Outbreak: Contagious Memories Review: Truly The Stuff Of Nightmares
The Outbreak series is one that I have admittedly avoided due to the lackluster reception each installment to date was met with. Despite that, in the back of my mind, I have often thought, “they have to be doing something right for Drop Dead Studios to keep churning these out, right?”. Having now had the chance to experience the latest installment, Outbreak: Contagious Memories, I can confidently say that this attempt at paying homage to classic survival horror is truly the stuff of nightmares…for all the wrong reasons.
A Familiar Nightmare
If you have sampled a classic Resident Evil game or even played the remakes of Resident Evil 2 and 3, then the set-up for Contagious Memories will feel extremely familiar. Players fill the shoes of Lydia, a survivor of a recent zombie outbreak who is on the verge of being left for dead by a couple of fellow survivors. It’s up to the player to help Lydia, and her remaining acquaintances, navigate the deadly, undead-filled streets and escape the city.
It’s a set-up that sticks so rigidly to the greats that inspire it that it borders on feeling lazy. The narrative never really takes an interesting turn, and whilst there are attempts at world-building through notes that are scattered around in classic survival horror fashion, never once did I feel like the world I was traversing was a real with a history in the same way that Racoon City felt many moons ago.
That familiarity extends to the environments themselves. Expect to traverse dilapidated bars, police stations, subways, and city streets engulfed in bright orange flames that feel like cheap imitations of infamous landmarks from the genre’s storied history. Unfortunately, though there is a familiarity, aesthetically speaking at least, the levels themselves are never anything less than a frustrating mess to navigate, completely lacking in the smart level design that made Contagious Memories’ inspirations such a blast to play.
Worst-In-Class Level Design
Whilst tight, cramped spaces have always been a hallmark of the genre, Contagious Memories play spaces are structured so poorly that I’m not convinced that this isn’t some painful attempt at trolling. The issues largely boil down to it being downright impossible to avoid enemies and conserve ammo. Whereas Capcom perfected claustrophobic spaces that still allowed room to maneuver around enemies whilst saving precious resources, more often than not, Contagious Memories funnels players into unavoidable combat encounters, which can prove to be almost game-breaking if you don’t have the resources available to engage.
All too often, I would be presented with a corridor with no other exit save for one that sat behind a group of enemies. Adding to the frustration is the insanely tanky nature of the zombies, with seven headshots often not being enough to down even the most meager of foes, meaning there was legitimately no way to progress unless cheesing the game’s laughable AI.
That cheese I refer to involved killing one of the zombie horde as they all rushed me, before retreating through the door I had just entered. This would then reset the environmental positioning of the remaining horde, allowing me the time to take out another before repeating the process until the coast was clear. I lost count of the number of times during which I had to resort to this tactic. It seems a case of the developers wanting to pay homage whilst lacking an understanding of the intricate yet balanced level design that the likes of Capcom and Konami used to nail effortlessly.
Braindead Combat And Puzzles
The issues raised already are exacerbated further by the combat itself not being a great deal of fun to engage with. Weapons feel weightless, and aiming feels imprecise. And, as alluded to earlier, there appears to be no rhyme or reason as to how many bullets it takes to dispatch even the most basic enemy, irrespective of where your shots land.
At times, I’d unload entire clips of ammo which appeared to all land as headshots, only for the enemy I was engaged with to appear completely unphased. Other times, I would land a stray handgun bullet into the rotting gut of an undead mass, only for them to drop to that solitary bullet. Of course, I appreciate that survival horror has always had a certain unpredictability with regards to the dispatching of enemies. Still, Contagious Memories is laughably uneven in this regard, or at least it would be laughable if it didn’t work in combination with the broken level design to create one of the most frustrating combat loops I’ve ever experienced.
As well as combat, a key pillar of survival horror games has always been cryptic yet clever puzzles, and it pains me to say, this is something that Contagious Memories also manages to fumble. Too often, these involve little more than flicking a couple of obvious switches to open a door or finding a code to open a lock. The solutions to the puzzles are generally put right in front of the player, usually jotted down on a notepad mere feet away from the locked device. Like the rest of the package, it’s woefully uninspired stuff that almost completely misses the point in terms of what makes for an engaging puzzle.
Adding to the overall unpleasantness of playing Contagious Memories is just how awful it is to look at. The graphics and lighting are never anything less than ugly and obnoxious, with human character models that look more terrifying than the shambling undead. The lighting is of particular concern, especially in the early game, where the lightning weather effect is so jarring that I think it genuinely poses a health risk to any epileptic players unfortunate enough to experience it. Rather than make any attempt at implementing an effect that looks even semi-realistic, the developers have opted to just have the entire screen flash in a blinding white, completely obscuring your view in a way that is legitimately uncomfortable on the eyes.
The lack of effort put into the visuals is perhaps best summed up by the atrocious animations. They just look flat-out unfinished. Lydia snaps into position when readying her weapon, switching between her normal stance and pointing a gun with no in-between. Some of the enemies, the zombified dogs, in particular, just sort of stiffly keel over on the ground with no death animation at all once taken care of.
Slight Signs Of Life
You’ve probably gathered by now that I didn’t particularly enjoy my time with Contagious Memories, but it is still worth calling out the design choices that Dead Drop Studios did get somewhat right.
Local co-op play is possible as it has been in previous installments, if that’s your thing. I personally didn’t sample this as I view survival horror as a genre at its best with the curtains drawn, lights out, and the house empty save for me. There is also a bonus arcade mode that opens up once the campaign is complete, which at least shows the developers did try to add replay value.
The problem is, though, even these choices that they get right are ultimately belittled by how dire the overall package is. What good is local co-op if the game is so insufferable that I wouldn’t want to put anyone else through it? In what world does replay matter value when I have absolutely no desire to put myself through any more of Contagious Memories’ awful combat encounters?
Who Is This For?
In conclusion, Contagious Memories is not an experience I could recommend in good faith to even the most ardent of survival horror fans. My lingering thought as I put the game down and began writing up this review was, “who is this for”? If you want a classic survival horror fix, then there are much more appealing options out there, including the greats that Contagious Memories imitates cheaply. And if you’re looking for a more modern take on classic survival horror as, Contagious Memories purports to be, then go and play the excellent Resident Evil 2 and 3 remakes. In any event, my advice would be to avoid Contagious Memories at all costs, as it is more likely to harm your love of the genre than anything else.
Final Verdict: 1.5/5
Available On: PS4, PS5 (reviewed), Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, PC; Publisher: Dead Drop Studios; Developer: Dead Drop Studios; Players: 1-2; Released: April 6, 2022; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: A review copy was provided by PR.