Outlast: Whistleblower – Final Review

As an expansion, Outlast: Whistleblower presents nothing which is novel or innovative, its gameplay an exact replication of that found in the base game. Still, its existence is justified, as it serves a strong world-building purpose, enriching the narrative of Outlast, with all its subtle complexities. Its main ambition is to explain how precisely the protagonist of the first game, Miles Upshur, was alerted to the horrors transpiring in Mount Massive Asylum, though further plot threads are also explored as the narrative progresses. Despite these manifold threads, the narrative displays no ambition. Miles has been displaced by a new protagonist – Parker, a gifted programmer working for the Murkoff Corporation. In theory, this shift in protagonist would be of immense significance. But in practice, this shift is fairly inconsequential. Parker is largely devoid of personality, almost totally mute, existing as a mere set of arms and legs, faceless, seemingly unthinking, unfeeling, though in a very clever maneuver, he does exhibit some emotion, employing a readable journal to remark on the terrors around him, in desperate search for reassurance, displaying his vulnerabilities and human weakness in the act of writing.   

Some added character depth is present when considering the danger Parker thrusts himself to in the act of alerting and contacting Miles; while a seemingly gifted programmer, Murkoff is staffed by programmers and scientists of even greater skill, suggesting that Parker’s reaching out would inevitably be detected – and punished. And yet, still he emails Miles, determined to bring about a cessation of torment for Mount Massive’s mentally ill, exploited patients, now less human than monster, owing to Murkoff’s exploitation. Parker, then, is a very brave figure, seemingly possessive of empathy, selflessness – he may never speak, but his actions certainly convey that fact, bolster his inherent likability. The documents he pens, too, are of a highly personal nature, many of them addressed to his beloved wife and supporter, his love for her shining through always, his text frantic but impassioned, affectionate; she becomes his bulwark as he navigates the construction, strong certainly, but not strong enough to endure single handedly. The nature of these documents makes Parker seem human in a manner that Miles was not, human though inexplicably shallow, even as collectively he should be a profound character.       

After Parker’s prompt detection, he is greeted with the severest punishment, Murkoff showing no appreciation for services rendered, treating him as a criminal, or a figure of insanity, who must be bound and broken, his punishment perhaps meant to dissuade further resistance in the future – he is being made an example of, Murkoff then showing their characteristic lacking of humanity, of regard for emotional well-being, long having lost notions of what is right, what is wrong. The Corporation’s villainous nature is communicated far more effectively here than in the base game, the organization in its totality better developed. Here is a group which has become totally desensitized, employing violence unhesitatingly, their experiments perpetually dark, only growing darker. Parker is restrained, and is then subjected to hypnotic therapy, the latest scientific endeavor then being researched. Here is the framework – a kind, feeling, honest man, still maintaining accurate notions of right and wrong, seeks to destroy (or at least expose) a corporation vile. While Murkoff is portrayed excellently here, the succinctness with which this narrative can be described suggests a complete lack of ambition or depth. 

Marking a major break from the base game are the various environments explored. In Outlast, the atmosphere and architecture are decidedly asylum-like, as should be the case, with padded cells and mundane recreation areas, alongside more exotic, dark locales like large, elaborate prison complexes. A cohesive vision is present, an excellent evocation of place achieved, with ample if subtle differentiation from place to place. This expansion, however, rarely resembles an actual asylum, an early explorable environment being a sprawling laboratory, walls lined with protective substances to ward off the gaseous air, constantly being emitted and reemitted, noxious, deadly, and ubiquitous. The atmosphere evoked here is successful, largely because of its contrasting nature relative to the base game. Here is the beating heart, where the severest, darkest of experiments transpire, the laboratory’s very existence suggesting bleakness, communicating also the largeness of the asylum proper, as this location is totally detached from those all too familiar padded cells and ominous corridors. This contrast results in a maintenance of the joys of exploration – freshness is preserved, a new sort of frightfulness emerging. In the base game, the scribblings on the wall, the seemingly mindless asylum inhabitants, all point to a certain tragedy, a tragedy which is also evoked here, though it is more distressing, the experimental constructions and apparatus, the madness, having a certain tangibility. While more conventional asylum-like environments are eventually explored, diversity overall is lacking.  

