used to record his torture, you have to sneak past roving psychopaths and malfunctioning security systems in order to survive. If you can escape, the whole world will know of Murkoff’s shady experiments.
Waylon is a silent witness to some pretty heavy shit. Just like in the main game, your only means of survival are to run and hide. In some ways, Outsmart would’ve been a more suitable title for this series, as you’ll be doing just that against the monsters. You know, whenever they’re not busy drowning scientists in toilets, bashing guards’ heads in with bricks, or forcing orderlies to eat their own colons.
Whistleblower‘s gameplay is identical to Outlast, and I was a bit disappointed by that. I was hoping that, as a computer engineer, I would be able to, I dunno, hack some systems or rewire some lights. Any sort of deviation from the beaten, bloodied path we’ve already seen in the main game. The software engineer component of the narrative isn’t played up at any point except the very beginning. I do, however, appreciate that Waylon quietly closes doors instead of just slamming them like Miles Upshur does, but that’s more for my own sanity than any discernible impact on gameplay.
As Waylon, you are unarmed against the monsters running the madhouse. To that end, Whistleblower is loaded with places to hide, but you’ll only spot them all if you’re either clever or hopped up on adrenaline. In lukewarm contrast to Outlast’s hub-centric level design, Whistleblower felt much more linear. There was only one area, a maze-like series of corridors, that contained any of the same back-and-forth found in the main game. The DLC is essentially a sequence of cordoned-off areas in which you deal with a few threats before moving on.
That same design philosophy applies to the special one-of-a-kind monsters and inmates you’ll find in Whistleblower. One of the design elements that made Outlast so scary was that you didn’t face enemies in a series of linear encounters. Rather, they ducked in and out of the game’s storyline at random intervals, so you never truly knew when the threat was over, until the game was over. In Whistleblower, you encounter a handful of especially dangerous inmates, but it’s a one-and-done-style set of encounters. This made Whistleblower more predictable, and less terrifying.
Despite a setback in its level design, Whistleblower makes some noteworthy additions to Outlast’s grim art. Waylon spends a good chunk of the DLC on the Asylum’s grounds, looking for an exit, and the entire area is enshrouded in dense fog. Every so often you’ll see a pale light softly glowing in the distance, but far more often you’ll hear footsteps in the grass, or see shapes sprinting toward you from the other side of a rickety fence.
The asylum’s interiors look pretty much the same as the main game. You even have a few small run-ins with major antagonists from the main game, who cross paths with you having just chased or about to chase after Miles. You don’t cross paths with the ill-fated investigate journalist himself, but you can visit areas before and after his passage.
Despite its drawbacks, though, Whistleblower is the most horrific piece of Outlast content out there because of its insidious main antagonist, a creature nicknamed “the Groom”. Encountered later on in the game, the Groom is out for your blood personally, and sets you on a terrifying chase through a dungeon dressed up as a bridal shop.
The Groom, who has assumed the personality of a chauvinistic bachelor from the 1950s, is the scariest monster I’ve ever encountered in a horror game, and regular readers will know that I’ve seen my fair share. You’ll be hiding in a locker, terrified for your life, only to here cheerful whistling and creepy tunes about marriage from decades long gone.
Mostly because of this character, Whistleblower contains the most graphic torture and violence scenes I’ve also ever seen, and they haunted me for a bit after playing this game. The Groom has a gruesome agenda for the inmates who fall into his trap, and let me tell you… just made sure you have a strong gut before embarking upon this adventure. You will also find yourself driven, by morbid curiousity, to explore the Groom’s fascinating character. Just like in my review of Arkham City, I love games that present all sorts of strange characters.
The interesting thing about Whistleblower is that its worst horror doesn’t stem from running and hiding, but the unwilling comprehension of torture. Sights and sounds in this game are arranged with a precision that chills me to the core. I’m not just talking about blood smeared on a wall and then getting chased by a monster; I’m talking about seeing others suffer in a means planned for you, and you have no choice but to sit there and watch.
The reason why this is important is because Red Barrels has found a way to make psychological horror just as scary as survival horror. The two are distinct entities, and the former is often hamstrung by the fact that you’re playing a game, and the hallucination being experienced by Oswald Mandus or Alan Wake or whomever poses no literal threat. But, seeing a glimpse of a horrific fate that you’re about to experience is much more brutal, and brings the psychological horror to hit home as hard as the actual running and hiding. I was impressed by Red Barrels’ innovation. Scarred, but impressed.
To sum up, despite sabotaging some of its own level design and offering no new gameplay, Whistleblower introduces a new character that takes the Outlast universe for a plunge. A fascinating, horrifying, dangerous character that is both captivating and repulsive. Whistleblower‘s overarching plot deals mostly with eluding these threats, but the DLC actually ends after the main game, and offers some closure that Outlast‘s abrupt cut to black might have missed. It’s an adrenaline-pumping adventure clocking in at about 4-5 hours of gameplay, and a worthy story that should help tide you over until Outlast 2 comes out.
Just remember to breathe through your ass.
You can buy Outlast: Whistleblower here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.