The fine folks at North Melbourne’s Zero Latency VR recently invited us to try out their big, new release titled Outbreak. Admittedly, I knew almost nothing about Zero Latency VR before the invite and have since realised what a breakout international hit these VR joints are. With Melbourne as its HQ and with new sites popping out around the globe, Zero Latency VR offers untethered, virtual reality titles that can be played with up to seven others in a freely roamable space.
Once our group of eight had sat through a quick induction with some appropriately pulpy, oversold voiceovers, we strapped our large rifles across our shoulders and quickly fastened our wireless VR headsets. Once in position, we were taken to a firing range where we could see everybody’s avatars in real time. The hot micing that occurs with eight people trying to adjust to this uncanny new space is highly amusing, sparking that elated curiosity of collectively trying to make sense of a new environment that I normally associate with escape rooms. Once everybody has become familiar with their assault rifle and shotgun, swapped with a button near the trigger of the physical unit you’re wielding, its time to get familiar with crowding together into small spaces.
What follows has the two teams of four navigating elevators and hallways, occasionally crossing paths with the other team as you all navigate gloomy, abandoned interiors in search of the undead menance. Most surprisingly, it is through these quieter moments of suspense and navigation that Outbreak tests the players’ perspective. What starts with a light sense of vertigo as players descend walkways and clamber around obstacles, reaches a fever pitch when skirting around the outside of a high-rise building. Because Outbreak is developed to simulate walking on uneven or steep surfaces, players become keenly aware that the camera might take a thrilling and uncomfortable dive should they wobble off a ledge. All this is before we’ve even gotten to the main draw of shooting zombies with mates.
The lighting and texture work create an effective, claustrophobic atmosphere
Outbreak could so easily have followed in the footsteps of arcade greats like House Of The Dead or Time Crisis with a theme park of zombies popping up for you to practice your games-honed precision upon. Instead, it goes further by first establishing the atmosphere, testing the player’s sea legs, and then finally unleashing the hordes. It is an adrenaline-pumping escalation that sees the inevitable reveal of the zombies maintain a kind of horror in the face of your combined firepower.
The atmosphere rarely lets up, with your first and subsequent encounters with waves of zombies being a darkly lit affair where players immediately feel the pressure mount. You cannot be entirely sure where the zombies will be coming from, as you are surrounded by broken windows and more openings than your split-off party of four can account for. Once players start to feel some comfort with being able to land headshots and get a feel for their starting two weapons, the encounters begin to ramp up.
Queue an ominous sewer stage, which is used to full effect with poor lighting and zombies that like to crawl around in the muck. The startling surprise that comes with copping attacks from a zombie you cannot see, might also be the moment that you spin wildly around before looking down and seeing a couple of new friends at your feet. When this happened to me, I think my natural response was to begin jumping and shooting at my feet, which would have looked comical to any onlookers outside the playspace.
Hordes quickly begin to cascade if not kept at bay
Clocking in at roughly 30 minutes, Outbreak finally comes to a close with a heroic and very 80s action-packed finale. Both teams will be reunited in a helicopter that is soon shot down by shady military operators who seem to be stoking the fires of this zombie invasion. As your army of eight gathers together, you must all defend your shared crash zone from zombies approaching on all sides. Luckily, this zone is also spawning all manner of special weapons, that can be used until their magazine is exhausted. I got my hands on a tank rifle, a minigun, and an automatic shotgun, all of which felt great to behold and did some good work on upping my share of the kill score at the end.
But before we can roll curtains and say we’ve survived as we recollect after surviving hundreds of zombies, we must defeat the final boss. This is as great as it is cheesy, but these military operators who struck out helicopter extraction down are also wanting to fight. With another overdone, comically macho voice-over accompanying a helicopter hovering over our heads, it becomes time for us to turn our weapons to the skies and shoot this baddie down. The helicopter also fires back, lighting up target areas for players to quickly vacate or instead take a missile to the face. Once we succeeded at downing this chopper, we all gathered together for a reserved little victory dance, raising our rifles in unison.
An elating, at times squeamish, team-building exercise where we all walked away feeling like we had done good. But also feeling quite sweaty. The staff advised us that players can expect to walk a kilometer during a session of Outbreak, but the exhilaration had me feeling like I had completed a workout.
Once players have finished up, it’s time to head over to the scoreboards. I thought I was pretty hot stuff, steeling myself in the face of undead horrors and meeting them with my sharp aim. Alas, I only settled in at fourth among our group, with 343 kills of which 191 were headshots. Returning players can expect to compete in an overall leaderboard, meaning that there is some skill to be sharpened with this experience.
Outbreak is available now at your local Zero Latency VR venue. Halloween makes for the perfect time to get about this atmospheric co-op shooter, with sessions sure to book out fast in the next week. Thanks also to the team at Zero Latency VR in North Melbourne for letting us be among the first to go hands-on with this exciting, locally developed experience.