If there’s one genre where I feel truly at home, then I’d say it’s survival horror. It may not have dated very well, with such mechanics as the fixed camera and tank controls having to be transitioned out before being accepted by modern audiences, but I couldn’t care less. Sure, I love games such as SIGNALIS that manage to make that old genre feel new again, but I’m equally as happy slipping into something like Tormented Souls that thrives on the archaic.
I feel like it’s important to clarify my love for the genre beforehand, to make it clear that when I dislike a survival horror game, then it really has to do something wrong. And I absolutely despise this game.
Many thanks to Dead Drop Studios for the review code.
Outbreak: Contagious Memories is the seventh entry in the Outbreak series on the Switch, which is quite impressive considering that it’s coming from just a single person. Whilst they’re all survival horror games at heart, each game seems to have its own gimmick to set itself apart; this entry seems to be fairly traditional, but includes the option to Switch between first person, fixed camera, and an over the shoulder perspective. Having not played previous entries in the series, it’s hard to say if this is completely new, but it certainly appears to be the case. It’s certainly is a very welcome feature to have, especially as I’m sure that many players will have their own preference as to which they prefer. Whilst I would have opted for a fixed camera approach, I found that the first person worked the best in this game due to it giving me a slight advantage against some of the (many) issues that I encountered.
The game puts you in the shoes of Lydia, who has to attempt to escape a zombie ridden city. A standard set-up for a survival horror game, perhaps, but the game wears its influences on its sleeve. The game includes a classic Resident Evil inventory system, health system, notes scattered around, and even puzzles reminiscent of the earlier titles in Capcom’s series. The developer clearly has a lot of love for those classics, even if it can come off as being a little too derivative at times due to how on-the nose it tends to be.
One thing the game does very well is that it offers you an overwhelming set of options on startup, allowing you to tweak the game as you see fit. There are performance settings, FOV sliders, and even modifiers that can make the game easier or more difficult – although unfortunately the latter require points earned through unknown means in order to activate. The one thing is does lack is the ability to customise controls, which is a shame as the default control scheme isn’t exactly the best. Selecting items in the game does not select them in the inventory screen, and selecting objects in the inventory doesn’t equip or use them. It’s all rather clunky and takes a while to adjust to; and even then you’ll often find yourself pressing the wrong button whilst in a panic. Even simple things like moving feels really awkward, and something as straightforward as turning around and running away is a bit of a hassle.
The graphics and audio are very basic, with many looking like they’ve been ripped straight from an asset pack without much thought as to whether they fit in the environment. They’re mostly functional for the most part, but look incredibly plain and cheap given the high price point. This is amplified even more by a complete lack of animation for most things, with characters standing with their arms out stiff to their sides – no movement or anything. Heck, even the main character lacks many animations: turning valves, or even just pushing things have zero attempt at animation, and it makes the game look extremely unpolished. Sure, the game was made by one guy, but this is the seventh game in the series and costs €29.99 to buy. As for the voice acting, it’s stilted and terrible – which is to be expected from the genre – but rather than coming off as campy or badly acted, it just seems like the actors just don’t give a crap. The whole presentation doesn’t seem ‘budget’ like many of the classics of yore, it just seems cheap.
It’s the gameplay that suffers the most, however due to a variety of annoying reasons; ammo, whilst seeming plentiful, is very easy to run out of since creatures are absolute bullet sponges requiring at least half a dozen or so shots to take down – with headshots making absolutely zero difference, because of course they don’t in this game. It’s a little frustrating when you’re using the first person camera to get perfect headshots, only for you to just run out of bullets anyway. Normally in a survival horror game, you’d opt to run past enemies to save on ammo, but the problem is that the game is full of tight corridors and your character’s hitbox is so obnoxiously large that sliding past a foe is near on impossible. Oh, and did I mention that there’s also a random poison chance and your character dies incredibly quickly. If this all sounds tedious, then that’s because it absolutely is.
The puzzles fare a little bit better, even if most are of the nonsensical variety. Obtuse door codes and cranes operated by ridiculously-designed machinery are all present here, and they do give off that classic survival horror vibe – but even these aren’t enough to outweigh the annoyance of the irritating and clunky combat system. To make matters worse, the game has an old-school typewriter save system, meaning that you’ll be saving sparingly and having to redo large sections of the game again. Normally it’s par for the course with the genre, but when it feels like the game’s fault rather than your own it can prove pretty frustrating.
Whilst the clear references to classic survival horror games may entice fans of the genre, I’d advise that you look elsewhere. The time I spent with the game was nothing but an exercise in patience and frustration. Sure, some of the old-school puzzles aren’t so bad, but literally everything else is a mess. This may be the worst game I’ve played on the Switch, and I have played a lot of shit.