Name: Resident Evil: Outbreak
Format: PlayStation 2
Genre: Survival Horror
Region Reviewed: NTSC
Year of Release: 2004 (USA)
Usually when one thinks of PlayStation 2-era Resident Evil games, the first thoughts that come to their mind are RE4 and Code Veronica X. However, in 2003 two spin-off titles were released exclusively on the Sony console that haven’t received quite the fanfare that the previously mentioned titles have. These games were Resident Evil: Dead Aim and Resident Evil Outbreak. It’s a real shame that Outbreak (and its sequel which was released the following year) hasn’t gotten the love from Capcom that some of their other titles have. No HD remakes, no modern sequels, no PSN downloads, nada. This game is one hell of an underrated gem in the Resident Evil library and the survival horror genre in general.
One of the most unique features of Resident Evil Outbreak during its day was the ability to play it online with up to three other people. It was the original Resident Evil multiplayer and it didn’t need an over-the-top action vibe to pull it off: it retained the thrills and scares of the original games. So much in fact, that the games servers in Japan weren’t closed down until 2011, nearly two years after Resident Evil 5 launched. If that wasn’t a testament to the games appeal, then surely the Resident Evil Outbreak Revival team is. A group of dedicated Outbreak fans have put the servers back up for those with Japanese copies of the game or emulated via PC. Plenty of info can be found on this project with a quick Google search of Resident Evil Outbreak Revival. But online modes being resurrected aside (zombie pun #1), how does the game hold up generally speaking?
The gameplay is very reminiscent of Resident Evil 1 through Code Veronica, with the exception that you can play with two AI partners who are pre-selected for you depending on your character and scenario. You will have to survive an onslaught of terrific zombies and BOWs on little ammunition, small inventory space, and hard to find recovery items. The more damaged your player gets, the harder it is to manouver and your Virus Gauge increases (more on this later). If injured badly, your player will fall into danger mode and begin crawling on the floor until a partner helps you up to your feet. You can also help out partners in similar conditions should you see them in danger. You can also go into a bleeding status which will go away in time or if treated with the proper item. In this state you will have weaker attacks and speed. Also, there is the classic poisoned state that decreases your physical power and health until cured.
As you wander around the map like a chicken with its head cut off (zombie reference #2 kind of?) finding items, maps, keys, and clues to help you progress, you will also have to keep an eye on your Virus Gauge along with your life. The Virus Gauge is effectively the in-game timer you must beat before getting a game over. The virus level increases at a different pace according to which character you choose to play as and increases dramatically if being attacked or crawling on the ground. This feature adds a level of intensity to the survival and completion time of the mission. If your virus gauge maxes out, it’s game over in offline play. If your AI partners die in this state, you can loot their corpse by being in the same room as them. But before long, they too will join the horde of undead. If playing online, once your virus meter fills out, you can also become a mindless flesh muncher and go after your former friends.
Due to limited inventory space, sometimes you’ll have to put down an item in order to pick another up. The item removed from your inventory will be placed in the area where you picked the new one up from. Due to the backtracking nature of this game, until you memorize the layouts, this can be very useful. Reloading and switching weapons happens in real time, so it’s best to try and do that whenever you get a breather. The game also features a communication system using the right analogue directions, R3 button, and the L2 button combined with the previously mentioned. They’ll vary from Go, Come On, Yes, No, character’s names, Help, and Thanks. However, character relationships vary on your player and team-mates in offline mode, so sometimes while you’re screaming for help the jackass AI will respond “Not gonna happen” or “No” while he skips away giggling. The voice acting for the characters are very nice for the main cast of characters, giving them vibrant personalities of their own.
You can also press an Ad-Lib button which will remark on certain situations or thoughts in the character’s head. If you pick up a weapon or useful item, the character might remark “I found a powerful gun” or “I found a useful file”. This comes in handy when AI partners pick up key items or files without you knowing about it; which leads me to the item request/present feature. If you’re nearly dead and a partner is in the room with you at full health, you can open the inventory screen and view their items as well as your own, maybe to check if they have a green herb. If your inventory is full, you can trade with them. If you want to make space in your inventory but not drop a key item, you may present them with that item and they will make room for it. The ad-lib function can also let you and your partner have small conversations together depending on what’s going on. I think the communication feature has a certain cheesy charm to it but it can also be pretty helpful depending on your partners. It’s also particularly funny to say thank you to a zombie after he bites a chunk of your flesh out. “Why thank you.”
