Resident Evil: Outbreak
Genre: Survival/Action Horror
There are a few horror series in the video game world that have stood the test of time, even though most have had fluctuation reviews and success. Among the most well known is the Resident Evil series, which even now is revving up to head into its seventh installment in the main series. Like most series, Resident Evil has had its own spin-offs. Among those stands Resident Evil: Outbreak. Personally, I have fond memories of playing this game in college, though plenty of newer fans to the series did not have the opportunity to play the game in its heyday.
Outbreak had a clear distinction from its predecessors. In an effort to bring a new level to the survival horror landscape, Capcom opened online servers to bring their latest installment to online play. Allowing a number of players to play together was meant to expand the series in a new direction and bring fans of the series together in a way that games like Left 4 Dead and Dead by Daylight do in the current industry. With the official servers having been shut down years ago, though, how does the game hold up today? In a series as established as Resident Evil, where does this oft overlooked entry land?
Taking place around the events of Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3, Outbreak follows eight characters who, a few days after the zombie spawning T-Virus erupts into ill-fated Raccoon City, find themselves infected with the virus and struggling to survive long enough to find a cure and escape the city. Across such locales as the streets of Raccoon City, Raccoon City University, the Apple Inn, and the Raccoon City Hospital, players take control of one of the eight survivors who, along with two computer controlled “teammates”, work to escape the horrors of
the city by any means necessary.
Conceptually, this is in my top three entries into the series, which I can attribute to the ‘survival horror’ feel that seems to have left the series in the most recent games. The characters are not super soldiers. Instead of members of task forces, you are controlling characters like Cindy Lennox, a waitress, reporter Alyssa Ashcroft, and doctor George Hamilton. Even the police and security guard characters don’t feel quite as ‘action star’ as the cast of the core series. Each character has their own special abilities and traits that differentiate them, but in the end, you feel like you’re playing someone struggling to survive.
It also helps that, while you may find guns as you go through the scenarios- of which there are five clocking in at about an hour to an hour and a half each- you also occasionally have to fend off mutated horrors with butcher knives, push brooms, and pipes, some of which can only take so many hits before they become useless. In this, the game isn’t ‘how many zombies can I mow through’, rather it is ‘how many zombies can I get around before I have to knock one or two out to escape’. If a character takes enough damage, they fall to the ground, still able to crawl around and call out for their teammates to help them up so long as they have not been overtaken by the virus. The game does tension well, even in the single player sense.
The real feature that stands out is the ‘virus’ feature. Throughout the scenario, you’ll want to keep track of your character’s ‘virus’ meter, which slowly climbs toward 100% unless halted by anti-virus pills or other means. If the character is knocked to the ground, this number begins to raise rapidly. Reaching 100% means that your character is overtaken by the virus and, as expected, becomes a zombie. This doesn’t do much in single player mode, but in online play, this meant that the player could act as a zombie to take out
their now former colleagues until being taken down. This adds another layer of tension, and while most scenarios can be cleared while well under 100%, a wrong move or two can drastically change that.
While this game did not receive sterling reviews when it came out, it does a lot of things right. Each stage is at least somewhat recognizable and feels right at home in the Resident Evil universe. The tank controls of the original few games are gone, and it has plenty of replay value, given the scenario system and four difficulties for each of them. Each scene also has an ‘event checklist’ which will get the player points to use toward unlocking bonus content or harder difficulties. Doing optional things like pushing objects in front of a door to stop zombies or reading certain memos as you explore will check off certain ‘achievements’, so exploration is promoted.
On the opposite side, there are a few issues with the game. The AI, much like in many games of the time, tends to be useless and dim, taking items before the player can get to them or running in circles while the player is trying to perform tasks that need to be done. This becomes especially irritating if the player is trying to heal their teammate or during the boss battles of each level, as keeping the other two characters in your team alive becomes a chore. There are a few other tiny issues. The controls, while better than past entries, feel slippery and tough to maneuver on occasion. There is the sporadic glitch here or there that can also interrupt the game, though mostly under certain strange conditions. The problems are in no way foreign to games of the same type and time, but
nowadays, they can be a bit tough to adapt to.
From the look and sound of the game, Outbreak actually holds up much better than I remembered from my original days of playing through it. Graphically, the game is smooth, especially in when looking at the cutscenes and the character models themselves. In rare instances, the game does have a grainy or fuzzy outline to a texture. Overall, though, the game’s environments and creatures are crisp and aptly dark and gritty.
The soundtrack is right on par with the rest of the series. It is appropriate in its haunting atmospheric melodies and, when the action calls for it, the staccato of its desperate battle overtures. While the voice acting is fine, as well, the designers have cued your team members to ‘ad-lib’ lines at an alarming rate. While these lines can be amusing, by the time you’ve heard them for the hundredth time in the same room, you’ll probably start turning the volume down for a few minutes at a time to break up the cacophony. Otherwise, the sound design is spot on.
Gauging from my memories- and mind that these were from when the game originally released so it was over ten years ago- one might ask how the game differs from online play to playing now. I can attest that the game was a lot of fun to play online, though I only played with people in the same college suite as me. Using certain voice commands- each direction on the control stick corresponding to a different command- helped in general teamwork building. You could freely pass an item to another player or request one of
theirs, as you could see their inventory if you were in the same room, and given that certain players were meant to be healers, combat capable, or support in other ways, throwing together a balanced team was pretty easy. Really, while the online play made the game a different kind of experience, I didn’t feel like I was lacking much while playing solo in my recent run through. Maybe it’s due to the fact that other games (again, like Left 4 Dead) have streamlined the process beyond what Outbreak was capable of. I would still be interested in revisiting the experience, and it seems that some people have reinvigorated the Japanese servers, at least, from what I’ve found in my searches for information on the game.
Overall, the game holds up just fine, though it may appeal more to the survival horror folks than the action horror types. There is a lack of linear story, and the games are so self contained that fans won’t miss much by not running through this game, but it does gives a modern look back toward the series’ roots. With multiple ways to approach most scenarios and the short chunks of time that each of them lasts, the game is perfect for a brief foray and when all is said and done, Resident Evil: Outbreak is enjoyable while still feeling accessible. If you’re a fan of the series and you feel like dusting off the old Playstation 2, the game is easy enough to pick up and is well worth the time to hunt down and kill some time with.