It’s probably fair to say that to get any real enjoyment out of survival horror games, you probably need a very specific taste, or a keen love, for all things horror related. Fortunately for me both of those things apply, so when I heard there was a new game arriving that would bring zombies, infection, and survival horror, I was immediately ready to jump in.
The survival horror genre has actually been a favourite of mine for a long time. After playing through Resident Evil at a much earlier age than I probably should have, I immediately fell in love with it and indeed all other zombie related things. To this day the Resident Evil franchise sits as my favourite game series ever released.
With that in mind, the latest horror game should by all logic be a game that plays into all of my interests. That game being Outbreak: The New Nightmare and the story of a viral infection that has turned the populace into flesh eating zombies.
The main reason Outbreak: The New Nightmare should probably be appealing is due to the fact that it is pretty much a homage to the classic Resident Evil games of 20 years ago. But whilst it’s always nice to see games arrive that share ideas with some of the greatest games of years gone by, Outbreak: The New Nightmare takes things above and beyond simply borrowing a few ideas or sharing the odd similarity here and there. It instead comes across as more of a copy and paste effort of everything that made Resident Evil what it was all those years ago… minus all of the polish.
From the opening screen that bellows ‘Outbreak’ in classic ‘Resi’ fashion, to the first steps into one of the 16 levels that are split across the three game modes available in the form of scenarios, everything about Outbreak: The New Nightmare looks like an exact mix of what you could expect to find with Resident Evil: Outbreak and Resident Evil 2.
Before we get into the finer details of the gameplay, the story and the many issues that popped up and proved persistent throughout though, it’s well worth noting that developer Drop Dead Studios does suggest players who decide to play Outbreak: The New Nightmare do so on an Xbox One X. Although with no Xbox One X specific enhanced update available for the game, and so few current Xbox One owners playing on an Xbox One X, it’s hard to see why the game would be released if it wasn’t equally stable across all consoles within the Xbox One family. As it happens, my playthrough was played on an Xbox One X.
For those not aware, Outbreak: The New Nightmare is actually the second game in the series and acts as a direct follow-on to the events of the first game. This time round players dive into the middle of the action as the infection that has had everyone turning into mutilated remains continues to spread rapidly across the city. Government services having fallen to the nightmare and nothing but the last legs of humanity are still left alive. Players are left to scavenge for any useful supplies that they can use to escape the hellish undead.
Choosing which mode to play in will of course be the first thing to worry about and there are Campaign, Onslaught, and Experiments modes all present to provide some decent options.
Campaign is the first of the three and contains within it six levels, including the tutorial, to play through as you work towards escaping the quarantine zone in place. Onslaught on the other hand offers something very different, and allows you to take on five different missions with the task of scrounging around for supplies and surviving for as long as possible against endless hordes of the undead. Experiments is then the final option which gives players something different still. Here players can take on yet another five missions, all of which are different again to those of the other modes, just this time subject to a more unique scenario. For example, instead of simply trying to escape the location in the first of the Experiment missions, Blackout, players are required to deal with… well… a blackout. The lights are off and other than a small flashlight, the only other thing to light the hallways are the flames of the fires burning in different areas. This means you have to watch a little closer for enemies lurking in the shadows – not that there are any actual shadows present in the game.
Whilst the missions available may bring their fair share of variety to the table, the gameplay within Outbreak: The New Nightmare is a far cry from being much to shout about.
After getting past the excessively long loading times that accompany each mission start, the first thing that stands out are the dated visuals. With Outbreak: The New Nightmare arriving in the Xbox One era, you wouldn’t expect it to look closer to an original Xbox release rather than an Xbox One game. Of course, the visuals aren’t everything when it comes to a game, but when each environment looks no better than those we saw 20 years ago, you have to question why there wasn’t more time spent on making things stand out a little more.
After pressing on though, things only got worse. As I mentioned before, Outbreak: The New Nightmare is quite obviously a copied attempt at the early Resident Evil series, and the gameplay is just another fine example of this. Poorly implemented tank controls feel uncomfortably unresponsive, and horrible movement mechanics feel more suited to Roblox than any respectable survival horror. The fixed camera angles can make locating items and navigating areas extremely difficult, whilst even the inventory management screen that comes complete with a health status bar, a heart rate animation and limited item slots, ensures that very little in Outbreak: The New Nightmare feels original or new. That causes it to suffer from the lack of any true identity.
One thing that was notably new, was the percentage bar at the top of the screen that lets players know how much progress they have made through the level. Whilst there isn’t really much use for it other than to see how close you are to the end, at least it’s one new idea that hasn’t been ripped out of one of gaming’s most successful series.
Another thing that becomes quite apparent is just how awkwardly difficult things can be. Without any powerful weaponry such as a shotgun, it doesn’t take long for a mob of zombies to surround you and bring your health down rather quickly. Items aren’t anywhere near as scarce as they should be for a game that forces inventory management, or even a game in the survival horror genre, but a lot of the items feel excessively underpowered should you gather a bit of a zombie following throughout a level. For example, pistol ammo isn’t exactly terribly difficult to come across, but it can take five or six bullets before you even down the first zombie. When each bullet pickup contains little more than that, and the action for collecting new items takes far longer than it should, it becomes obvious that things aren’t going to go down well.
A big part of the problem causing this is down to just how unresponsive the controls are. As someone who plays a lot of survival horror games and a lot of shooters, I was quickly able to point to the delay in the actions of my button presses as the reason I’d died on several occasions.
One feature that is a pleasing introduction however is the skill system. There are six characters to choose from within the game – each with their own unique traits and differences. These can be levelled up by gaining XP from things such as killing zombies, and each comes with their own unique skills that can be unlocked via skill points. Most of these are nothing more than simply starting with a specific weapon rather than the characters’ usual weapon, or a percentage increase to specific things such as poison immunity, melee damage or damage resistance.
It is nice to see something a little different. The skill system is hardly new to the genre, and whilst it gives each character a different feel, the awkward and clunky controls make things too difficult to really appreciate any of their differences.
Something that is quite surprising with the Xbox One version of Outbreak: The New Nightmare, is the one difference from the Steam version of the game – the lack of co-op multiplayer. Outbreak on Steam can be played in two-player, however the Xbox One version is strictly a solo experience… something which is highly disappointing given that it was already in place before Outbreak’s arrival on console.
What really kills Outbreak: The New Nightmare is the generally unpolished feel of the whole game. It must be said that the developer clearly has his heart in the right place by trying to revive the classic style of survival horror in this way, but it takes more than copying a classic to make that happen. With a game feeling terribly unpolished in almost every area, you can only sit back and wonder what could have been if Outbreak had been given more time.