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Currently available on the Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade, Scourge: Outbreak is also being planned for release on PC, PS3 and Mac at a date yet to be determined. In this futuristic third-person action shooter, you take on the role of one of four mercenaries as part of Echo Squad. There is teamwork, there are guns, and there are waves of enemies who would love nothing more than to shoot you down. Should you “blast your way through Nogari Island” or are your precious Microsoft Points better spent elsewhere? Let’s load up, roll out and find out.

The Near Future Premise

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What happens when a mega corporation from the future is up to no good, but there’s not enough proof to take it down? Clearly, an anonymous donor (or group of donor) funds a group of mercenaries to break into the evil corporation’s facilities to find irrefutable evidence of wrongdoing! That’s the fundamental premise behind the sci-fi adventure depicted in Scourge: Outbreak and, you guessed it, you’re going to be one of those mercenaries.

The narrative is largely presented to you in a series of cutscenes, but the in-game dialogue and communications also help to move the story along. As a member of Echo Squad, you touch down on Nogari Island, which is suitably where the headquarters of Nogari Corporation are located. The story itself isn’t terribly interesting or unique, especially if you’ve played any other “near future” war games like this.

Four “Unique” Squad Members?

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When you first start up the single-player campaign, you are given the opportunity to choose one of the four members of Echo Squad. You get the polygonal depiction of their relative strengths and weaknesses, but the differences appear to be so minute that they don’t really matter. Each member also gets a special future suit with special powers, but these special powers are mostly the same too.

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In this sense, it is perhaps more accurate to say that you are given the illusion of choice. There are three hyper-masculine types, plus one token female protagonist. And while there is a multiplayer mission option in there, it plays out exactly like the single-player campaign.

The Gears of Nogari

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If you think that this kind of gameplay feels eerily familiar, then you’re certainly not alone. The AI-controlled team dynamic is somewhat like Left 4 Dead, but the overall presentation and level of “weight” is must closer in scope to the Gears of War series.

This is a third-person shooter and you can equip yourself with up to two guns (plus grenades) at any given time. Aside from issuing basic commands to your fellow squad members, where it really starts to feel like a poor version of Gears is when you “sprint.” Your character carries the same kind of grunty weight. What’s more, the main game dynamic will also have you moving from cover to cover, popping out to fire off a few rounds before rolling over to the next hiding spot.

There’s nothing wrong with taking this approach, except that Gears of War (and other games) already do it so much better. And while I have commented that graphics are secondary, what we are given in Scourge: Outbreak is really unforgiveable. The level of polygon-ness and jaggedness makes me think more of the original PSone and not of what the Xbox 360 can do.

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The thing is that you don’t have to have fancy graphics if you have the right asthetic. Titles like The Walking Dead and The War of the Worlds demonstrate that. If you’re trying to do a fancy futuristic third-person shooter that mirrors what we already get to play with AAA offerings from major studios, you can’t have this poor of a presentation.

Boom! Headshot! What? I Missed?

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Yes, the missions are really a “get from point A to point B” kind of affair and the graphics leave something to be desired, but if the actual gameplay is solid, all can (almost) be forgiven, right? Unfortunately, Scourge: Outbreak fails here too.

Remember how I said your mercenary is equipped with a special suit for special powers? One of those powers is an energy shield that’s supposed to block enemy gunfire for a period of time. The trouble is that the shield doesn’t last nearly long enough and enemies end up surrounding you to kill you anyway. It’s not useful.

But there’s something that’s a lot worse. When you hold the LT button for precision aiming and line up that reticule right in between the eyes of a bad guy from a reasonable distance, you’d think that you’d score a headshot. And you’d be wrong. When I pulled the trigger (RT), I’d inevitably hit the baddie’s cover instead. Or have the bullets sail over his head. What’s the point?

MEGATechie Fun Firefight or MEGATechie Torturous Torment?

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Considering that Scourge: Outbreak only retails for 800 Microsoft Points ($10), it wouldn’t be completely fair for me to compare it to a $60 AAA disc-based title. That being said, it really lacks any sort of real innovation or originality. And that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if the execution was superior to games that preceded it. But that’s not true either.

While I certainly did enjoy the squad-based dynamic compared the more solo FPS affairs that you may find elsewhere, the game itself just stopped being fun to play. The graphics feel dated, the controls are clunky and my guns were never anywhere near as accurate as they should have been. Yes, I’m not very good at shooters, but when I slowly line up the reticule to the head of an enemy not 10 yards away, I should be able to kill him. If you want a good squad shooter on the Xbox, play your way through the Gears series again instead.

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