The game is cut up into five main scenarios, with a new one unlocking upon the completion of another. Each scenario features its own unique setting and boss. 1) The Outbreak scenario starts off in a bar set in Raccoon City during the initial stages of the err, outbreak, before wandering the streets. 2) Below Freezing Point takes place in the Raccoon City Underground Laboratories, which should feature some familiar sights to fans of RE2. 3) The Hive is set in the Raccoon General Hospital while you are being chased by a Nemesis-esque Leech Man who is seemingly invulnerable and follows you from room to room. 4) The Hellfire mission is infested with Lickers inside of a burning hotel called the Apple Inn, which makes a cameo appearance in the first mission. 5) The final act known as Decisions, Decisions makes the Raccoon University it’s playing ground and features a game-exclusive version of the infamous Tyrant monster known as Thanatos.
Before starting a scenario, the player is given the chance to choose their character. Character choice goes far beyond purely cosmetic changes, as each features their own strength, speed, viral immunity, and unique weapons. Let’s start with the male characters: Kevin Ryman is the police officer who comes equipped with his Special .45 Automatic, a powerful gun with ammunition that’s a bit hard to run across. He also has the ability to kick zombies and make them dazed momentarily, a much more useful version of the games tackling mechanic. He also has the ability to take pot shots with his handguns by holding down the aim button until his stance changes, allowing for more critical damage. Mark Wilkins is a former military veteran who now works as a security guard. He starts off with a regular handgun and is able to repel attacks from zombies using his guard function. He can also use a melee weapon version of the pot shot attack known as full swing.
George Hamilton is a doctor who carries a medical set with him, allowing him to easily carry herbs and create a wide variety of herbal mixtures. He also has a unique tackle move that allows him to counter enemies after being attacked. David King is a badass plumber (sorry, Mario) who comes with a handy tool box featuring throwable wrenches, a special foldable knife with combo slashing abilities, junk parts to fix broken guns and melee items, and duct tape to combine certain weapons to create something more powerful. Jim Chapman is the loudmouth yet hesitant subway worker who carries a lucky coin, which can be flipped to deal more damage… or less. He can also play dead, allowing himself to get by swarms of enemies unnoticed, although this causes his Virus Gauge to increase very quickly. When Jim has a map of an area, he can open it up and view item locations in his current room as they will appear as question marks.
The female characters: Cindy Lennox is a waitress from the opening scenario’s bar. She carries an herb case that comes pre-equipped with a variety of herbs, but can only store one type of mixed herbs in it. She also has the ability to Aid partners in need of curing and can duck enemy attacks if timed properly. Alyssa Ashcroft is a journalist and master of unlocking with her lockpick set which allows her access to certain cabinets that other characters cannot. She can also back step to evade enemy attacks, along with the ability to take pot shots on enemies like Kevin. Yoko Suzuki is a university student who can carry an additional four items in her knapsack, allowing a total of eight altogether. She also has an escape move, which makes her take steps backwards to avoid injury. The longer you hold down the buttons, the further back she will go.
The scenarios and story of Outbreak are loosely connected and can be seen as self-contained stories per episode. They will vary in date of the outbreak, certain characters may appear in a scenario even if they’re not on your team, or if a certain character dies in one stage they might reappear in another. Story isn’t the focus of Outbreak, although every level has its own narrative. The levels contain cutscenes, and the opening credits in particular are amazing. The musical theme for this game is one of the top tunes from Resident Evil to date and the rest of the sound design and music creates a scary atmosphere throughout. The ambience of the game is also very good, from distant zombies moaning and shambling around to fire crackling and popping.
