Contagion VR: Outbreak review (PSVR)

After over a year in steam’s Early Access program, Contagion VR: Outbreak has launched for Playstation VR – time to check out this VR-exclusive spin-off.

The original Contagion was released back in 2013, but I’ll admit right away that I never played it. It was a multiplayer-centric game and I prefer single player campaigns, so I passed on it. For that same reason the Left 4 Dead craze also mostly passed me by, but I bring up Valve’s classic franchise for a reason. Contagion developer Monochrome Inc. started out with the Zombie Panic mod for Half Life 2 (still available for free if you have that game), so Valve’s work has been a clear inspiration for them.

Contagion VR: Outbreak builds on that experience, and is the first Contagion game to feature a full single player campaign. As such, there’s a bigger role for a character-driven narrative as well, and the game puts you in the shoes of couple of different characters who have so far escaped the impending zombie apocalypse.

In a sense, Contagion VR: Outbreak’s story feels almost episodic in nature because levels feature seemingly unconnected protagonists and locations. Although I enjoy long narrative arcs where I stay with a character, I didn’t mind the switches in perspective here. These keep you on your toes, which is exactly what you want from a zombie-themed action adventure.

contagion vr - outbreak2

A good example of how gameplay changes is that you can play something very action-oriented in one scene, but will have to rely on a bit of puzzle solving in another. You access these ‘episodes’ by finding journals that allow you to live through their stories – which explains the jumps in theme and gameplay. One constant factor, however, is inventory management – which can also contribute to higher stress levels.

Initially, this is because you’ll spend time fumbling around for the right ammo to reload a gun, or the melee weapon you need to keep a zombie at bay – which is the frustrating kind of stress. But even when you’re comfortable with where everything is, it’s still nerve-racking because time is limited and zombies are never far way. My advice would be to conserve ammo and stick to melee weapons when you can, because you might need to quickly get rid of some of the undead when you get swarmed.

One way to make sure you don’t run out of weapons is to scavenge levels for supplies and craft something out of what seems like trash at first. It’s all fairly useless mid-level, but get to a safehouse and you’ll have the ability to stock up using some of the crafting recipes you have access to. In addition, you can modify your existing weapons as well, so it pays to stay alive and not lose your gear in death – you can restart, but will have to build up your inventory again from scratch.

contagion vr - outbreak

Contagion VR: Outbreak isn’t as visually polished as other horror-themed VR games like Resident Evil 7, but with its realistic visuals and good use of details it’s certainly a decent looking title – perhaps close to Vertigo’s excellent Arizona Sunshine. The game could still use a bit of audiovisual polish here and there (the voiceovers especially aren’t great), but it’s been a while since we had a good first person shooter experience like this on PSVR – and it’s a game that features a number of Playstation 4 Pro optimizations as well.

Unfortunately the game doesn’t support the Aim controller (which would have been challenging in terms of inventory management, but amazing in combat), so it’s one of those games where the Move’s lack of thumbstick controls is felt. There is support for the 3dRudder controller to get around this, but we haven’t had a chance to try this out so I can’t vouch for how well that works.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that Contagion VR is still in early access on Steam, and the Playstation VR launch version also features a number of bugs – we’ve had a few instances of the game locking up, but nothing it couldn’t recover from. Hopefully these issues will be ironed out post-launch, along with the additional content that the developer has promised – including a fourth story mission to go with the three that are there at launch. There’s a shooting range option with a leaderboard in addition to the story missions too, but I spent most of my time in the missions.

It always feels like a bit of a gamble to jump on board with a game that’s still clearly in development, but Contagion VR: Outbreak is a fun and promising shooter. The developer is still actively working on it, so if you’re on the fence about it you can check on the progress through them. If you’re happy to dive in now and enjoyed games like Arizona Sunshine, then you’ll most likely enjoy this as well.

Score: 7.4/10

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