Special thanks to Wolfman for helping with edits.
Content Warning: Outlast is graphic, as are some of the images of it I’m using in this article.
I previously visited Mount Massive Asylum to deliver a scoop regarding its most infamous inmate, Chris Walker. However, he wasn’t the only Variant there who caught my eye. So, in the spirit of October, we’re leaving one spook to examine another.
Dr. Richard Trager is the asylum’s self-appointed surgeon, a position he passionately pursues to learn about human biology. Outlast’s launch trailer closed by introducing Trager, and he later played a role in promoting the title’s Xbox One release by providing narration. Within Outlast itself, however, players encounter Dr. Trager in its fourth chapter, “Male Ward.”
Dr. Richard Trager’s History
Miles Upshur found himself cornered by a pack of enraged Variants in his quest to escape the asylum. A man then spoke to the desperate reporter over the intercom, asking, “You’re not one of them, are you?” Trager sends down the room’s dumbwaiter, urging Miles to jump in to escape. Miles complies and soon meets Dr. Trager, who applauds him for making “the right choice.” The boney, blood-stained figure then beats his “buddy,” stopping just short of knocking Miles unconscious. Trager recognizes Miles as “that little shit priest’s guy” and straps him in a wheelchair, wheeling him to his facility within the ward. Along the way, Trager pauses before an exit to “ask” the incapacitated photographer if he wants to leave.
After walking past Trager’s victims, they arrive in his makeshift operating room. Trager primes Miles for his procedure, chatting about how society’s moved past antiquated religious perspectives into a more “concrete faith” revolving around money. Grabbing his bone shears, he cuts off two of Miles’ fingers before leaving the room. Miles, as inexplicably durable as ever, breaks free from his restraints, spending his next fifteen or so minutes hiding and fleeing from Trager before escaping via the elevator. However, Trager jumps aboard, and the two struggle. Miles manages to push Trager out as the elevator starts moving again, but Trager attempts one last lunge. This, however, traps his torso inside the elevator, crushing his body and killing him.
The Outlast: Whistleblower DLC campaign expanded upon the base game’s events, showing us that Murkoff’s Tactical Division removed Trager’s corpse by the time its protagonist visited the male ward. Trager’s history and role within the asylum, however, is explored through Outlast’s collectible in-game documents and notes as well as the Outlast: The Murkoff Account comics. Unsurprisingly, Trager was a menacing, disturbed individual long before he was subjected to Murkoff’s amoral experiments.
So, what’re my thoughts on Trager?
Outlast’s three most interesting antagonists are Walker, the Walrider, and Dr. Trager. Although Trager’s peers had the luxury of bearing a haunting presence throughout the game, the unlicensed surgeon only had one chapter to himself. And, thankfully, Red Barrels made it count.
While I had a great time with Outlast, I must confess that didn’t come from its formulaic gameplay. Outlast is designed around making you physically defenseless, requiring you to alternate between running and hiding from your aggressors to progress. It was an effective way to maintain tension, yes, but the repetition grew tiring by the game’s midway point.
That midway point is, incidentally, about when the chipper sawbones is brought in. Jump scares were one technique Outlast readily utilized to unsettle players, but the slower, more intimate pace of Trager’s introduction made for a far greater impact. Some of this can be accredited to how he simultaneously taunted both Miles and myself, positioning us tantalizingly close to freedom. While Valve’s Half-Life 2, for one example, periodically limited the player’s movements outside of camera controls nine years prior to Outlast, Red Barrels utilized this technique to a chilling effect. Outlast’s scripted scenes often wrestled control away from the player, but Miles’ head could still be moved while restrained by Trager, reinforcing how powerless we were throughout the ordeal. And although we knew the disoriented Miles had to survive his mutilation, it was nevertheless Outlast’s most powerful moment, a sequence I still vividly remember.
Somewhat reminiscent of the Joker, Trager’s ostensibly friendly quips were a thin mask for his psychotic tendencies. It was an act that benefited immensely from Alex Ivanovicir’s performance, which earned him a nomination in the 2015 ACTRA Awards’ “Outstanding Performance in a Videogame” category. While the quack lacked a memorable verbal tic akin to Mark Hamill’s laughter, both antagonists had distinctive, entertaining voices that elevated their jovial facades. And in contrast to Walker’s fragmented speech and the mute Walrider, Trager’s vocal chords were another tool in his arsenal; he spoke fluently and even came across as charismatic while doing so. When compounded with how high functioning his mental prowess was among the Variants, one could argue Trager was the asylum’s most dangerous inmate.
Miles’ stay at Mount Massive Asylum was detrimental to his mental wellbeing, but Outlast’s presentation did disappointingly little to communicate his gradual descent into madness. Trager’s impact on Miles, however, was the major exception; it left Miles with two bloody stumps on his hands, a permanent visual reminder of Miles’ life-altering nightmare.
Congratulations, Rich! Your death was one of Miles’ few victories.
I hope you all had a happy Halloween! I’m stockpiling some banana-flavored treats to keep me sustained as I write my next piece, something that’s been on my idea list since 2014. I actually almost covered her last year, but I felt I needed to cover someone else first.