Released in March of last year, Resident Evil Outbreak was Capcom's first attempt at taking its popular survival horror franchise online. The game let up to four players assume the roles of everyday Raccoon City folk to then team up to fight zombies, solve item-based puzzles, and prevent their brains from being eaten by said zombies. The sequel, appropriately named Resident Evil Outbreak File #2, is currently scheduled for release next month, and having spent some time with a work-in-progress version of the game, we can report that, Capcom has aattempted to address some of the issues players had with the original game and added some new features as well.
Capcom has added several new features to Outbreak File #2, some of which are detailed in file pickups you'll find when playing through the game's tutorial. The most useful of these new features is undoubtedly what Capcom refers to as "action aiming," which basically means you'll be able to move your character while he or she is in an attack posture. The remainder of the new stuff can basically be summed up as follows: You can pick up items while crawling on the ground; you can have your character say "sorry" to other players if you mess up; your character can say the names of rooms that are visible on your map aloud; and studying files you've found will occasionally throw up clues as your chosen character comments on them.
The eight playable characters are the same guys and girls that appeared in last year's game, so you can choose to play as Kevin the police officer, Mark the security guard, George the doctor, Cindy the waitress, David the plumber, Alyssa the reporter, Yoko the student, or Jim, who works on the subway. All the characters actually play quite differently, and you'll find that all of them have something unique to offer the team when you're choosing who to play with. Mark the security guard, for example, starts the game with a handgun and an extra ammo magazine; he can block enemy attacks and is skilled with melee weapons. David the plumber, on the other hand, can improvise and repair weapons using items from his toolbox; he starts the game with a lighter; eventually, he can throw monkey wrenches at enemies and perform powerful combo attacks when armed with a knife.
Although all eight playable characters are very different, there are plenty of things they all have in common...besides the fact that they regret ever settling in Raccoon City. For one thing, they all handle in much the same clumsy way as their counterparts from the early Resident Evil games. Playing with the analog stick instead of the directional pad will let you navigate certain locations more easily, but the "push up to go forward, no matter which way your character is facing" system on the directional pad is often preferable in areas where the camera position is constantly moving. Another thing all the characters have in common, which will come as no surprise to those of you familiar with the first Outbreak, is that they have very limited vocabularies and are, at times, downright stupid.
Since Resident Evil Outbreak #2 doesn't feature headset support, communicating with other players is only possible via the game's "ad-lib conversation" system. With it, you can say other characters' names aloud, along with a very limited number of canned phrases, such as "help," "come on," "go," and "yes" or "no." Since we only have one copy of Outbreak #2 at this point, we've not been able to try out the system with other players. But having spent plenty of time playing alongside artificially intelligent characters (who often need to be coaxed into doing anything useful with these same voice commands), we can report that we've found it to be about as useful as it is intuitive...which means not very.
Regardless of who we decided to team up with in the single-player game, our partners would run around like headless chickens unless we could convince them to follow us. Once we had them in tow, we were able to go about the scenarios in much the same way as any other Resident Evil game (with the exception of Resident Evil 4), except that we'd occasionally feel obligated to help them back to their feet or instruct them to use first aid sprays when they were hurt...despite the fact that they were rarely helpful when we came under attack ourselves. The other characters' most useful function, in fact, was to carry items around that we didn't have room for in our pathetically small four-slot backpack.
All five of the new scenarios in Outbreak #2--a zoo, a subway station, an abandoned hospital, a police station, and a lab--can either be played on a (very) easy or a normal difficulty setting. The normal setting seems like it'll be suitably challenging for decent groups of online players, but the behavior of the AI characters in the single-player game can make the easy option look much more appealing. We look forward to getting our hands on some more copies of the game, as well as putting the online play to the test. That's how the Outbreak games are supposed to be played, after all.