Every now and then games pop up on the Xbox Store that are touted as an “homage” or a “love letter” to a popular game from the past. The latest is the work of a single developer, who goes under the name of Dead Drop Studios. The game that is being referenced is the original Resident Evil. Or any kind of 90’s survival horror game really, but to me the atmosphere and design just scream RE. So, the question is, with such seminal source material to take aim at, can Outbreak: Contagious Memories hold a candle to the original or should we play that instead? Come with me to a zombie outbreak…
Now, the first thing to say are that the usual story tropes are all in place with Outbreak: Contagious Memories; this could well have a story from the 90’s. We are Lydia, a young woman who was knocked unconscious in the zombie attack, and as we come to, we hear two people discussing what to do with us. The male voice wants to abandon us, while the female voice wants to wait for us to wake up. So, once we wake up, we walk outside the room and chat to the lady in question, who asks us to go and look for the man who wanted to leave us to be eaten. You can imagine my heart was really in the search. The rest of the story is pretty much a mish mash of the games that inspired this title, and boils down to only one thing: can you survive the horror…
Now, there are good and bad things about the presentation of Outbreak: Contagious Memories, as you’d expect. Let’s start with the positives, glass half full and all that, and one of the nice touches is the choice of camera angles. At any time, the viewpoint of the game can be changed from first person, to Resident Evil style fixed camera, to a full 3D system where the camera can be controlled. This works very well, and choosing the correct view that makes sense to you is a nicer touch. Of course, this means that you have the best view of the action, and the visuals themselves. With the best will in the world though, the visuals are not very good. The character models look like mannequins, moving in a stilted and jerky way, Lydia walks like she has had a horrific skiing accident and hasn’t been put back together properly, and the zombies are the stuff of nightmares, but not in a scary sense.
If anything, the voice overs are even worse, with some of the worst acting I have ever heard committed to a game. You’ve heard the phrase phoning the lines in? Well, this is like the phone in question is just a couple of tin cans linked with string. I thought nothing could be worse than the original Resident Evil and “Hope this isn’t… Chris’s blood!” from Barry, but this dialogue is in a world of its own. There is a disclaimer at the start of the game that invites us to enjoy the cheese, but there is so much of the dairy based foodstuff here that I’m in danger of choking.
There are plenty of games out there that have faces only a mother could love, so this needn’t be the kiss of death, as long as the gameplay is up to scratch. Well, in what seems to be a continuing theme, there are both good and bad bits to this as well. The actual exploring, the looking around and solving – of very simple – problems is actually quite good fun and pretty tense; at least once you get used to the “interesting” control method, anyway. Finding notes to give clues, discovering typewriters to save your progress, and above all else, looking for ammo to go in the various weapons you find (there is a knife option, but you might as well use a feather duster) can be quite atmospheric. The same goes for the groans and breathing sounds from zombies off-screen. Of course, once you come across a zombie, you need to fight it, and it’s here that the wheels part company with the vehicle and disappear over the edge of a cliff on their own.
Meeting a zombie and aiming at it with a handgun seems pretty straightforward, and sometimes, a single well placed shot will down a creature in one hit. More likely, you’ll be blazing away and the zombie will still wander up, give you a slap, and send you back to the last typewriter you visited. Add to this Lydia’s inability to aim a gun and move, and seeming inability to hit the side of a bus from three feet away, and the limited supplies of bullets evaporate like dew on a hot morning. It’s actually worse with the shotgun, believe it or not. Remember how in Resi games the shotgun was the best weapon for zombies, hitting them in the head was a one-shot kill? Well, not here. All in all, Outbreak: Contagious Memories just feels janky and unfinished in the combat area.
Other issues? Well, moving through narrow spaces is surprisingly hard. For instance, in the second area we have to find a shotgun, which involves walking up some stairs, retrieving said weapon, and walking back down. Except Lydia fails to cooperate and walk down the stairs. Even switching to first person view doesn’t help. Thankfully, you’ll probably find that she suddenly clips through the floor and ends up where you want her to be.
It must be said that the lighting effects are way off too; Lydia’s torch is brighter than the sun, and there are some seriously weird flashes that pop up on the screen. It’s hard to recommend Contagious Memories when you take into account the visual aspect.
The only redeeming feature is the ability to play couch co-op with a friend, which at least means you aren’t suffering alone. Of course, whether they remain your friend after putting them through this experience will be a good test of your relationship.
In conclusion, Outbreak: Contagious Memories is a love letter to a game that will be stamped “return to sender”. It takes the memory of great games from the past and drops on them from a great height. If you are one of those people who likes a film the worse it is, you may get some fun out of this title, but for the rest of us there are many better games to spend your time playing.
Outbreak: Contagious Memories is available from the Xbox Store