Resident Evil: Outbreak
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Zombies and scares have always been the name of the game in the Resident Evil franchise - in fact, it's been the name of the game for nearly eight years with few alterations to the successful formula. Like that zombie that just won't die despite a shotgun wound to the chest, Resident Evil keeps coming back, much to the delight of fans, and now you can take it online with Resident Evil: Outbreak and share your distaste for zombies the world over.
Fret not Resident Evil fans, Resident Evil: Outbreak is essentially the same game you know and love minus a few changes. There are still plenty of zombies that are achin' to gnaw at your neck, but now instead of going at it alone, you're working with several other characters - controlled by either the computer or other players if you take it online - to complete the scenarios. However, just because you're stuck in the same boat doesn't mean you have to work together. Your adventure is completely independent from one another, and there's really no pressure to work together. Another staggering difference is that Resident Evil: Outbreak is divided into five different scenarios that are pretty independent of each other ' meaning, there's no longer a cohesive story. Yet despite these differences, Resident Evil: Outbreak is essentially the same as previous incarnations: your ultimate goal is still survival, which is achieved by shooting zombies and solving puzzles while overcoming the often-awful camera angles. If you loved it before, you'll probably love it here.
However, here's the hefty downside: there's little to no communication with your teammates. That's right, no voice chat and no chatting with a USB keyboard. You can only communicate with teammates through 'ad-lib'? movements that only encompass a few short phrases that are really no help at all. With such a loss in communication, the result is that you and the other players often wander off alone, circumventing that whole interaction thing that makes online games so fun. Granted, it was likely done to keep the sense of tension high, but in the end it seems to discourage teamwork, and isn't that what cooperative online games are all about?
Another major gripe is that there's a lot of loading. Without a HDD, every door you walk through will require a pretty substantial loading time. Combine that with the fact that areas are small and filled with a lot of doors, and then you'll see the problem. Supposedly, it's better with the hard drive that shipped with Final Fantasy XI, but it's something to be wary of from the outset.
You have to give Resident Evil: Outbreak credit for trying something new and succeeding on most levels, but if you were hoping that it would take the series in a new direction, then you might be disappointed because it's essentially a standard Resident Evil title with an online component. If you didn't like any of the other offerings with the Resident Evil name attached to it, then Resident Evil: Outbreak will do little to change your mind ' however, if you're a fan and can get past some of the major problems, then there's a lot to love here.
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You like to play with yourself. That's OK--it's a perfectly normal, natural thing. It's also why Capcom dumped Outbreak's old name ( Resident Evil Online) and added single-player capability to this fully 3D horror adventure. Up to four gamers can still play together over the Net, using teamwork and good ol' fashioned violence to solve puzzles and fight the undead. Or, if you like, you can play the same game solo, with the computer controlling your three partners. (In fact, it might be more fun that way, depending on who you're playing with.)
HOW WAS IT?
The different characters' (there are eight) abilities and points of view on the same events (think RE2) are a clever hook, the graphics look sharp, and the whole teamwork vibe is something new that RE desperately needs. Only the inexplicable lack of voice chat or a virtual keyboard--you can communicate only through frustrating context-sensitive phrases the game chooses for you--kept my excitement in check.
The zombie-infested series that gave name to (and then popularized) the survival-horror genre is dragging its festering animated corpse online early next year for multiplayer play. You'd think that a greater human-to-corfise ratio would dampen the fear factor a bit. "In actuality, it will be scary because there are other people there," says Producer Tsuyoshi Tanaka. "Less control equals more chances for something to go wrong."
Here's the setup: A waitress, a cop, a surgeon, a plumber, a security guard, a reporter, a subway conductor, and a computer expert walk into a bar, but before a lame joke can ensue, a horde of unruly zombies breaks in, starts wrecking the joint, and begins gnawing on the closest warm bodies. Using your chosen character's unique skills (such as lock-picking, playing dead, or creating MacGyver-style improvised weapons), you'll work with the other survivors--up to four of the eight selectable bodies will be live players--to find a way out of the city. Communication isn't only important, it's the key to staying alive in Raccoon City.
