Outbreak: Endless Nightmares Review – Dungeon Crawler Is What I Call This Legless Zombie
Developed and published by Dead Drop Studios
I was unfamiliar with the Outbreak series. I had a few of them on my Steam wishlist, but it was something I would get around to – like watching The Wire. I got an opportunity for an interview with Outbreak: Endless Nightmares creator Evan Wolbach recently (which you can read here), and I jumped at the chance. In talking with Wolbach, I was the first to admit that I had never played an Outbreak game. He assured me that it was completely normal to have not played survival horror. After that subtle jab, he graciously sent me a virtual gift basket of Outbreak titles.
While I have tested the waters of all of the Outbreak games at this point, I want to focus on the newest entry: Outbreak: Endless Nightmares. A hybrid rogue-lite dungeon crawler affair, Outbreak: Endless Nightmares didn’t grab me at first. You start in the courtyard of an abandoned hospital. Abandoned in the sense that there are no people there. The residents these days are floating specters. They’ll offer cryptic and not-so-cryptic advice about what to do in the game. They’ll direct you towards “anomalies” which are this games dungeons. Once you find an anomaly in the hospital, you’re free to enter at any time.
I made a mistake first thing. The hospital is a hub world, and is filled with weapons, healing, and crafting items. I skipped over those in pursuit of finding my first anomaly. This was a big ol’ mistake. I entered the anomaly with no way to defend myself. The first zombie I came across ripped me to shreds, and then I’m assuming she went and laughed with her friends about the completely unprepared adventurer that wandered into the anomaly. Thrown back into the hub, I began my search for anything to protect myself.
I found an old pistol and a damaged knife. Good enough. On my second run into the anomaly, I avenged my death by shooting down the first zombie. I then readied my aim at the next undead monstrosity, only to get a message that my gun was broken. I pulled out my damaged knife, and was unceremoniously eaten. Outbreak: Endless Nightmares is hard. It requires a certain amount of preparation. In a lot of rogue-lites and dungeon crawlers, it’s wise to plan out your runs. Improper planning just gets you killed. Outbreak: Endless Nightmares is unforgiving. It doesn’t care that you forgot to grab a healing herb. For my third attempt, I decided to be smart. I collected all the items I could. Collecting items can be a bit difficult, because in keeping with old school survival horror tradition, inventory space is limited. The upside to the limited inventory space is a generous smattering of storage boxes throughout the hub and the anomalies.
After a few trips to the nearest storage box, I realized that there was way more to preparation than getting a gun and a healing herb. There is an ammo press a la Resident Evil 3 that allows you to make your own ammo out of gunpowder you can find laying around. You can also take broken guns – like the pistol that betrayed me- and break them down into repair kits for your other guns. Outbreak: Endless Nightmares is big on managing your items. You might want to carry your ammo press everywhere, but it takes up a slot that could be filled with healing items, because you’re going to get your ass handed directly to you often.
After pressing some pistol ammo, breaking down my knife into a repair kit, and repairing my pistol, it was go time. I entered the anomaly confident. I started strong, poppin’ zombie heads as I moved through dark hallways. I ran into my first puzzle after a short time. The door ahead was blocked by lasers. To turn off the lasers I needed to push a statue through a room of zombies onto a pressure plate. After clearing the room and moving the statue, I let out a cry of joy and entered the door. I had beaten the first anomaly. I thought. Exiting a level takes you to the next level of the anomaly. 7 in total, kind of, we’ll get to that later.
During the 7 level jaunt in Outbreak: Endless Nightmares, I found a shogtun, killed a bunch of zombies, and got a feel for the game. The camera is interesting. You have the option of an old school fixed camera, an over the shoulder camera, and a first person camera. If these options aren’t enough, a quick tap of the “T” key brings up the tactical camera. The tactical camera can be used to free fly through the level, checking blind corners. This option allows you to scope out a level and plan your approach before moving forward. I found myself not using it, because I prefer to be punished for sprinting around blind corners. The over the shoulder camera was my preference during my time with the game, but I can see the old school cool appeal of the fixed, RE-style camera.
At the end of 7 levels, you can do a bit of gambling. You’ll enter limbo. In limbo, you’ll be offered two choices: Go back to the hub world with the stuff you’ve found, or press forward into another 7 levels. There are definite benefits to both options. Leaving at this point lets you keep your stuff. If you die, you lose any conductor coins you’ve found. Did I mention conductor coins? So, the specters in the hub will also direct you to The Conductor. The Conductor is a specter that hangs out in front of a train, and promises you passage out of the hellish nightmare of Outbreak: Endless Nightmares for the low low price of 50 conductor coins.
You can turn in your conductor coins to them, which also unlocks new areas and anomalies within the hub. Turning in these coins is the only way to progress in the game. If you find a handful of conductor coins in say, level 4 of 7, and then die, you lose those coins. By choosing to leave when you reach limbo, you’ll get to take home any conductor coins you’ve found. The areas you unlock in the hub are insanely helpful. They often contain new items, improved items, and as I said before; new anomalies. As I unlocked these new areas, I realized I hadn’t noticed that weapons have quality levels. My pistol was just common. I wanted an uncommon pistol. I started paying attention in levels, and as I went deeper into an anomaly, the better weapons I found. Standard rogue-lite logic.
Aside from finding an already upgraded weapon, there is a chance to find a weapon parts kit. Finding one is few and far between in the randomly generated levels. I immediately sank it into my pistol. After a few more levels, and a few repairs on my pistol, I got a message that I essentially repaired it too much. That’s right; if you repair too much, you start to actively deteriorate your weapon’s stats. The only way to get around this is to be constantly finding and switching out weapons. Outbreak: Endless Nightmares can be unkind in this way. You can’t just find a weapon you love and stick with it through the whole game. The game doesn’t allow it. You have to be constantly adapting to be effective. I feel that this sort of forced change on the game’s part is actually really cool.
I said earlier in the review that I felt like Outbreak: Endless Nightmares wasn’t for me. About that: I was playing the game, boppin’ through a level, when my wife asked me, “I thought you said you weren’t feeling that game. Why are you still playing it?”. It was at this moment, I realized I had been playing for 3+ hours, and would probably continue playing if she hadn’t said anything. It starts so simple, but gets so complex. It’s a ride I didn’t know I wanted to take. With the slick new Resident Evil Village out just about a week ago, I was finding more entertainment in an old school survival horror experience. It seems like it’s true what they say: The classics really never die.