Third-person action videogames have done a lot of remodelling on the current-generation without actually offering much in the way of progression. Specifically the subset dedicated to shooting; when Gears of War proved that the time had come to standardise a few mechanics every other title simply followed its lead. There’s been the odd bit of initiative here-and-there of course, but by-and-large the conventions of the genre are the same now as they were six years ago. Scourge: Outbreak.
The digital distribution services on console are rapidly catching up with the quality of peer services on PC, allowing for increasingly impressive titles at a fraction of the cost of AAA retail products. Mars: War Logs has proven that lengthy experiences akin to those offered as full priced titles just a few years ago can now be presented as more wallet-friendly packages, and Scourge: Outbreak is designed to hammer this home by aping one of the most popular innovators of the current-generation: Gears of War.
Whatever your feelings towards Epic Games’ Xbox 360 opus it’s impossible to deny that much of what makes a modern third-person shooter title originated in the guise of Marcus Fenix. The lock-in cover system, the roadie run and blindfire may have been presented in similar titles previously, but Gears of War standardised them in a way that anyone can learn, and that anyone can borrow for their own purposes. Much like how the Z-targeting of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is now considered a general convention of videogames, these and other mechanics featured in Gears of War have become very common, and Scourge: Outbreak capitalises on this familiarity, if never truly exceeding these expectations.
Scourge: Outbreak is a videogame that is designed for co-operative play. Online only, the entire campaign can be played through drop-in/drop-out lobbies with just friends or anyone who chooses to join. The player team has four available slots to fill, however unlike the comparable FUSE there’s very little difference between them aside from the character model. In fact, the only discernable difference is that of the temporary virtual shield that can be summoned: characters will either have a shield they can place or a shield they can carry, but the latter restricts firing until it’s depleted. All players can also command a local area effect ability which uses the same resource as the shield: a slowly recharging meter.
Despite the fact that the campaign is intended to be played co-operatively, the tutorial must be played solo regardless of your party or any other settings. You do get the option to skip the tutorial but only after you’ve opted to boot your teammates from the game. It’s a very bizarre design decision that reeks of a lack of forethought and, sadly, is not the only example of such issues. The command of your artificial intelligence comrades can be chaotic in multiplayer, especially given that – while perfectly capable of picking targets and reviving teammates by themselves – they will blindly follow the host player, potentially leaving a fourth member of the team unnecessarily vulnerable.
In addition to the campaign gameplay Scourge: Outbreak also offers competitive multiplayer. Deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag options are available, though in a week’s worth of testing at peak times every evening Electronic Theatre was never able to fill the full quota of players necessary to play any online mode. A shame undoubtedly, and a clear recommendation for avoiding Scourge: Outbreak if your main intention was to experience the competitive online modes.
Having been on the radar for quite some time it’s disappointing that the final product isn’t as well delivered as one would hope. Enjoyable in places, Scourge: Outbreak is marred by an uneven difficulty curve and a lack of its own initiative. It appears that aiming to replicate the best a genre has to offer, rather than exceed it, will only ever leave you with an inferior experience; Scourge: Outbreak seems to have aimed for average, and in that it’s wholly successful.