A re-release like Scourge: Outbreak, which stems from the old Scourge Project series, is a perfect study in seeing a dated concept pass its prime. Once attached on the lingering coattails of the Gears of War series, this template for every third-person cover shooter is now a relic as soon as its revamped state hit digital shelves.
At best, it’s functional. At its worst, this linear story has nothing to offer but ennui.
Bearing the mold of any generic Unreal Engine 3 game ever made, Scourge: Outbreak looks visually satisfying, but only on the surface. Models appear smoothly rendered and environments get plastered with reflection effects and odd neon lighting.
Looking deeper, however, the strange shapes of characters and their morbidly pale faces devoid of expression become a little more unsettling to watch. Color contrasts and saturation take disproportionate levels, making anything a lot harder to see. Poor rigging sees animations move rigidly, having the whole resemble a puppet theater of bad acting and repetitive sounds.
Luckily, the action portion does live up to its first appearance. In the campaign, different environments are tackled by a team of agents that wield special powers. Its story is not important, it only matters that the special abilities are there.
Aside from ducking behind structures, the gang can use these inner strengths to put up a shield that absorbs fire. Alternatively, it’s possible to use a lot of juice to throw a pulse that stuns or kills enemies.
Shooting galleries usually play out in one of a few formats. Sometimes, there’s a big open environment with rusty, metal panels and crates to hide behind, perhaps offset with higher platforms for added difficulty. Other times, corridors restrict movement, placing crates or pillars in strategically spaced out positions. Despite the game trying, it’s tough to keep getting excited by wandering through the same metal factories with a touch of alien life thrown in there from time.
Worse yet, gun play is dull. It’s probably the game’s biggest flaw, given the frequency of shootouts. Most guns take almost an entire clip for one grunt and there are a ton of these generic puppets around every corner. Despite stacking additional modifiers for damage or accuracy, barely is there ever a noticeable difference between sensible choices.
A shotgun can do in a pinch, but anything beyond point blank range is a waste of time. Even a dead on headshot requires another hit to take down the frailest opponent. Special weapons are either too sluggish or have too little ammo to be useful outside of a quick pick up.
This results in every action sequence, already static due to fighting in cover, becoming increasingly stale. Exacerbating this, the given melee option requires at least three hits for any foe, which denies the possibility to move up and also survive, certainly when forced to wait on animations to complete.
Should an ally perish, however, it’s possible to revive them before a counter ticks down. This is another large source of aggravation in Scourge: Outbreak. If a character went on their own to die, the game ends. That means that there’s a 3 out of 4 chances in singleplayer where death is out of the player’s control. While co-op offers a way to get around that, it only lessens the problem with each person, it doesn’t fix it.
Racking up kills contributes to experience, but despite the occasional text that pops up, it’s never felt inside the game. That’s a shame, since there are different rewards for better takedowns. A lot more could’ve been achieved there.
As a final deathblow, Scourge: Outbreak is unnecessarily finicky to manage. Controls suffer from a dragging effect, like perpetually trying to shake off a giant bag of sand. Sprinting with the same button used for dodges becomes too awkward to use, while evading in itself lunges the character in whatever random direction.
This also affects cover mechanisms harshly. Not only do team mates hover from afar towards their sticking position, but getting out of aimed mode seems to take a few moments longer than it should. Looking down sights closes down the view hard, so having that loss of any surroundings for such a time is a constant punishment for trying to do the only sensible option.
Moreover, leaping over walls with the same button is based on good faith. Some obstacles work, some don’t. It’s always a gamble.
Trying to wield this control scheme to send commands to the rest of the squad is equally pointless. It’s a good idea, to tell a specific agent with their own skills to take out a certain soldier, but both sides of the artificial intelligence (AI) can’t be relied upon at all. At one point, two of four characters stayed in a nearby hangar, taking cover from a boss two rooms over. Adversely, soldiers will suddenly make a beeline to their deaths, for no apparent reason, like they just remembered that they needed to step into action.
Scourge: Outbreak tries though and that should be noted as well. It has diverse objectives during showdowns, such as taking down missiles with a turret gun or destroying vats of special power to prevent the enemy from wielding it. Sadly, it always boils down to a checklist, more than a creative use of environment. Hit that button, now hit this button and look around for the other thing to press. It’s ridiculously tedious after a few times.
Another redeeming factor comes from an attempt to make the generic grunts a little more special, by giving them protective suits or killer weaponry. Here, the problem is more that any human opponent is indistinguishable from the next or even from allied soldiers. Aliens, in turn, nearly all look like the same flock, despite having different qualities.
Everything in this game is one gray blob of similarity. Even multiplayer rounds are simple shoot to kill events in monochrome levels, with most of the maps looking the exact same.
Scourge: Outbreak is not a thought out cover shooter. Its only feature is that it works. Anything else in the game is either poorly conceived or just dropped in there with minimal care, straight out of the programming box.
Anyone with a few weeks on the Unreal Engine 3 could produce similar results. That may have passed for more a few years ago, but now it needs to step up to not ultimately bore. Simply piggybacking off sci-fi blockbusters isn’t enough.