It’s probably pretty clear from the posts like the History of Survival Horror that I’m a huge fan of horror games. A big part of that comes the Resident Evil series (pre-5 and 6). The tension and sense of dread these games built up was, at the time, astounding. Whilst they relied heavily on jump scares and body horror more than the likes of Silent Hill, they were masterpieces of horror for sure.
The original trilogy on PlayStation were all epic games, but when the series made the jump to PS2 with Resident Evil Code Veronica X, it felt lackluster compared to what had come before.
Then, we saw Capcom try something slightly different with the Resident Evil Outbreak spin off series. Adding early online multiplayer to the mix, as well as changing the format of the games to scenario and mission based gameplay, the Outbreak games took a huge detour from the main series. Whilst the jump scares and horrific mutations were still there, the co-op aspect changed everything. But the big question is; how well did Outbreak fare amongst the swarm of horror games on PS2?
This is a pretty difficult bit to pin down, as there is an overarching storyline, but each mission/scenario actually had its own self-contained story as well. For example, the first scenario followed a group of survivors trying to escape from a bar and reach the nearest extraction point. Another had survivors trying to make their way through the laboratory underneath Raccoon City, all before a nuclear missile was set to denote and destroy said city.
The main story, however, was similar to that of Resident Evil 2 and 3, with the focus being on everyday people trying to find a way to escape a zombie infested city alive. As with all of the older Resident Evil games, the Umbrella Corporation featured heavily. After all, they were the ones who created the virus that started to the zombie outbreak.
Along the way, you learn more about the characters and their different histories and reasons for being in Raccoon City. There are also specific fates that befall the various different characters through the game. However, how much you learn and what fates take place actually depend on which characters you choose for each scenario. So, if you just end up using your favourite character for each one, you’ll likely miss much of the story.
As such, it’s really hard to work out how to score and review the storyline of Resident Evil Outbreak, bar the base “escape and survive” plot. If you do choose the “right” characters for each mission, you’ll get a relatively well thought-out plot with a few twists (but nothing that reaches the likes of Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil Remake). Choose the “wrong” characters, and you’re left with a very simplistic plotline that is largely forgettable.
When it comes to the graphics, Resident Evil Outbreak shines completely! In fact, the game has some of my favourite visuals for a Survival Horror game on the PS2. The character models are smooth and distinguishable, never feeling pixelated. The animations, for the most part, are smooth (although some of the walking stances are a bit off). The background look amazing, and are really immersive, making you feel like Raccoon City could be a real place.
Oh, and whilst it may seem like a really stupid little thing, I was really impressed that the developers took the time to make the characters actually walk up each step, rather than just glide up them like many other games (even Final Fantasy XII).
The use of (mostly) static camera angles was a huge part of Survival Horror back then, and Resident Evil Outbreak used it to near perfection. The careful placement of the cameras meant that you could only see certain parts of the area, allowing for monsters to come out from behind corners or off camera and really freak you out. However, the inclusion of cameras that, whilst fixed at a certain angle, followed you made for a nice change to the formula as well. It also meant that, if the camera was in front of the characters, you couldn’t see what you were running towards – that added a serious level of fear to the game!
On top of this, the fact that the cutscenes used the same graphic engine as the main game meant that you weren’t taken out of your immersion but jarring changes in character styles. This happened a lot in the original PlayStation games, due to the fact that the gameplay graphics were so blocky. But by utilising the power of the PS2, Capcom were able to hold on to that immersion consistantly.
The use of a translucent menu and inventory also meant that, whilst you were looking through your items, the game would carry on. The menu itself was recognisable as a Resident Evil UI, but the upgraded power of the PS2 allowed the developers to craft a much more pleasing to eye menu than previously used in older titles. And that leads nicely onto the gameplay.
Le;t’s start with the zombie elephant in the room; the controls of Resident Evil Outbreak are what’s known as tank controls. In other words, pressing up will always make your character move forward, whilst pressing left or right turns the character. This is completely the opposite to many non-horror games, where the character simply moves in the direction you press.
Tank controls were a staple of Survival Horror, as they made the games more difficult, and therefore, scarier. The fact that you had to use time turning around meant that you needed to be really careful how close you let the zombies get to you. If you weren’t careful, you could end up getting attacked and bitten as you try to turn to a different direction in order to escape. As such, there was a constant sense of worry that you wouldn’t be able to get away from whatever monstrosity you came across.
If you were playing in multiplayer, however, this was slightly aleviated by having someone else there to watch you back. But if you were like me and played single player, then rather than having someone else to help, you had AI-controlled characters with you instead. These were pretty much useless, as they would run out of ammo, constantly get hurt and sometimes just end up standing completely still… Thus, in single player, it actually become even more scary, since your “help” typically required your assistance more than you wanted.
One really cool aspect of the game is how your actions and choices actually changed how things would progress. For example, in the first scenario you eventually have to make your way upstairs from the bar. There you find a nail gun. With that, you can either use it as a weapon or use it to board up the open doorway that leads to the stairs you came up. If you board it up, then the zombies coming up the stairs get stuck there for a little while, giving you more time to find ammo and healing items, or run away. If you don’t, then they just come straight in and you have to deal with them immediately.
This aspect of being able to interact with the environment and make choices that directly affect the sceanrio’s progression was a huge step up for the Resident Evil franchise, which was sadly dropped after the Outbreak series finished.
All in all, the gameplay of Resident Evil Outbreak was definitely a selling point for the game. Even if the muliplayer took away from the fear somewhat, the overall gameplay was such a huge improvement on a well-known formula.
And That’s All Folks
Resident Evil Outbreak was a huge change for the franchise, and could almost be seen as a prototype for the multiplayer experiences of Resident Evil 5 and 6. It implemented some of the coolest gameplay features seen in the series to date, and really made you feel like you had to do everything you could just to survive! Whilst it definitely had some drawbacks in terms of storyline and the ability to miss key aspects of the plot, the game itself is probably one of the best in the Resident Evil franchise.
Have you ever played Resident Evil Outbreak? Would you if you got the chance? Let me know in the comments below!
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- 9th November 2017