Outbreak Video Game Review
Written by Ryan Noble
Released by Drop Dead Studios
Developed by Drop Dead Studios
Game released on 17th January 2017
Zombies have been done to death, quite literally, but when used well or in a different way it's easy to fall in love with the genre all over again; I'm looking at you, Train to Busan. That's why it makes complete sense for Drop Dead Studios to have taken inspiration from classics such as Resident Evil in the making of Outbreak, which released on Steam yesterday. Was it enough to invigorate the maggot-infested corpse of zombie horror? Not if you're alone.
Firstly, I need to address the re-animated elephant in the room. Outbreak takes a lot of inspiration from the classic Resident Evil games, to the point that it sometimes felt nicely nostalgic - which is what I assume Drop Dead was aiming for - and at others time felt slightly cheap, as if I were playing a direct copy. The title is spoken aloud, like with "Resident Evil", and the opening narrative is text that's laid across backgrounds of a city in ruins, too.
In addition, in-game sound effects are almost identical, as are the health-giving items of green, red, blue and purple salves, which can be combined to create medicines that have the same effects as those in the Resident Evil series. For example, green salve plus red salve equal full health. It is nice to immediately understand how to use these items, but it is a nostalgic understanding that is laid on a little too thick for a new game with a new price tag.
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That isn't to say, however, that I don't appreciate Outbreak's own nuances. For starters, it plays from a top-down perspective and does a good job of creating its own narrative through an extra area of content hidden in "Story". More of the story unlocks as you complete scenarios, giving you a reason to come back to this area. The game also sets a mood of unease as the environments are littered with the aftermath of blood and bones that one could expect to find at the beginning of an outbreak. Another way that Outbreak tries to carve its own path is with its focus on multiplayer. I was looking forward to taking on the hordes with up to three strangers, but unfortunately, as the game wasn't yet released at the time of writing, there was no-one else around. As I found out, this potentially changed my experience of the entire game.
I'm aiming to update this review with my final verdict after playing multiplayer, but at the time of writing, with only single player available to me, I'm finding Outbreak more frustrating than fun. With three other survivors watching my back while reading notes, sorting my inventory, healing, reloading, unlocking doors and so on, I can imagine that gameplay would be tense, but full of camaraderie. However, as promised by the game, the zombies just Never. Stop. Coming.
You can't escape their approach by pausing, or checking your inventory, and this makes performing actions alone somewhat irritating due to the fact that the zombies will almost certainly reach you before you can finish what you're doing. And, if, for example, you do manage to find and equip a handgun or knife in time, there is almost no knock-back to the undead. It takes about 4-5 handgun bullets to down a zombie - a person, at least - and within this time they are likely to reach you, grab you, and take a chunk out of your health. It's infuriating, and I never really felt like I could take down a zombie without taking damage unless I ran down a long corridor first. God help me if I encountered another hungry hostile in my escape from the first.
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Corridors are rarely wide enough for three people in a line, so when this happens it often means taking damage from both zombies while shooting one to escape. There is a handy barricade feature which can buy precious seconds for putting some distance between yourself and hostiles, though. This feature can't be relied on too heavily, however, as it has a 60-second cooldown period. As one of Outbreak's original additions, this is actually a good feature that could give a team the time to prepare for an oncoming horde.
Another area which also seems to require the efforts of a team is inventory management. As Mason, the group's mature cop - with the bonus of starting with a handgun and increased damage - I am only able to hold four items at a time despite the high number of items to be found in levels. While this seems like a clever tactic for communication and teamwork, playing alone makes inventory management almost impossible. Starting a level with only three slots spare, I'd quickly fill these with items like ammo, a knife, and green salve. This means that when I find a progression item, such as a keycard, I am unable to pick it up without dropping something crucial for my survival.
Not only this, which I appreciate could be a strict message of "take only what you need to survive", but there is no quick option to switch out one item for another. You must go into your inventory, select an item, and choose to drop it. At no point do the undead decide to leave you to your admin tasks, making this another sure-fire way to lose health. Once again, I feel like I was being punished for playing alone.
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Before I conclude, let me clear one thing up... Outbreak isn't a bad game. It borrows heavily from the Resident Evil franchise, adds a few ideas of its own, and controller support works well for gameplay itself. The game was also developed by only one person. That's impressive. However, it is clearly a game that has been built around surviving the apocalypse with other people, and, at the point of writing, the end of the world is a lonely place.
There often isn't time to down a zombie before it grabs you, read notes dotted around the world, or manage your small inventory in order to survive and progress, and this will be a source of frustration for the single player. I will be playing again a few days after launch in the hope that multiplayer provides the experience I was hoping for, but if you're planning on riding solo through the apocalypse, I can't currently recommend Outbreak. However, if you have a few friends waiting to team up, provide cover, and pick up additional items within the chaos, there's potential for fun. You'll just have to step around my lonely, isolated corpse.
Outbreak is available now on Steam for £10.99, and has launched at a 30% discount of £7.69 until January 24th.