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 encounters 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.
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.
As Miles turns on the first gas pump in the Administration Block's basement, a nearby hostile Variant—being alerted to his presence via the sound of the generator's engine—breaks into the engine room through the door leading to the main breaker and begins combing the area for the intruder. Once Miles restores power to the building and escapes through a large opening in the wall, the Variant will cease his pursuit.
While traversing Male Ward's infirmary, Miles drops from an air duct into a closed off room and encounters a tortured security guard tied to a chair who wails hysterically upon seeing him, which alerts three other nearby Variants. After a lengthy chase, Miles is cornered into a storage room, but manages to escape his pursuers via a dumbwaiter sent to him by Richard Trager, who ends up luring him into a trap.
Outlast: The Murkoff Account
Following the incident at Mount Massive, Murkoff's Tactical Division were tasked with re-securing the asylum and were given permission to shoot on sight. Paul Marion referred to the incident as being "100% fatal", leaving it possible that the Variants, that initially survived the havoc brought upon the complex by themselves or the Walrider, might have met their end at the hands of Murkoff's PMCs.
Most of the Variants have pale skin and mutilations, likely having to do with the experiments they were once exposed to. All of the Variants have been malformed to an extreme degree, with many of them being covered in crude surgical scars, lacking hands, eyes, and even genitals. Their body shapes range from thin and frail, to massive and brutally strong, such as Chris Walker, who is a commonly seen Variant.
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. However, some Variants were shown not to possess these attributes, since Upshur fought off and overpowered a considerable number of them at several points. 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.
- Basement Variant
The basement Variant is the second and final hostile Variant that Miles encounters in the Administration Block. Once Miles turns on the first gas pump, the Variant will make his presence known by breaking through the adjacent room's door and begin searching for the reporter in order to kill him. Whenever Miles triggers the second gas pump or the main breaker, the Variant will be alerted to his current location. After resetting the generator, Miles escapes from the basement through a large opening in the wall, leaving the Variant behind.
On occasion, when losing track of Miles, the Variant will nonchalantly consider him to be "Just another ghost" that "went up to heaven." Additionally, he often dismisses strange sights and sounds as specters. This suggests that seeing ghosts is a regularity for this patient and that he is schizophrenic.
- Blindfolded Variant
The blindfolded Variant is a non-hostile Variant that is 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.
- Father Martin's messenger
- Head trauma Variant
The head trauma 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" (the nanites) are in his blood and want to "get out."
A Variant appears in the Hospital that performs similar actions upon a pair of doors.
- Irritable Variant
The irritable Variant appears in a security room in the Prison Block. He is encountered mercilessly beating a security guard to death with his own nightstick, shouting hysterically and demanding absolute silence. After the death of his victim, he relaxes and becomes docile. The Variant is not antagonistic towards Miles if he enters the room, but will become hostile if Miles makes any sudden movements, such as running.
- Male Ward pursuers
The Male Ward group are a trio of Variants that are encountered at the beginning of the Male Ward chapter. Miles happens upon several Variants within the infirmary, all harmless, but in varying states of distress. Miles soon discovers a tortured security guard in a chair who wails hysterically, alerting the group of his presence. After a lengthy chase, Miles enters a dumbwaiter sent by Richard Trager to retrieve him.
The leader of the group is a sadistic butcher who often makes several remarks about victims he has tortured in the past. He bears a macabre sense of humor, once sarcastically remarking a small injury he received after torturing a victim. The second Variant working alongside him is constantly ranting about his money and taxes. The third Variant babbles incoherently about the Walrider.
- Necrophilic Variants
In Prison Block, after escaping the first room through a large crack in the wall and crawling through an opening in the floor, Miles encounters a Variant molesting a corpse. The Variant is startled by Miles' presence and states that he was not "invited to this." He then criticizes Miles because he "likes to watch" and declares him to be sick.
In Drying Ground, when Waylon enters the basement to turn off the generator that powers a nearby electric fence, he passes by a non-hostile Variant who is pleasuring himself over a pile of dead bodies in one of the locked off rooms. Upon exiting the basement, the power is suddenly turned back on, leading Waylon to double back and investigate. He passes by the same hallway and notices that the Variant from before is now gone. After turning the power off once more, the aforementioned Variant ambushes Waylon and gives chase. Once Waylon passes through the fence's gate and enters the ground floor, the hostile Variant will cease his pursuit.
- 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.
- Trager's hostage
The hostage, a former Murkoff executive-turned Variant, is encountered in the Male Ward, following the scene where Richard Trager removes Miles' fingers and leaves him in the restrooms. When approached, he will awaken and explain himself, before calling for Trager, forcing Miles to hide. Upon entering, Trager and the hostage converse before Trager quickly murders him by thrusting a pair of gutter shears through the man's chest.
An unused audio log of Trager interacting with the hostage suggests that the man's initial name was going to be Langin.
- Wheelchair Variant
The wheelchair Variant is only encountered on the first floor of the Administration Block. He is eyeless, at first appears to be wheelchair-bound, and is in nothing but a pair of scrub trousers. While at first ignoring him, he will attack Miles his second lap through his corridor by pouncing on him and hysterically begging for help, screaming "The doctor is dead!" Miles kicks him off and the Variant shrivels up in the corner.
The soundtrack that plays during his encounter is titled "Wheel Chair Dude."
- 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 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 as stated in the Gender Selection in Mount Massive Contractors document.
- The Variant in the Administration Block's basement refers to Miles as "Putty Tat," which is a reference to Tweety, a prominent character from the animated comedy show Looney Tunes.
- 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.
- The Murkoff Account Issue #3, Page 5