[21 July 2013]
Scourge: Outbreak is not a good game. The only nice thing that I can say about it is that it has some slightly interesting ideas at its core, but it fumbles in execution so badly, so often that “interesting” is not worth the pain of playing.
The story revolves around a group of mercenaries hired by anonymous donors to sneak into the test facilities of a futuristic mega-corporation. You’re looking for evidence of corporate wrong doing, something so bad it can destroy the entire company. This “99% vs. the 1% by means of corporate espionage” is an interesting setup, but that setup quickly devolves into something much more generic. Each of your four playable squad members has their own back story, but they all become irrelevant once you start playing. As soon as the first bullet is shot, the story ceases to matter.
Each character has the ability to create a shockwave and a shield. This is the gameplay gimmick meant to set Scourge: Outbreak apart from its peers, but the powers are too ineffectual to be meaningful. You can recharge these abilities at special barrels, but the barrels are so far apart, you’ll only be able to use the powers once per battle. That would be alright if these powers were actually powerful, but they’re not. Enemies can just run past your shield, and the shockwave is only useful against the weakest of enemies. After an hour or so, they become pointless abilities.
Combat in general is either dull or frustrating. Everything in Scourge: Outbreak lacks a punch. Your melee attack looks like a tap, the din of gunshots and explosions sound softened and distant, your shockwave ability looks, sounds, and is utterly ineffective, and the enemy AI is so dumb they will literally run into your bullets. All of this firmly establishes Scourge: Outbreak as a sub par shooter, but at least when it’s boring, it’s also easy. When the game does decide it wants to challenge you, it does so in the laziest way possible, emphasizing quantity over quality. The game sends wave after wave of dumb enemies at you, and all of them seem to have an endless supply of grenades.
At these moments, the game is genuinely hard, but it doesn’t earn this difficulty. Even if you try to play tactically, setting up your squad behind cover and turrets, they’ll inevitably be overwhelmed when 20 shotgunning grenadiers come running up all at once from all sides. The game loves to spawn enemies behind you, and after a few hours, it’s hard not to feel like Scourge: Outbreak actively hates you.
The onscreen reticule, the thing that’s supposed to represent where you’re aiming, feels inaccurate. Sometimes my reticule will be hovering over an enemy’s head but my actual shot will bounce off a crate at his chest level. Other times I’ll be aiming just to the side or the bad guy will dodge roll out of my line of fire, yet my shot will still connect and kill him. This leads to some bizarre dissociative moments where it feels like you and your character are playing two different games.
And just in case you’re still having too much fun, the checkpoints are awful, forcing you to replay large sections of the game every time you do die. Once, after booting it up and pressing “Resume Game,” it loaded me into a previous checkpoint at the beginning of a boss fight I had already beaten.
Beyond the combat, the game seems to delight in wasting your time with poor objective markers and confusing level design. At some points, it feels as if the game is purposefully hiding the path forward. In one room, the marker sat on the other side of a locked door with no indication of how I was supposed to get through. Ten minutes later, after wandering into (literally) every corner, I found a path into the room from above. If this was meant to be a puzzle, then the game mistook aimless wandering for puzzle solving.
The objective markers are annoying even when working correctly since the game often makes you run back and forth across a room. Run to Door A. It’s locked. Run to Console A. You need a key. Run to Key A. Now go back to Console A. Now go back to Door A. Now you can enter the next room and do it all again.
Or you can just stop playing.