By Scott Ramage / October 7th, 2020
|Title||Outbreak: The New Nightmare
|Developer||Dead Drop Studios|
|Publisher||Dead Drop Studios|
|Release Date||August 27, 2020|
|Genre||Survival Horror, Shooter|
|Platform||PS4, Xbox One, Steam|
|Age Rating||M for Mature|
I’m pretty sure everyone who has ever aspired to make a video game has said or thought, “I want to make a game like Insert Game Here.” Usually this is a building block to a game developing its own identity. For the one-man indie developer Dead Drop Studios, it seems to be the guiding philosophy behind Outbreak: The New Nightmare, a survival horror game where the player must fend off and escape from monsters and undead hordes, either solo or locally with a friend. It is the second of five games in the Outbreak series, originally releasing in January of 2018 on Steam, but recently making its way to consoles. Never mind that 69 percent rating on Steam; how nice is this game really?
Outbreak: The New Nightmare follows the events of the first game, Outbreak, where a hospital served as the epicenter for a viral outbreak that turned people into zombies. Now, survivors are scrambling to find a safe place to hold out against the undead, descending on the Kraus Shipping Building. They go inside and find a bunch of dead bodies, some of which are still moving. As such, instead of holding out there, they need to escape. Why they can’t just go out the way they came in is never made clear. Storytelling as a whole isn’t much of a priority in this game, done primarily through dry text dumps before play starts or in documents and journals that serve more to drop hints and guide the player than establish any sort of lore.
In case it’s not already obvious enough, the inspiration for Outbreak: The New Nightmare is the Resident Evil series, specifically Resident Evil Outbreak. It’s a survival horror game with multiple playable characters, a two-player option, and different scenarios to play through. It’s also a game with nowhere near the amount of staff, resources, or technical knowledge behind it as Resident Evil Outbreak. In fact, the original Outbreak was a mix of survival horror and top-down shooting. Transitioning to a full-on 3D survival horror game in a similar style to Resident Evil Outbreak was only ever going to be a rough transition. The developer seems to realize this, judging by the text box pop-up asking for feedback, which also has dozens of empty rows of text beneath it. Even so, the list of things that need to be fixed, improved, or simply axed is a long and ponderous one.
The objective of Outbreak: The New Nightmare varies depending on the mode selected. Campaign mode sees the player wander around an environment, looking for keys or things that function like keys to escape the area. Onslaught is a horde mode where the goal is to take out as many zombies and monsters as possible before dying. Finally, Experiments mode is the same as Campaign, but has a couple more bosses to fight, a different position for its end level flag, and usually requires using multiple keys on the same door. Also, both the Experiments and Campaign modes end the same way: killing a boss and walking into a square or line of bright green lights to get not a cutscene, but the victory escape text, even if the level ends in a place with no clear exit.
The six selectable characters in Outbreak: The New Nightmare can have a significant impact on gameplay, as each has different strengths, weaknesses, and loadouts. Some are obvious references to characters in other games, like a soldier named Hank (Hunk) and a guy named Harry (Mason?) who has a pocket flashlight on his chest. It’s not actually on his character model, but there is light shooting out of his torso. No matter who gets selected, everyone has the same bizarre animations. Everyone has a strange swagger to their walk and runs like they’re desperately trying to find a bathroom before it’s too late. Everyone fires guns with absolutely no recoil, which is impressive considering the guns aren’t held, but magnetized to their open hands. Everyone also has the same awkward melee swing for every melee weapon, a swing which never seems like it hits anything and looks less like a swing and more like a dramatic point at the ground. I get the feeling some of the characters have face coverings not just because they’re appropriate for their jobs, but because it somewhat helps to hide how every character has the same blank stare on their faces the entire game.
