Railbreak – Not a break out

Tonight there's going to be a Railbreak, somewhere in the town

Railbreak takes a critically panned franchise and turns it into an on-rail shooter, with some improvement!

If you haven’t heard of the Outbreak series, then you’re probably in the majority of gamers who have been saved the dubious joys of shonky Resident Evil clones. With over half a dozen made over as many years, it shouldn’t be too surprising that they aren’t terribly well made a lot of the time, but some do find some B-move style enjoyment from them. Railbreak is a game in the same series, and if it wasn’t for a little digging around, I wouldn’t have been aware of that fact. Whilst it may move away from survival horror and into on-rail shooting, there are still a lot of issues that prevent it from being genuinely fun.

There’s a plot of sorts. In the town of Cypress Ridge which is overrun by zombies, you’re at an arcade playing a light gun game about shooting zombies. It’s a fun little idea for framing the game, but the story doesn’t develop beyond that. In real terms, you’re playing an on-rails shooter about surviving the zombie apocalypse with typically cheesy dialogue and one-liners. You’ll visit standard zombie movie venues and shoot a lot of undead.

Enemies glow when they’re about to attack, but there’s no logic to how far away they are when damaging you.

Interestingly, the fact you’re playing an arcade game does get used a little bit. Every now and then you’ll get a glitch in the game in the form of random modifiers that get “patched” about a minute later. You’ll cause more damage or gain elemental effects, or zombies will become tougher or more numerous. It’s a nice little feature that acts as a twist on the usual on-rails mechanics.

Speaking of mechanics, you’ll likely know what you’re getting here. You move around on rails, using your controller to aim a crosshair and blast zombies before they get too close. There are several issues with this. “Getting too close” is a bit of a crap shoot, as zombies seem to be able to melee you from ten feet away or even further if the game feels like it. Zombies that are about to attack have a little outline around them which is nice, but the window for reacting is very tight for playing on a console. 

This is exacerbated by another major issue of the aiming being a bit rough. hitting zombies is mostly manageable as they’re fairly large and tend to be numerous enough for you to blast away, but items like ammo and health are small and fiddly to hit, with you often given too little time to line up and hit them. It’s not a huge problem, as normal difficulty and below aren’t too tough, but anything higher is really difficult to deal with. As I understand it, this is much less of a problem in the PC version thanks to using a mouse, or even a light gun thanks to included support. I imagine I’d have had a more enjoyable time playing this on a different platform.

The visuals are quite impressive compared to other games in the series. The screen does get rather cluttered though.

Those ammo pickups aren’t brilliantly handled thanks to the array of weapons on offer. Your pistol has infinite ammo as you might expect, but you can also get automatic weapons, shotguns, and grenades. The trouble here is that ammo pickups all look very similar and are for specific weapons. So if you go out of your way to target a pickup and it’s ammo for a shotgun when you’re using an assault rifle, then you’re out of luck. Either have generic ammo pickups or just have weapons be temporary whilst increasing the power of the pistol. The system as it is is just frustrating. Grenades are a special screen-clearing weapon that you have to equip and then fire. I’d have preferred these to simply be a one-button press trigger, but they’re nice to use in a pinch and result in all manner of visual carnage.

On the subject of visuals, these are also a mixed bag. I see a theme with Railbreak. There’s a good variety of zombies, although the environments they’re in make little sense. Swarms of cheerleader zombies alongside those in hazmat suits in a car garage is pretty incongruous, but it’s not much of an issue. You have occasional super zombies, mostly in the vein of explosive, quick, or tanky ones that come with health bars for you to whittle down. I like that most zombies can be dismembered if you aim for limbs. Blowing off legs to slow them down is a neat little addition. Dead Drop Studios have referred to the fact that Railbreak uses Unreal Engine 5, and there certainly is a lot in the way of detail and particle effects going on. Pretty much everything is on fire or exploding, but this means the screen is often quite cluttered with effects, making targeting enemies difficult. This is especially true with boss enemies flinging attacks around the screen. 

The only other issue is the incredibly odd instance of you being grabbed by zombies resulting in the camera pulling away to show your character being munched on. It’s odd because you seem to be about 5 feet away from where you should be, and your character’s model is laughably low quality compared to the zombies. You also see this when they climb up or down ladders. Why not have stairs to avoid this? Again, this feature didn’t need to be in the game, and only serves to highlight visual problems.

Bosses appear from time to time. I often felt like they were battles of attrition rather than skilful aiming. You tend to get hit no matter what you do.

The sound is, shockingly, also quite mixed. The voice lines are suitably cheesy for a B-movie style game, but they sound like they’ve been recorded on a mobile phone in someone’s kitchen. Weapons sound great, and zombies have the right sort of moans, groans, and gory dismemberment noises. The music is suitable for the genre but has weird record-scratch sound effects when the track restarts or changes. Each time I heard it I was expecting some comment, cut-away, or silly moment to happen on screen. It’s another odd moment that doesn’t fit with the rest of the game.

On top of the campaign, there’s a score attack, survival, and boss rush mode, as well as a neat zombie shooting mode where each enemy is a supporter of the game. Many of these modes have a choice of characters with different starting weapons who can be unlocked by playing other parts of the game. Every part of the game can be played in two-player co-op as well. You aren’t short of content in Railbreak at least.

I would be of the opinion that Railbreak is the strongest game from the Outbreak series so far, although I haven’t played all of them. The short nature of the game and its modes make having just one more round a very real temptation, even accounting for all the faults. It’s hard to recommend on console because of the issues with controls, but playing on PC or with a light gun I would imagine is considerably more enjoyable.

Railbreak is available now on Xbox, PC, and PlayStation.

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