The gameplay is the real spotlight in this outing though. It is one of the more challenging Resident Evil titles and you can easily die if you don’t know where you’re going, even on the easiest settings. The game is a real trial and error process as far as locating everything you need and routes you need to take. It takes a real master of the game to go through levels on the hardest difficulty with a no damage or no weapon playthrough. Thankfully, the controls in this game are great! Long gone are the tank controls from the earlier titles, instead opting for a more traditional movement style. Although the static camera angles might throw your direction off when they change from time to time, it’s definitely a lot smoother than they used to be.
The saving system in the game also adds to the challenge. Due to scenarios being episodic, you are allowed to save at certain typewriters hidden in the level (ink ribbon free thankfully). However, once you save you will be sent to the main menu. When you load that save back up, it’s a one shot thing. If you die, you will NOT be able to respawn back at the savepoint and must restart the scenario. This isn’t that big of an issue considering the length of the levels but it can cause some hair-pulling moments if you’re not careful.
The partner AI as mentioned previously does depend on the character relationships, but sometimes they can be downright dumb and require you to help them out. They can go right by weapons and medical supplies despite not having anything in their inventory, waste bullets on zombies crawling under cars where you can’t shoot them, and run off on their own if they don’t like your character. But they can come in handy too and assist you when things look bleak, it just varies.
The Hard and Very Hard difficulties can be unlocked in the Collection screen on the main menu. You unlock Collection Points by completing levels with all characters surviving, time, damage taken, etc. You will also be able to complete the Event Checklists for each scenario, which encourages multiple playthroughs as they won’t all be unlocked in one sitting. Certain events can be random, character specific, item specific, or even require you to take alternate routes to the end. Some may even require you to die in a certain way. Other collectables include unlockable costumes (found via invisible items from examining locations in game), fully-voiced playable NPC characters with unique starting items, and a few extra modes as well. Two of the extra modes are the partner-free Lone Wolf Mode and Infinity Mode, which allows unlimited ammo.
The graphics are very well for a PS2 game. The lighting is especially nice, setting an eerie mood with its dimly lit corridors and dark rooms. The pre-rendered backgrounds are gone in favour for a more lively atmosphere and the fixed camera angles add to the creepiness because you never know what’s around the corner. There’s plenty of variety in character and enemy models too. Certain playable characters and movements they have can be unique, adding more depth to the animation department… or should I say… re-animation department (hurrhurr, #3!) Visually the game still holds up pretty well today.
One minor complaint for the game is the loading times between areas, which are a tad long unless you have a PS2 with an HDD. The game can be installed to the HDD to allow for shorter loading times, something that has become common in more recent games but was fairly unique at the time. The loading can break the immersion a tad but you’ll soon get used to it and they’ll begin to fly by once you do.
Verdict:- Don’t let any of the negative points drive you away from this game, as the positives outweigh them by far. The game isn’t perfect, but this is a review and all reviews need a non-biased critique to them.
At the end of the day though, Outbreak manages to be a sorely underrated gem in the Resident Evil franchise and a MUST-OWN for Survival Horror fans. Because if there is one thing this game does right: it’s survival f’n horror. The game goes relatively cheap now online or at used game stores, due to it being released in the Resident Evil Essentials bundle released at the end of the PS2’s lifecycle. So go buy it. Now!
Note: The game also has a sequel that improves upon some mechanics, adds new and interesting scenarios, and even more unlockable goodies. Oh, and you can import your save data from this game over to Outbreak File #2 to keep your costumes and characters, then transfer your newly unlocked characters from the sequel BACK to the original. Talk about planning in advance, Capcom.
Hey, at least they didn’t charge us money to unlock new costumes... gotta love corporate zombies (4!!!)
Second Opinion:- Transbot thinks partner AI can be insulting to advanced artificial intelligence systems like his own. Transbot did enjoy watching partners cry for help while he screams no at them! HAHAHA, inferiorly programmed virtual specimen. Though he does wonder why zombies are so hungry all the time, maybe they need big bowl of Transbites? Turns out no, they just want survivor’s flesh. No class.
Fun game with a nice challenge, moody atmosphere, and tons of replayability through Event Checklist, unlockables, and extra modes. Still thinks robot invasion would be more catastrophic though. Crush puny zombies, crush!
Transbot Scores:- 7 out of 10