The phrase "Variant" is a derogatory term frequently used by Murkoff personnel which denotes to patients' heavily disfigured and mutilated appearances due to a number of failed experiments that were conducted on them. This term was first used by Stephenson within the first game, when Miles encountered him on the brink of death.
Variants are the results of the exposure of patients from the Mount Massive Asylum to the Morphogenic Engine created by former Nazi scientist Dr. Rudolf Wernicke. The after-effects of the therapy altered their mind and provoked physical deformities. The outcomes of those after-effects can't be determined, thus giving to those afflicted the name of Variants.
Most of the Variants have pale skin and mutilations, likely having to do with the experiments they were once exposed to. They differ in ways, while some are thin and weak, others are massive and brutally strong, such as Chris Walker, who is a commonly seen Variant in the first game. Their clothing ranges from standard psychiatric attire to ripped and torn shorts. The Twins, however, are naked. There are some Variants that are more aware of their surroundings, an example being the Variant in the Sewer who questions whether Wernicke is deceased, and the Pyromaniac Variant in the cafeteria in the Male Ward who explains that he would rather die than stay in the asylum, and points Miles towards the exit. There are also Variants who are not permanently hostile and attack only if the player moves into close proximity, Variants who assist or hinder the player with cryptic hints or stories, and Variants who ignore the player completely.
For the most part, the humanity of some of the Variants seems to have left them at some stage during their torture, turning into sadistic, cruel and ruthless pursuers. Others tend to become terrified (e.g. hiding under beds; crawling away after attacking), others seem prone to self-harm (e.g. one banging his head into a wall in different places), and a few that are slightly helpful. Some Variants seem to be followers of Father Martin.
Among their abilities is their physical strength and stamina; being able to smash doors, pull out organs, destroy reinforced glass and chase after victims. Even though most of them act in unexpected ways, many are capable of high reasoning, proven when they execute plans such as tracking down Miles' hiding spots and listening for sound. Some of them even set up ambushes- such Variants include Richard Trager and The Twins, who opt to open and close doors rather than bashing them down like other variants such as Chris Walker.
- Blindfolded Variant
The blindfolded variant is a non-hostile variant that's first encountered in the Prison Block. He is blindfolded and gagged by bandages and bound in a straitjacket, rendering him incapable of physical assault, and will simply follow Miles as he wanders around a cell block. He will often comment on how Miles looks 'silky' and complains about an itch, among other disjointed phrases.
A variant in the Hospital appears with a similar blindfold and gag and speaks the same dialogue.
- Brain-damaged Variant
The brain-damaged variant is among the first variants encountered in the Prison Block. He is non-hostile and will neglect Miles' presence, proceeding to wander towards walls in the cell ward and repeatedly slamming his forehead against it, leaving bloodstains on the surface. He often complains about hearing voices and a lack of sleep, while claiming that 'they're in his blood and want to get out'.
A variant appears in the Hospital that performs similar actions upon a pair of doors.
- Trager's Hostage
A variant, formerly a Murkoff executive, is encountered in the Male Ward, following the scene where Trager removes Miles' fingers and leaves him in the restrooms. When approached, the patient will awaken and explain himself, before calling for Trager and prompting Miles to hide. Upon entering, Trager and the hostage converse before Trager quickly murders him with a pair of gutter shears.
- Father Martin's Messenger
A variant appears briefly during the Return to the Administration Block. When Miles meets him, he'll reveal that Father Martin had sent him and instructs Miles to find a key in the Theater room.
- Pianist Variant
During the Return to the Administration Block, a piano can be heard by Miles in a distant section of the building. As Miles continues, the music will slowly grow louder, until he passes through a corridor and passed a boarded up door. The music will abruptly stop and the pianist will approach the door, shaking his head in disapproval before wandering out of view.
The song the pianist plays is featured in the official Outlast soundtrack as: Someone Playing Piano.
- Main article: The Variants/Dialogues
- Main article: The Variants/Gallery
- The idea of having to roam the asylum and encounter varied patients was done with intention to make the situation unpredictable for the player, as they wouldn't be aware of which Variant would attempt to harm them.
- Throughout the game, Variants will frequently foreshadow numerous events to come and a number of game's elements, such as Trager and his torture methods, the Walrider and nanites, etc.
- Although most variants are somewhat physically altered, there are some that have no physical changes at all, such as the The Twins.
- Many Variants pay no attention to their surroundings, while some have extensive knowledge of what's happening. Many Variants that are conscious of their actions make the active choice to cause harm to Miles and others.
- Some Variants around the asylum seem to fear Chris Walker. This is hinted at the beginning of the game when Miles approaches the security room a Variant can be heard mumbling about how Walker is just going to find and kill them all.
- The lack of female variants is due to the Morphogenic Engine causing potentially fatal half-term pregnancies in women, thereby requiring male test subjects. This is stated in one of the documents.
- In the Prison Block, a Variant can be seen engaging in Necrophilia.
- In the Underground Lab, a Variant can be seen standing in a bloody hallway staring at Billy's pod.
- Judging by their actions and the events of Outlast, it seems that most (if not all) variants are part of an asylum riot where it is every man for himself with very little to no groups helping each other survive. Father Martin organized a cult, using the church as a safe house to protect the less dangerous patients from those who were more dangerous.
- By the definition of the word, William Hope isn't a Variant, as the experiments conducted on him were successful as he came to be the Walrider.