Outbreak Bleeds Nostalgic Survival Horror

Survival horror video games crept into popularity in the early 90s with titles like Sweet Home and Alone in the Dark. Combining gameplay mechanics that amplified feelings of isolation and vulnerability with dark, atmospheric overtones, these games spawned franchises that were quickly adopted as fan favorites and cult classics. Dead Drop StudiosOutbreak is an homage to survival horror games, borrowing especially from the Playstation era. That’s both a good and bad thing. Outbreak is a wonderful concept hindered by quirks that constrict the nostalgia, souring the authentic sense of panic and dread into a limited experience.

Rally friends or roll solo to accomplish missions and survive hordes of zombies for what plays as if it were a rogue-like version of the original Resident Evil. Outbreak presents a story, but it’s overshadowed by the gameplay. The narrative plays out how you’d expect a story with zombies would play out. Assume the role of one of four characters, all of whom have advantages and disadvantages aimed to cater different kinds of players. For instance, for a slight advantage in solving the puzzles, Alendra comes equipped with a basic keycard. However, she’s more susceptible to damage, forcing you to be more tactful and defensive. Mason is equipped with a gun, but you can’t drop it for other items.

There’s a fine line between a game being challenging and being frustrating. Outbreak is downright hard, even for seasoned gamers. Where it wants to create claustrophobia, it strips the player of real estate, and I often found myself getting stuck along walls as my character moved along a swivel. Making 180 turns balks your player, and automatic reloads prompt a brief pause that will leave your character vulnerable for a moment.

Supplies are perhaps too scarce, even in Normal difficulty, leaving you to run for your life as zombies spawn and accumulate on your trail. There’s hardly even temporary sanctuary: once you’re cornered in a room, it’s nearly impossible to survive, let alone solve puzzles. Outbreak allows for single-player, but it’s designed for multiplayer co-op. Seriously, it’s dangerous to go alone.

The control scheme is reminiscent of Resident Evil, which is disappointing, especially in a 2D top-down perspective. It takes some getting used to. Also reminiscent of Resident Evil are the menus. Many actions are done through the menu, much like other survival horror games of the past. However, the menu is problematic as opening them does not pause the action in the game. You’ll have to make quick decisions with the action still happening around you. If you’re being chased by a group of zombies and you run out of bullets and need to switch to another weapon, you might get eaten by the time you equip the new weapon.

The map, like the other menus, does not pause the action. Also, there’s no way to pan to see other parts of the map. A small section takes up a large portion of the screen, giving you a limited view of the levels.

Outbreak doesn’t lend you a hand at all. When you’ve spent over half of an hour on a level with no checkpoints, it feels unfair that you’ll have to start all over again because you couldn’t get through the menu. A 40-minute session that ends before you finish the scenario is completely for naught. You don’t retain key items, weapons, ammo, or health items. Prepare to invest time in learning missions into memory. Completing a level calls for trial and error. Outbreak can be rewarding, but it takes a lot of practice. Prepare for plenty of punishment.

Series like Silent Hill, Resident Evil, and Fatal Frame hold a special place in my heart, and the concept of Outbreak could appeal to gamers who are painfully nostalgic for that era of survival horror. A multiplayer game in that realm is a refreshing contribution to the current generation, capitalizing on the style and what made the games memorable. Scary moments, psychologically unnerving storytelling, and tense gameplay action are what made those games classics. Outbreak’s attempt to re-imagine those feelings in a 2D environment with 16-bit aesthetics is inspiring but falls a bit short in its delivery. Quirky controls, minimalist combat, and a cumbersome menu leave room for improvement in an otherwise promising concept.

2 stars out of 5