It seems unfair to focus just on the characters since everything in Outbreak: The New Nightmare looks and runs like it’s unfinished. The environments tend to look like generic assets or structures with a texture or two missing. In some cases, this meant not being able to tell what was a door and what was a… uh… not a door. From certain angles, the fire looks more like magma shooting out Cheetos dust. Dead enemies rag doll like they’re suddenly in moon gravity. Even their shadows look wrong, as I’d encounter zombies with shadows that looked more like sea urchins than people. The crazy thing is that, even with how simple most of the visuals are, the game has near constant framerate problems, dropping into the teens at its worst. The levels where this doesn’t happen (as much) tend to have either very little light or a draw distance of about fifteen feet.
Far and away the worst aspect of Outbreak: The New Nightmare is simply being able to see. A few maps are incredibly dark, making it hard to see not just the world itself, but any items laying around. Granted, they do have faint auras around them to help stand out, but those tend to not help because of another major problem: the camera. There are fixed camera angles around every level that follow the player’s position, presumably because it’s similar to what Resident Evil Outbreak did. Here, the camera tends to be set way too low to the ground or way too far away from the player. Items end up being hidden by cabinets, desks, walls, and various other environmental pieces. Spotting some doors and hallways in the more open areas can feel like trying to read the bottom line of an eye test. Enemies regularly lunge in from off screen and around corners or blend into the background. The camera even struggles to keep the player in the shot at close range, unable to keep up with a running speed that’s barely faster than a leisurely jog.
Of course, none of this helps the gameplay of Outbreak: The New Nightmare, which can be best summed up by two “ky” words: clunky and janky. The game tries to make things playable, adding things like the ability to choose third-person or first-person movement controls, a button to automatically aim at the nearest enemy, hot buttons for certain weapons, being able to reload while moving, and a crude but somewhat effective map. However, there are simply too many things working against it. Movement can be done in third-person, but aiming is still done in first-person. When using third-person movement, the character usually ends up steering into a wall every time the camera changes; it didn’t work in Rule of Rose, and it doesn’t work here. The quick aim button usually doesn’t work if the monster is more than a dozen feet away. Melee combat, which is almost guaranteed considering how many bullets even common enemies take, is like watching a disco dancer size up a wacky undead waving inflatable tube man with how animations start, get interrupted, start again, stop, then end despite not starting again. Aside from not being able to tell sometimes when an attack lands, enemy attacks register even if they don’t appear to be attacking. I would just run past enemies, except they gradually built up in number and caused the framerate to tank. There were very few points where I didn’t feel like I was playing a late alpha version of the game instead of the finished product.
Therein lies the problem with Outbreak: The New Nightmare. It’s incomplete to the point it is both a chore to play and utterly lacking in anything resembling personality. Keys are simply given titles like plain, round, or angled. Characters don’t say anything, outside of a few making an apathetic “ah” sound when taking damage. Counting all zombies as one enemy, there are a total of three different enemy types: the zombie, what looks like a half-scale hunter from Resident Evil, and the Guardian, which is basically a taller zombie with no clothes and what looks like the head of a Khezu from the Monster Hunter games. All of these enemies attack the same way: walk or speed walk forward, stop, swing arm, repeat. If a level says you have to fight three bosses, it just means fighting three Guardians. All of this is complimented by a soundtrack that is either nonexistent, so quiet it doesn’t add anything, or not appropriate for what’s going on. Smooth jazz and what sounds like the theme of a 90’s crime drama TV show don’t exactly set the mood for a zombie apocalypse, in my opinion.
Having just finished playing Outbreak: The New Nightmare a couple days ago, it’s almost impressive how forgettable it was; I had to keep going back to the game to remember what I saw and experienced, even after going through every Campaign and Experiments mission, each of which lasted anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half. Sadly, this has the look and feel of an incomplete Steam game, and I had to triple check the price for this because I couldn’t believe that it really is $13 on PS4. Given the short amount of time between most releases in the Outbreak series, I can only recommend that the developer spend much, much more time on each entry. That way, maybe the next one will play better and the visuals might not only look better, but consist of way fewer reused assets that didn’t look so good in the first place. I realize this will fall on deaf ears since Outbreak: Lost Hope, the fourth game in the series, will likely be out on PS4 by the time this review goes up. Maybe (or should I say, hopefully) the later releases are better, because this is priced way above what it’s actually worth.
Review copy provided by publisher.
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