This is a review for Outlast's "Whistleblower" DLC, it contains spoilers for the main campaign and DLC.
As the developer of a horror game, where do you go after brutally chopping off your main character's appendages? After chasing your protagonist down hallways dripping with blood and locking him up with hordes of mutilated, homicidal maniacs, what's your next step?
Obviously, the only logical move is forced gender reassignment surgery performed by a man in a tuxedo. Clearly, you need a man masturbating over a pile of mutilated corpses. Of course, someone must chase the protagonist down with a buzzing bonesaw. Obviously.
The Groom – he's the one with a violent obsession for turning a male patient into his loving wife – isn't even the weirdest part of Outlast's "Whistleblower" DLC. Everything in Whistleblower is turned up to 11 – the blood, the twisting layout of the building, the number of bodies hanging from the rafters, the nudity and the sexual exploits of the patients of Mount Massive Asylum.
Whistleblower begins directly before Outlast takes off, and it ends right after the final scenes of the main game. It, too, takes place inside of Mount Massive Asylum, just as its patients start to overrun the facility, some of them cowering in corners and others roaming the halls with bonesaws, out for blood. Mount Massive goes downhill quickly.
You play as Waylon Park, a software engineer at Mount Massive. He's the man who writes that fateful letter to Outlast's protagonist, the one decrying the inhumane conditions at the asylum and calling for an investigation. The one that got you killed.
"The Man Who Wrote The Letter" could have been Waylon's entire character, but developer Red Barrels doesn't stop his development there – Waylon has a wife, Lisa, and a child. You discover these facts in documents littered around the asylum, and in the notes Waylon writes to Lisa as he films his journey. You know Lisa has a capable, fiery personality, even though you never actually meet her. It's beautifully done.
The writing in Whistleblower is similarly powerful throughout: Smooth dialogue makes one of the leaders of the asylum, a clean-cut man in a nice suit, just as menacing as the naked, blood-smeared murderers at Mount Massive. Waylon ends up with a night-vision-enabled video camera in a completely believable, seamlessly integrated moment (yes, the hunt for batteries is still on).
Each inmate has his own personality – like the guy who explodes his lover's head in a microwave and then eats his intestines while muttering about how "wet" he is – but The Groom is the most established enemy, and his story is delicately, slowly told in overheard conversations as you creep through the attic above his workshop. His section has a distinct BioShock vibe, complete with old-timey music, but the gore and terror level make his story unique to the Outlast universe.
Whistleblower is still DLC, though, and it does show in a few ways. There is a smattering of little bugs – it's easy to get stuck against a wall or door while an enemy hits you, pauses, and then hits you again, until you die. In these situations, it's impossible to outmaneuver your assailant and get away, and it's frustrating. If you die at the right (wrong?) moment in a few areas, you'll spawn directly in front of the monster you're supposed to be hiding from, and he'll immediately attack you. There were some serious framerate issues during one segment, lasting for 30 seconds or so.
And there are some inconsistencies. In one moment, you're lying naked on a table, and the next you're running away, dressed again. At one point, you develop a severe limp and it stays with you for the remainder of the game, but you're still able to jump down from vents and ledges without a problem. These things don't break Whistleblower, but they're tiny, jarring tics that can briefly shatter suspension of disbelief. Not to worry, though – there's usually a giant, menacing goon waiting to disembowel you right around the next corner, and he'll ensure that you forget about these bugs in a pounding heartbeat.
Entering Whistleblower with experience in Outlast is a double-edged sword. It will be clear to veteran players when a hide-and-chase scene is imminent, but that seems to only pepper the terror with anticipation. Your blood will start pumping when you run into a narrow hallway with an overturned bed frame or a desk blocking your path, and you'll know that when all hope seems lost, it's best to look up.
But hope is always lost at Mount Massive Asylum. We learned this in Outlast, and Whistleblower continues the trend, right up until the end. Whistleblower is exquisitely integrated into the main Outlast storyline, while still telling its own tale. The only way to recover your humanity, and your hope, is to escape the asylum.
Just like last time.
This review is based on a Steam download of Outlast's "Whistleblower" DLC, provided by Red Barrels. Images: Red Barrels.
Note: Joystiq does not provide star ratings for downloadable content reviews with the understanding that the quality of the core game's experience is unchanged from the original release; See our Outlast review.