When players first launch Outbreak from Dead Drop Studios they are greeted with a little note straight from the developer explaining that the game is a labor of love from a lone creator. Once you access the game’s actual menu, it becomes glaringly obvious just how ambitious the title is. Players can choose from any of the game’s three modes: a five chapter campaign, eight different onslaught scenarios, or the three “nightmare” scenario vignettes. These scenarios can also be adjusted for difficulty, offering players “normal”, “hard” or “biohazard” mode. Each difficulty adjusts how many enemies are lurking in the dark and how plentiful the supplies necessary for survival are in the world.
Outbreak sets players down in a small, unnamed midwestern town that has become overrun with zombies following a mysterious outbreak in September of 2016. The chaos of the apocalypse occurring around them drives four survivors to barricade themselves in the town’s old hospital in hopes of making it through another day. These four characters, each complete with their own strengths and weaknesses, have found themselves in this situation purely by chance, but with the player’s help they can survive the never ending hordes and – depending on the difficulty the player chooses – possibly even uncover the truth behind what caused the apocalyptic outbreak in the first place.
Players that are fresh into the game will find themselves starting with next to nothing. Thankfully, weapons, health potions, and ammunition are readily available while on Normal difficulty. Picking these items up does require that the player have space in their character’s inventory. Most of the characters come equipped with a four slot inventory, but there are a couple that offer up the coveted six slot inventory. Items that are picked up must be equipped to be used, at the very least, with some also needing to be combined with other items before being useful. This rings true for ammunition, which must be combined with its corresponding weapon, and some health salves which can only be used once combined with another salve to make a stronger concoction.
Outbreak notably wants players to treat the game like a survival horror buffet, giving them the freedom to choose not only their game mode, difficulty, and playable character, but the controller layout that they’re most comfortable with, as well. Fans of the old school horror classics of the past such as the original Resident Evil games can opt to make Outbreak even more frustratingly difficult by setting up classic Tank controls. Thankfully, there is an option for more simplified action controls for people like myself who have an overwhelming aversion to the tank controls of yesteryear.
Despite the ability to swap to a more action based controller layout, Outbreak remains unforgiving in its movement mechanics. The characters are absurdly slow moving for people who are attempting to survive an apocalypse, even when holding X to sprint. Readying a weapon turns your character’s feet into cinder blocks, rendering them unable to move freely and dodge incoming attacks from the giant spiders and endless waves of the undead that are always just around the corner. Reloading a weapon also leaves your character defenseless. Should your weapon break, then your character is really up a creek without a paddle as you will need to open the inventory to equip another (if you have one, that is!). If this happens in a fight while on the harder difficulties your character is again left without any defense, as the game only pauses while in menus if you’re on Normal difficulty.
These additionally difficulties would be minor if Outbreak could be played cooperatively. In fact, its quite noticeable while in the game that it was intended for players to have a friend to cover them for reloading, healing, and weapon swaps. The steam version of Outbreak does actually feature online and local co-op, but for some reason online multiplayer functionality is completely missing in the Xbox version of the game. The absence of cooperative play is heartbreaking, both because the Outbreak’s AI bots are woefully useless and also because teaming up with friends to face the ruthless waves of enemies in Onslaught mode could have been a lot of fun.
In its current state, Outbreak is an ambitious throwback to the classic survival horror games of yesteryear, but its overreaching difficulty makes the game frustratingly inaccessible to more casual players even at its lowest settings.