aka Resident Evil Outbreak in the USA and Europe.
The Resident Evil series (known as Biohazard in Japan) originated on the Playstation. After the series migrated to the Dreamcast and eventually to the Gamecube, the Playstation has been in a Resident Evil drought. With Resident Evil 4 being planned for the Gamecube, it seemed like the series would reside specifically on the cube. This made the announcement of Resident Evil Outbreak a welcome surprise for many Playstation owners. Not only were they getting an all new Resident Evil game, but one with online gameplay.
Perhaps Resident Evil Outbreak is more of a gaiden (side story) than part of the series. Instead of playing as a STARS agent, you play as an average person caught in the middle of zombie attacks. You have your choice of eight characters in the game, who each have a special ability. Kevin is a police officer of Raccoon city, he starts out with a gun and is the most similar character to Resident Evil veterans. Mark is a security guard, he can take a lot of damage and give the most damage with melee weapons. Yuka is a student and since she has a backpack she can carry an extra two items. Cindy is the waitress of the bar and her ability is healing others with herbs. David is a plumber who starts out with tools to make new weapons. George is a doctor who’s ability is combining herbs and other recovery items. Alyssa, the news reporter, has the ability to pick locks. Finally, there’s Jim who is a subway driver with the ability to play dead. Picking a different character not only reveals slightly different cut scenes, but offers different style of gameplay. For example if you’re Cindy you’ll be spending more time running around and healing other players than shooting zombies. If you like shooting zombies you’ll prefer a character like Mark or Kevin. If having a lot of different items is you’re forte you’ll find Yuka as your character of choice. Since each character provides a unique experience you’ll be able to enjoy the game over and over again with different characters.
Because of all of these different characters Resident Evil Outbreak emphasizes teamwork more than any other game in the series, possibly even more than any other console game out there. Since each character has a different set of skills you’re going to rely on different characters to help you. If you need to be healed you’ll go over to Cindy or George. For combat you’ll rely on Kevin or Mark. For solving puzzles Yuka is handy since she can carry extra items and so is Alyssa because she can access rooms without a key. What forces players to work together, besides having different skills, is that each player can only carry four items. Once you carry a firearm and ammo, your inventory size has been reduced to two measly items. Which means you’re stuck dropping and picking up items or relying on your partners to carry other items. Your partners also come in handy when fighting the endless swarm of zombies. Having partners will give you extra fire power and if you’re attacked they can push the zombies off you to prevent damage. When your character is near death he/she will fall to the ground and their infection percentage will rise rapidly, but if a partner picks you up from the ground all the sudden it will level out. Also when you’re injured you walk much slower so you’ll have to rely on other characters to heal you or even carry you around. Some puzzles force teamwork even more by having characters bring you to higher locations or call on a particular character’s skill, mostly Alyssa’s lock picking. The only problem with the system is seen playing alone. The computer’s partner AI system isn’t nearly as intuitive as the zombie’s AI. Granted, computer partners will attack nearby zombies, but they don’t follow you. They wander around on their own. Which means if you need to be healed or need a body guard you’ll have to walk with the computer controlled characters. Instead of running from area to area, they move slow, real slow. Especially when replaying levels you’ll notice that there is a lot of waiting if you want them by your side. What is even more of a problem is sometimes the non player characters pick up necessary items like First Aid Sprays, guns or even items to solve puzzles. If a computer character ever dies they end up getting revived as long as the player beats the level. So when the computer is using a first aid spray or herbs to heal themselves instead of sharing them with the player, the game can get frustrating. The problem is even worse if a computer controlled character picks up a puzzle item. Which mean you’ll have to search through the different NPC’s inventory to check for items besides picking them up while walking around. Then again, Resident Evil Outbreak was designed to be played online, which will provide a much better experience. The only qualm with the online gameplay is that you can’t talk to other players directly. You can choose from a few sound bytes to say, but there is no chat feature. This can lead to problems when trying to explain to a new player how to solve a puzzle.
