With the third-person shooter genre being well-worn territory, you need to come up with something pretty spectacular to get the attention of fans. With games like last generation's Kill.Switch and the popular Gears of War series setting the standard, expectations are quite high, and just about every trick has been used to stand out from the pack. For example, the Army of Two series emphasized co-op while Fuse stressed unique weaponry and 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand leveraged the ability to play as the titular rapper. Scourge: Outbreak doesn't do anything new or exciting to stand out, and unfortunately, it doesn't do much well at all.
Things start off on the wrong foot with the story, which is rather generic and doesn't improve. It is the near future, and the Nogari Corporation has not-so-subtle control over the world thanks to Ambrosia, an energy extracted from a meteorite that provides a new power source for the world but possibly causes sickness and mutated creatures. The latter hasn't been proven, so a team of revolutionaries known as the Tarn Initiative is working to expose the corporation's wrongdoings. You play as a member of Echo Squad, the Initiative's mercenary group that is sent in to rescue a meteorite fragment and one of your spies, who's working undercover as a scientist. While the mission is important, each squad member also has a personal vendetta against the corporation.
Despite arriving on the PC years before, the story feels like a bad version of the one in Fuse, but there's the slight twist of personal grudges getting in the way. It's told in an understandable manner, but it isn't a tale you'll likely care about. The opening cut scene paints a generic picture of a lab doing something bad but doesn't go beyond that to show the corporation's power. The characters' personal stories are told in flashback form via snippets, but they're also so generic that you have no reason to care about them. There's a lack of surprise throughout the tale as you're given plot points so early that they immediately lose any impact. The story exists but nothing more.
The gameplay is exactly what you'd expect from a modern cover-based third-person shooter. You can get in and out of cover at any time, execute some blind fire, and carry an arsenal that consists of two firearms and a grenade set (regular or sticky). There's some on-the-fly tactical planning that can be done, where you can command your squad to take out enemies, activate switches, or heal someone who's injured. The gameplay flow is also pretty standard: you walk around, encounter a room full of enemies, and repeat the process ad nauseam with only a few boss battles to break up the monotony.
The problem is that Scourge: Outbreak copies the bare minimum outlined by its contemporaries. While you can initiate cover, you have the expected issue of the game sometimes not recognizing bits of the environment as cover-worthy. There's a lack of finesse since you can't dart from cover spot to cover spot without it feeling cumbersome. There are no SWAT turns between some cover spots, and rushing from spots is always a straightforward affair. If you make a slight turn while sprinting, you'll stop dead in your tracks, start your casual pace during the turn, and have to manually initiate the sprint again. With all of the movement advancements to the genre, this step backward isn't exactly appreciated.
Combat also feels pretty bad due to the guns. They may look futuristic and shoot lasers instead of bullets, but the guns are still pretty standard genre fare. Machine guns, pistols and shotguns make up your standard arsenal, with a few oddities thrown in like Gatling guns and sniper rifles. Outside of guns, you have Ambrosia-powered shockwave attacks and shields that differ in their mobility depending on who you're playing with.
The issue is that none of the guns feel good to shoot. The recoil is there, but even when you're using the aim feature and controlled burst shots, the gunfire seems to spray everywhere. If you're able to hit your target, it never feels like any damage is done. Even if you get perfect headshots, it takes more than a few bullets to take down someone, and while this may be fine when you're facing a few foes, it gets more annoying once the masses start coming in. Your Ambrosia-powered abilities don't do much to help out, either, so you may even forget they exist. The shockwave barely registers any damage, and the shield doesn't last for very long. Since they eat up a good amount of the Ambrosia meter for very little return and the energy refill stations are quite far apart, you're better off sticking with standard cover and gun techniques.
Then you have the issue of AI on both sides. Your AI partners can be helpful when it comes to healing you and taking potshots at enemies, but they have a tendency to run into gunshots, leave protective cover and get in your way when you're shooting. Considering that the game ends if you let any one of them die and that checkpoints are badly spaced out, this can become annoying. Enemy AI fares much worse, since their resilience is the only thing keeping them alive. They pop in and out of cover too often, leave themselves vulnerable most of the time, and run around waiting to be shot. With behavior this erratic on both sides, it's a wonder anyone can progress through the title.
As a whole, Scourge: Outbreak isn't fun. Some mechanics are competent enough while others are barely at that stage. The whole affair involves you going through the paces with a very predictable game flow and nothing done extraordinarily well. It becomes a boring slog during the first mission, and even though the campaign can be completed in around six hours, the tedious nature of it makes it feel much longer than it should be.
Multiplayer is present and comes with the expected modes. The campaign supports up to four players, though it remains unchanged from its single-player counterpart. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag are all present, and playing through all of those modes gives you the standard XP and leveling up for your character to provide him or her with even more perks. The problem is you'll never get to experience any of this because there is no one playing the four modes online. Unless you can convince friends to jump in, consider the multiplayer portion nonexistent.
Graphically, the game doesn't do much to be on par with its contemporaries, much less do anything impressive. The environments feel like they've been pulled out of other games with similar-looking steel rooms and rubble-filled outdoor and indoor sections. There are little bits of flourish with some light rays and dust particles filling the air, but sudden appearances of misplaced textures, like snow in a tropical island, immediately ruin that sense of polish. The character models aren't any better, with enemy forces and aliens feeling generic while your squad is a mess. Instead of going for something original or generic as the enemy armor, all of the heroes are outfitted in a mash-up of Crysis, Dead Space and Deus Ex: Human Revolution designs with random battle scars and blinded eyes for good measure. They're sensible enough but drive home the sense that originality wasn't part of the game design. Animations are also off; scrambling over cover or engaging in a run or walk gets exaggerated greatly, while mouth movements are generic and falter when compared to other games. All of this is washed out in a rather low resolution with jaggies apparent everywhere. It's definitely not one of the better-looking games for the system.
The sound is also below expected standards. The musical score tries to go between melancholy and hard rock action, but the result is completely forgettable. Though laser guns are being fired instead of traditional ones, the sounds of gunfire aren't convincing. All of the weapons sound underpowered, further enforcing the belief that the weapons are weak. The voice work is fine, though the forced accents and artificial voice boxes for some characters are rather laughable, as is the dialogue, which varies between groan-worthy and passable. It also doesn't help that the volume levels for the dialogue fluctuates greatly; a voice is whisper-quiet at first and suddenly becomes booming when you take a step closer to the source. Turning down the volume wouldn't hurt the experience.
Scourge: Outbreak is pretty bad. The gameplay suffers from terrible AI and a good number of balance issues. Graphics are below average for this late in the console life cycle, and the sound is just as underwhelming. The controls feel like an alpha version of what has come before, and the multiplayer community is nonexistent. It may only be $10, but considering the genre and the number of games that offer more or do better for that price, there isn't much of a reason to get your shooting fix from this title.
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