Full Review: Leech Man, he's our man, if he can't eat your flesh, no one can!
The Resident Evil franchise has fallen on hard times since the turn of the century. The latest victim of Capcom's tendency to milk a franchise until it's no longer relevant (see Street Fighter), the RE series has lost its luster since the release of Resident Evil CODE: Veronica (which to many was the high point of the series, rivaling Resident Evil 2) thanks to crap like Gun Survivor, even though the RE-make and Resident Evil Zero had decent success. Even series creator Shinji Mikami saw this, as Resident Evil 4 looks to be nothing like the usual RE games when that game releases on the GameCube later this year. For PS2 fans, however, Capcom is trying to make their Raccoon City roots work again, with the very first online Resident Evil game, Resident Evil: Outbreak. The idea of teamwork, be it offline or online is a great concept for the kill-or-be-zombified world of RE, making this stand out as a unique entry into the franchise. However, some stupid online components and a relatively weak story damper the game somewhat. Still, Outbreak can be a really fun game, as it does capture what made Resident Evil so popular ? shooting up flesh-hungry zombies and solving weird puzzles.
Outbreak is effectively identical online and offline ? there's five scenarios to play through, each running about an hour or so, give or take depending on knowledge of a level. There's eight different characters to choose from, each with different attributes and personalities ? some of the characters are helpful and others are selfish. This is most evident in single player, when your teammate NPC's (that would be non-player characters to the clueless) actually act on these personalities, when online all depends on who you're teamed with. The ?story' of the game is centered around the events of the 3 Raccoon City-based RE games for PlayStation, as this takes place during that time period. Zombies are coming, the city is a disaster, and each of these 8 characters are fighting for their lives. What starts in a bar goes to familiar locales (scenario 2 takes place at the underground Umbrella lab from the last section of Resident Evil 2) leading to the final climax. However, there's hardly any story at all, and what bits you do see make little to no sense until you play through the offline game with every single character. When you start a scenario, you're thrown in with different random partners, with no rhyme or reason to their inclusion. If I'm playing as Kevin and have Mark and Cindy as my teammates in the first level, why do I lose them both and wind up with that bitch Alyssa and whiny doctor boy George the next level?
What differs with offline and online is fairly simple ? with all characters being human, you never know what they'll do ? stick with you, run off somewhere, suck really bad and die, etc. If you're not careful you can be left behind, or leave behind others if you're either too slow or too fast. This could be rectified if you could properly communicate with players in-game ? but instead, you can only use specific phrases placed in the game ? Capcom says it's to increase the fear of a level?but that's plain old balderdash, especially since Outbreak is about a scary as Scream. Without keyboard or voice support, the online game feels like the offline game, which means?why bother? Your NPC teammates are more reliable than most online players anyway, as they don't finish levels before you even know what's going on. Hopefully the newly announced Resident Evil: Outbreak File #2 will include this so the online component will feel more like it's online. At the least, the Broadband-only play means lag is non-existent and the game is playable if you can handle the problems with it.
Anyway, RE Outbreak plays just like the past RE games with just a few differences. For one, you can use more than firearms to beat zombies up ? brooms, crutches, pipes, nail guns, and such can be used to keep enemies at bay without wasting precious ammo and save you from using precious healing items. The only thing to realize is with teammates, sometimes you'll need to compete for items, or give them items to keep them alive. You can trade or request items from NPC's and online teammates as you go along ? if they have something you need to combine or use, just ask for it and they should give it to you (unless the online player is a jackhole and refuses because he's a 12 year old punk ass), or you can donate a weapon to someone who needs something to keep zombies and such at bay. The big problem is, with the exception of one character, you can only hold 4 items at a time, along with one ?special' slot for their unique item (like the doctor has the ability to make super-herbs, and Kevin, the RPD officer has a special handgun right away). Thus, choices have to be made, things have to be dropped long as you can remember where you left it, or you can use item slots of other characters to preserve items until you need them ? at least offline for the latter method.