The expansion’s narrative suffers somewhat from the lack of any central antagonist, the opposition instead stemming from the Corporation broadly, suggesting a certain abstraction; were Parker alternately sparring and fleeing from an actual villainous figure, a certain groundedness or humanity would be achieved, a sense of urgency; here instead is a lack of focus. True, many minor antagonists are present, though their motivations are never made clear – they exist as antagonists because fiction needs antagonists. But despite the lack of knowledge surrounding them, their presence remains impactful, owing to characteristically excellent visual design. For much of the early game, Parker is harassed by a deranged fellow wielding a dramatically oversized power drill; with his emaciation and mattered hair, he cuts a figure of darkness. Knowing his backstory, his motivations, his fears, would only heighten intrigue and player investment, which is otherwise destroyed by rampant vagueness, which directly results in an underdevelopment of character. But his violent, hurried groaning, the constant rev of his drill, growing louder, ever louder as he approaches, does result in consistent dread, anxiety. Additional minor antagonists are introduced in efforts to inject some complexity, such as one figure who displays an obsession with pregnancy, the female body, though he also suffers from vagueness.    

Nothing innovative characterizes gameplay, divided sharply between moments of quiet exploration and moments of considerable intensity, as when one of those minor antagonists spawns to pursue and harass Parker, necessitating a certain fleeing, owing to Parker’s absence of power. As with the base game, the moments of tranquil exploration are far preferable to the various chase sequences which are dispersed throughout the narrative, evoking tension but also frustration. Observing the environments, drinking in the excellent environmental storytelling, piecing together the warped history of the place, admiring the immense attention to detail – these remain excellent moments. As with Miles, Parker is completely dependent upon a camera for survival; many of the environments being bathed in total darkness, it follows the camera’s night vision feature is an absolute necessity if progress is to be achieved. And so it is employed. The device still runs on batteries, which generally have a rapid depletion rate. These batteries exist in finite supply, though they are dispersed generously; never was a complete lack of these batteries, insurers of continued existence. Given the ample quantity of these resources, the game deliberately breaks from the norms of the survival horror genre, resulting in a rather unique identity, though here uniqueness does not equate with success. Some of this easiness may stem from the difficulty level. While playing on hard mode, a pair of difficulty settings exist above this level, and would seemingly alter the gameplay considerably, though the allure for such challenges seems lacking, offered for only the most hardcore of players. Furthering the game’s forgiving nature, health regenerates automatically; med kits need not be tracked down, cutting down greatly on resource management. Even the puzzle solving, already basic in Outlast, is here even more basic and less frequent, seeing the acquisition of a key, the stopping of gas flow.    

Many other traits from the base game are here transferred over. A commanding sense of immersion is present, the game never departing from the first-person perspective, heightening tension and anxiety, while this immersiveness is only bolstered by the unintrusive nature of the HUD, almost totally clean. The compelling locomotion mechanics are also transplanted, facilitating strengths while fleeing, and permitting basic platforming, fairly rare though still enjoyable, owing to the excellent animation quality. Set piece moments are also abundant, many of them centered around the various chase sequences or the destruction of environmental objects while in use, as with the crumbling away of a fragile ladder. One early set piece moments sees Parker thrust into a chamber located in a crematoria. Trapped therein, the fire source activated, death seems an inevitability, conveying a sense of urgency; act fast and move fast or Parker shall be burned alive. Manifold jump scares are also present, though they never lose their impactfulness, cheap though some of them are. The greatest failing of Whistleblower, then, is its excessive similarity to the base game – here is no ambition, no novelty. Certainly, the narrative contributions are welcome, as are the refreshing atmospheres, the shifting of protagonists. Lasting a scant three or four hours, the investment of time is short. And while the expansion may be characterized by unoriginality, the experience overall is as terrifying and distressing as ever.     

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