[NOTE: As has become usual, I will be revealing SPOILERS for the main game and skirting near DLC SPOILERS for this review. Viewer discretion advised.]
[NOTE #2: My previous review of Outlast (main game) can be found in the comments section (Links have this weird habit of becoming broken unless under strict conditions) ]
When Outlast took the gaming horror community, and streaming scene, by storm back in 2013 it was a given that more content was on the way. Developer Red Barrels dared to circumvent horror-game tropes of the time—a la Resident Evil's action-oriented turn—and passed with flying colors. Whistleblower does something similarly daring: making DLC content that's better than the main game. Though it's more of a building-upon expansion versus something new, Whistleblower succeeds in paring down the messier elements of the base game along with answering worthwhile story questions.
This expansion pulls double-duty as being a prequel whilst eventually becoming an epilogue of the main game. Return to Mount Massive Asylum as protagonist Waylon Park. For players of the original game, you'll recognize Park is the software engineer who leaked the unethical goings-on to Miles Upshur for him to investigate. As players should also know, the crazies are running the asylum and now Park must navigate his way through.
The toughest narrative task accomplished with aplomb is how contained the transpiring events are when viewed from a distance. Seeing the final area of the main game through Park's eyes starts everything off in a familiar place. But his story is carefully intertwined with the main game as time goes on: bumping into The Mad Doctor’s still-warm corpse, The Twins, and indomitable Chris Walker make appearance. Considering how prequels have a habit of turning out--particularly with horror prequels, there's this odd demand for needless exposition that does little else but justify something which didn't need answering. Whistleblower's narrative KNOWS of those dangers and only sets up what's important before highlighting the action of eluding crazies for your life.
This isn't to say this expansion is bereft of background details. There's still confidential documents to collect as before too; at the same time, most are suitably placed and continue fleshing out the dynamics and people across Mount Massive. The main story had a lot to chew through, thus leaving a wide variety of topics to explore. Whistleblower does a better job at staying focused on new details and not straying too far.
Although several locations are familiar, some of the new inhabitants you'll meet are among Outlast's best yet. The obligatory antagonist, Jeremy Blaire, is simple but also effective when given the spotlight. The first new variant is a bonafide cannibal, which gives new context to the chase. But the real star of the show would have to be one known only as "The Groom." I don't want to divulge all of the secrets behind him and his motivations for capturing but suffice to say...I find him to be the best one the Outlast universe has had to offer yet. From beginning to end of his arc, Red Barrels did a great job in respect to pacing, dialogue, motivation, the whole nine yards. It's because of that I find him to be better than the previous champ, Dr. Trager.
Beyond the tough balancing act, Whistleblower succeeds at making the storyline and setting feel whole. I’m not against revisiting the setting under new circumstances, but this expansion made me feel like it was enough in a way Outlast failed. That's especially the case when it comes to rectifying the main game's ending; of course, one can point fingers at the main game for not rounding itself off as well as the DLC's expansion. It's another one of those Fallout 3/Mass Effect 3/etc. denouement debacles. For me? I don't think it's as flagrant a case, but still worth noting. This expansion get away easier with me by retroactively balancing itself as a supplementary story running alongside the main plot instead of feeling like a blatant "fix" where even developers ask for forgiveness (conveniently behind a paywall). In any case, I feel it's more appropriate to parse the lion’s share of blame at the main title instead.
Whistleblower's story succeeds at being a frightening balance-act, in more than just its scares. The tightrope of handling as both a prequel & tandem-story, further fleshing out this world, and more make it among the best qualities here.
As expected when following Outlast's design, visuals are another aspect worth decorating. And it should be worth noting just how accomplished Red Barrels was from a technical perspective. What they did on even moderate settings excelled past some early-8th-gen games. Titles such as Dead Rising 3 & Knack come to mind in $60 examples that disappointed almost-unilaterally for me, whether it be art style and/or technical skill. But the singular nuance that's sold this series comes back to one thing: the camcorder's night-vision mode. The bright-lit eyes and lens filter have become iconic at this point, and once again have a great use here.
Beyond the series staples, the new locales all feel functionally sound and well-designed. The Groom's lair is wonderfully reminiscent of a mannequin-filled haunted house. And it's weird to phrase it as such but I feel like the best way of them handling gore is "confident." Sure, the material replicates b-movie horror tropes of old; however, the implementation of those bloody moments is sold whole-heartedly and sensibly considered in such crazy circumstances. There’s something to be said of a game this violent and, pardon the pun, ‘mental’ having full-frontal nudity and not flaunting such as low-brow shock for attention. That’s an…odd quality to highlight, I know. But I stress this point because such an easy sight-gag ties back into certain background themes, namely emasculation.
Sound hovers close to the same quality as Outlast. The only new stand-out in voice acting would be The Groom; others hit their mark as being standard to me. Soundtrack seems to just borrow from the main game as far as I could tell, but one that still compliments the new environs—especially the antiseptic areas. Sound editing/mixing remains as pulsing and nerve-racking as in the main game as well. While relying less on the slow-burning atmosphere of Outlast’s beginning, that grating tension between hushed sneaking, the trudging echo of an enemy’s boots being all you hear, and strident EXPLOSIONS of music during chases is still harrowing as ever.
The key thing to remember: there is no combat in Outlast. As Park, you need to weave around enemies using the environment: lockers, under beds, through confined spaces, etc. Sometimes the only means of evasion is sprinting away from enemies and slamming doors to break line of sight.
The only item granted to Park is a night-vision-enabled camcorder exactly like that of Upshur's own. The feedback loop of balancing the draining battery and discovering new ones returns, though with a bit more balancing. Even on normal difficulty, Whistleblower tosses them out at an infrequent rate which works for the game's tone. I recall Outlast’s default difficulty feeling a tad too generous in this respect.
While the lack of new implementations with standard mechanics does make it short of something like TLOU Left Behind’s quality, it's the overarching level design and enemy encounters that feel more intense as a result. Although I liked Walker as a constant threat, it did get incredibly repetitive to only see him over and over again. Not only is he just the same character 'conveniently' popping up, it sells him as an imbecile considering how often you hide in a locker he just didn't happen to open several times. There's also a more honed-in understanding of maintaining momentum here. Paring down the "flip these switches" objectives (though still here) in favor of just finding a key or centralizing focus on the important variants.
Overall, Whistleblower does an excellent job of an expansion that feels tightly-focused but never constrained. It contains some of the most shocking moments of the series yet, the repetitive nature of the main title has been appropriately pared down, and it answers more about this world and the fates of important characters. While I still find it just shy of being an exemplary expansion, I'm left with an incredible sensation of wanting to see more and more of this franchise whilst being satisfied with the aggregate outcomes of Mount Massive.
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