Instead of using a keyboard or headset to converse with your group, the game requires you to talk to them through limited, situation-specific text selections like, "I have the key!" or "We're all going to die!"
While not being able to chat kind of sucks, the upside is that it'll keep your party "in character" and prevent everyone from spoiling each scenario's scares. (You really don't want your friends standing around typing "OMG u suxOrz. LOL!!!" while a giant carniverous moth or toothy hunter is chewing your face off.)
The tastiest part of Resident Evil: Outbreak is that players who die in the game will have a chance to become undead who can beat down doors and go cannibal on their now-yummy friends...if only for a few minutes. Who's LOLing now?
One thing I'll say for Outbreak-- it is absolutely gorgeous. Its fully 3D environments allow for dramatic camera pans and zooms, yet still somehow pack in all the detail of RE's traditional flat, prerendered backgrounds. In terms of gameplay, this is classic RE--grab keys, mix chemicals, conserve ammo, solve puzzles--with the story line removed and multiplayer added. Branching paths, tons of unlockables, and secrets galore encourage replay--so what's the problem? Communication. Or rather, a lack thereof. The stiff difficulty, branching levels, and especially your severely limited inventory (most characters have only four slots for items) make cooperation among players essential, but the inexplicable lack of voice (or even keyboard) chat completely destroys all hope of real teamwork. Once the game starts, the only way to communicate is with 10 preset phrases ("Go!" "Help!" etc.). Even after you master this convoluted system, deciding simple things like which floor everyone will take an elevator to, much less implementing real strategy like "Let's split up, you do this, we'll do that," is impossible. So instead of fostering the teamwork and camaraderie that makes online gaming special, Outbreak has everyone quietly going about their own business, only occasionally working together in the most obvious ways. Single player is nearly as frustrating, thanks to A.I.-controlled teammates who have a talent for doing exactly the wrong thing.
I don't think Americans have proven they can handle an online game that demands teamwork (anyone get f'd in Phantasy Star Online?). But even if we did learn to play nice, Outbreak still wouldn't be that fun. It has familiar enemies, weapons, and locales reworked into a handful of cool-but-predictable RE adventures that are actually quite good offline, but fraught with logistical issues on the Net (finding lost teammates without chat, battling zombies with lag). I also much prefer the old control style--the new 3D-style movement is much more confusing. And though the large cast is nice, only a few characters are invaluable (big-sack Yoko), while others are a novelty at best (fix-it man David, doctor George).
The greatest evil residing in Outbreak isn't the hordes of zombies out to go all Dawn of the Dead on your ass--it's the shoddy online play structure. Capcom claims that not being able to speak or type to others makes the game scarier, but this and things like having to wait minutes--maybe even hours!--for others in the lobby after you die really just make it less fun to play. Single-player action redeems the faulty online setup with five unrelated scenarios (would it have been that hard to link them somehow?) in which you really have to work with the A.I. characters to succeed. Whether offline or on, facing zombies with some backup adds an interesting gameplay mechanic to the RE formula. If only the online setup weren't so disappointing....
Since most characters have only four slots for holding weapons, ammo, healing items, keys, etc., you'll need to trade items often in Outbreak. Trouble is, the game was built for online play, so it doesn't pause when you bring up your inventory to trade or use items (even in single player). What's worse, the item menu closes if you take damage. Imagine trying to hand a dying player a healing herb over and over, only to get attacked over and over, eventually ending up dead yourself. It happens! A lot!
By the time you read this, people all over the country will be trading green herbs, smacking each other with crowbars, and savoring the tangy flavor of human flesh. Other people will be playing Resident Evil Outbreak. Capcom couldnt get us a version we could play online, so we had to hold off on our review. The graphics look great, but not being able to talk or type in an online game? Now thats got us a bit scared.