Besides the online gameplay the structure of the game is different from other Resident Evil and survival horror games. Instead of having a giant mansion or area to run around in for countless hours, the game is played in scenarios. Beating one scenario unlocks another one, until you unlock all of the different scenarios. The first scenario starts off in a bar where all of the characters happen to be. Mark notices a strange looking customer walking into the bar. The bar is in the middle of being flooded by zombies, who enter through the door and jump through the windows. Maybe it’s just that I’ve played one to many survival horror games, but Resident Evil Outbreak doesn’t feel that scary. You get to a point where you expect "shock" horror, like zombies jumping out of windows to happen. The effect that the Resident Evil series was built on has been used by so many games, which makes it almost predictable. One of the dead giveaways is hearing the background ambiance change sounds. For the most part the game is quiet except for some light ambient noise, until a zombie is around. Thankfully, all of the zombies scream loudly and when they jump out of windows there is a loud sound of breaking glass. Besides that the only other sounds you’ll hear are the voices of the non playing characters, who talk a lot, but unfortunately with the same sound bytes.
The Resident Evil series has never been the series to scare you with surreal horror or disturbing imagery, Outbreak is no different. However, the visuals still look sharp, even though they are a little sparse on colors. During the cut scenes you can see the depth that the graphic artists put in to make realistic characters and gory looking zombies. The facial expressions of the characters are well done, the best part is watching a partner character get scared by a zombie that came out of nowhere. The backgrounds are nice too. They contain lots of little details objects all over the floor and a good use of ambient lighting to have that eerie feeling. All of this comes at quite a price in loading times. Gamers now have gotten used to waiting a few seconds for a stage or a new area to load, which was considered a big deal not to long ago. However, Resident Evil Outbreak stretches any gamers patience forcing wait periods of up to ten seconds to load the next the next room or status screen. When running in and out of rooms this load time can be quite troublesome. Add in an extra two seconds per character to go appear next to you and you’ve got some wait on your hands. Resident Evil Outbreak was designed with the Playstation 2 hard drive in mind. We’ve heard that these times are reduced, significantly by owning a hard drive, but so few gamers out there actually own one. Which means a lot of gamers will want either the latest gaming magazine, the strategy guide, or their homework to keep them busy during the loading time delay.
Probably my favorite part about the whole game is the variety of items you can attack the zombies with. Besides the standard fire arms such as pistols and shotguns. You can attack enemies with melee weapons too. You can attack them with a broomstick or even throw different items at them. Not only does it make you feel like an ordinary citizen it’s really amusing. When you’re running away from a zombie flinging what ever items you’re carrying in your hands it feels like something out of a horror movie spoof. What is even funnier is that attacking the zombies with weapons other than a gun is surprisingly effective. This isn’t always the case, but your generic zombie can be taken down with five clean hits with a broomstick. Even though this takes away some realism, it’s worth the humor.
Capcom put a lot of effort in redesigning the Resident Evil series as seen in Outbreak. This game feels "fresh" even though it’s a game based off a franchise, which is uncommon in the video game world. Also Resident Evil Outbreak is one of the rare games that takes advantage of the Playstation 2’s network adapter. Besides that it’s a fun game to play, that’s easy to jump into.
This game is more import friendly than you’d expect. All of the voices are in English with Japanese subtitles. All of the menus are in English, too. You’re required to understand a little Japanese to read the names of the items you pick up and the scattered news clippings.
Resident Evil Outbreak is scheduled for a March release, which around the same time as the Playstation 2 hard drive release in North America.
+ Pros: Multiple characters, new teamwork gameplay, decent graphics, online play
– Cons: Awful loading times, poor NPC intelligence, shock scares aren’t as scary
Overall: Resident Evil Outbreak is a game that any survival horror fan would love. It’s a game that almost anyone can get into, has a lot of replay value and is unique. However, Resident Evil demands your patience with awful loading times and for solving puzzles.
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