Another new addition is the ?time limit' of each scenario. There's no actual clock, per se, instead, you begin the game ?infected' by the virus, and have to beat it before it reaches 100%. It's not really a huge deal, as it only punishes those who screw around too long, and you can delay it by using anti-virus capsules, but it's something to remember, as it does speed up if you get attacked a lot by blood and flesh thirsty undead. Sometimes you do get an actual clock (after all, this IS a Resident Evil game where it always ends having like 3 minutes to escape before the area is blown to smithereens after inputting detonation codes), but rarely ? and still, the faster you clear a level, the better your ranking is. Of course, there's always the zombie part?if you die, be it getting to 100% infection or just being eaten up by the undead, you become a member of that undead, online. Only for a while though, as eventually your game will end. It's kinda funny for a while, as you can trick teammates by standing around looking human, then attack them as they wander by. Always good for a laugh (or revenge on a twit teammate).
What's very different also is the lack of ?save points' ? while you'll find the usual typewriters to save your game, you cannot just save and go on ? instead, you save the game and return to the title screen. When you start up again, your save file is deleted (the scenario save, not the main save), so if you die, you can't reload. The idea is to play through each scenario all the way through, with the save points being there just to take a break if you need to do something else. No ink ribbons and whatnot this time around ? thankfully, the scenarios aren't long enough to really worry about the lack of ?true' saving in Outbreak.
Each scenario is based on percentage completed ? using different characters and doing different things will give you the necessary accomplishments to earn 100% in a level (doesn't matter if you do it online or offline either). A lot of them are obscure and fairly dumb (pressing the nurses call button is something you'd never think to do, as it doesn't stick out) but getting 100% results in some hidden unlockables ? which is saying something because there's a ridiculous amount of stuff to unlock in this game, like extra costumes, artwork, music, even the hard and very hard difficulty settings ? which must be cleared to earn 100% on a scenario (you only have to do each thing once to earn the necessary completion %, thankfully). Needless to say, if you can get into this game hardcore, there is a lot of stuff to do and see.
Thankfully, Outbreak manages to be a fun, classic RE-style game. The lacking narrative makes the game feel a bit pointless, as does the random teammates, but it's still a good game. The controls aren't much different, but do feel much more human, as the characters don't twaddle around robotically as you control them anymore. Unfortunately, the game is better offline than on, as the lack of communication between teammates can be frustrating and the unpredictable nature of other players can lead to headaches. There's a lot to do, and the game is pretty lengthy as well. Each scenario is unique enough to not get tiring after a while, and the different characters lead to different ways to play each time around. Those lacking HDD's will suffer much hell though, as load times are horrendous (and you know I never discuss loading times, unless they're truly awful). However, those who've taken the $100 plunge on Final Fantasy XI and the HDD will be rewarded with zippy (but not instant, mind you) load times if you spend the time installing the game to the drive.
Resident Evil: Outbreak is highlighted by sharp, detailed graphics that bring certain areas to life like not seen before. Imagine a hospital with creepy basement areas (though?nothing compares to the cremation room in Silent Hill 3, which probably will never be topped), rooms with dead stuff under the covers, an actual autopsy room (with the remains of someone who's been checked out recently still on the gurney under a sheet), and all your other favorite hospital fears ? while you're running from the damn Leech Man at the same time. Or revisiting the lab from RE 2 and seeing details not seen before in that area. The realtime background visuals look great, and the character designs, be it zombies, humans, leech men, hunters, lickers, dogs, and all your favorite RE creatures are done very well. It runs at a nice steady clip despite the chance of having tons of zombies on screen at once, which is not something completely needed in a game like this, but nice no matter. The beat down and infected Raccoon City never looked this good.
The audio though, is in a word, non-existent. Other than the recycled moans of zombies and screams of NPC's being devoured, or the firing of weapons and the use of other tool of destruction, you won't notice much. The small snippets of voice acting is all right, but we're taking RE here, so nothing to get worked up about. The problem is, they repeat so often that it gets grating on the nerves ? one can only hear so many ?oh shit!' or ?hello?!' lines until you mute the TV. The music is fairly good, though not as sharp as past Resident Evil games ? but it's drowned out so badly that you really can't hear much of it anyway.