Outbreak (PC Review)
An homage to the Resident Evil franchise, Outbreak is an all out tribute to survival horror and its tropes. Changing fixed camera angles for a more widespread bird’s eye view whilst adhering to a low res quality of visuals that a lot of indie games go with these days.
Dead Drop Studios simple top down survival horror pits you against waves after waves of enemies, meshing combat and puzzle solving the same way Resident Evil did back in the mid 1990’s. Outbreak focuses more on creating a fast paced romp than a steady and sturdy survival horror experience, whipping out the survival knife and slicing the tension in two.
Outbreak takes place over a course of 5 stages, including the tutorial, with a bonus 4 survival stages to keep your bloodlust appeased. Stages are of a simple format, locking areas of the map via keycards or simple barricades. The player must negotiate the tight corridors of each stage, picking up keycards, weapons, and reading character journals that create the backstory for each scenario.
Outbreak’s synopsis is essentially taken straight from Capcom’s Resident Evil: Outbreak series; funnily enough. A group of ragtag survivors of a deadly infectious outbreak find themselves at a dead end and must work together to get out of the mess they’re in, each character having attributes that vary from the rest. Mason the “Leon Kennedy/Kevin Ryman” based character is a veteran cop and the only character to start with a firearm and Alendra the “Alissa Ashcroft” based character that can unlock doors with her trusty lockpick. Every aspect of Outbreak takes reference from the titular Resident Evil franchise, even one of the handgun’s is called “Kunai” in reference to Resi’s “Samurai Edge”.
The whole focus on associating the material of Outbreak with Resident Evil is what drew me to Dead Drop Studios’ title. Hoping for a relatively insulating experience with Outbreak, a familiar style of gameplay and setting approached from a fresh and unique perspective. My expectations were high and as I waited for the shoe to drop it seemed to come crashing through the floor and rendered me unconscious.
Outbreak’s promise of survival horror and cooperative gameplay was shattered within 5 minutes of the first real level. Hordes of enemies scrambled towards me from every door and every corner, leaving no time to catch my breath let alone a break. With no pause function, I needed to be quick and decisive in everything action. Inventory management, item usage, journal reading, and even changing the in-game settings is a task you can’t afford to take time with. All of which is affordable in modern survival horror entries that alleviate the tension and give the player time to think. Outbreak’s lack of pacing conforms it more to the action/adventure genre than survival horror. Firing forward and never standing still as if trying to break a speed run world record, perhaps this is a deliberate design so Dead Drop Studios could add replay value. There is, however, an upside to seemingly frustrating mechanics, the lack of a pause function and general pace of Outbreak will have you practising and perfecting new routes that are satisfying in their discovery and execution.
The online co-op is Outbreaks biggest selling point and most likely the correct way Outbreak should be played. The online co-op is identical to the single player portion of Outbreak; roaming around corridors looking for keys and ammo whilst your pals have your back, taking the much needed aggro from the zombie horde. Unfortunately, there was a total 3 people online (including myself) worldwide, so my time online was limited. My teammates and I wandered aimlessly trying to find our objective and ultimately dying as we ran out of resources or our weapons breaking with no sense of camaraderie due to limited items. The lack of items often resulted in a fastest fingers first mentality and very few players would leave much for the rest of the team, which more often or not resulted in a game over; forcing players to abandon the game or others to nail down a perfect run of the level.
Regardless of going it solo or with a pack friends, Outbreak’s relentless onslaught of zombies plays against the strengths of the survival horror genre. Players need time to take in what they’ve seen, to problem solve and manage their inventory, to strategize and plan ahead. Not being able to read journal entries -some of which contain valuable information- because zombies are bursting out the tapestry just doesn’t mesh with the what Outbreak requires from the player.
Outbreak’s outward appearance of a survival horror game is inadvertently inaccurate. The traditional tropes are there, but the conventional style of gameplay that we associate with survival horror has been tampered with. Outbreak requires you to build your “perfect run” strategy for each level rather than taking it slow and steady. This isn’t what I expected, and isn’t all that bad, but delivers a completely different style of gameplay than initial impressions would have you believe.