When Capcom first announced Resident Evil Online, there was widespread speculation about what sort of game it would be. Word eventually got out that it would be sort of a cooperative multiplayer action game, with players helping each other take out waves of zombies--more like a pure shooter than like the cinematic experiences the Resident Evil series is known for. However, seeing Resident Evil Outbreak on the show floor dispelled many of our misconceptions about the game.
In fact, this game is very much in the vein of its predecessors, and it is as story-driven and atmospheric as any of them. More so, arguably, since Resident Evil Outbreak looks really good just from a visual standpoint. The game uses washed-out colors for stylistic effect, giving everything a dreary and oppressive feel--and the character models for the player characters and the enemy zombies also look great.
The CG intro for the game is impressively produced and pretty grisly. Basically, a huge and ghastly creature murders a man, whose corpse is then eaten up by a swarm of rats. These rats, apparently, pick up a virus that causes people to turn into mindless zombies. That's bad news for quaint Raccoon City.
Cut to a number of people drinking away their sorrows at a Raccoon City bar. There are eight different playable characters in Outbreak, and four can play simultaneously. Depending on which character you choose, you see a slightly different version of the intro in the bar. The long and the short of it is, these are the characters who survive the initial zombie attack, and they must band together to survive. Each character has particular advantages that benefit his or her comrades.
The gameplay in Resident Evil Outbreak is very true to the series, actually. If anything, it's reminiscent of the recent Resident Evil 0, in which you could switch control between two different characters at any time. Imagine that game with twice as many characters and with a different player controlling each character directly. One of the interesting additions to gameplay is an "adlib" button, which causes your character to say something contextually relevant--such as a call to arms when under attack, or a cry for help when injured.
Online play raises a number of questions. Resident Evil Outbreak is a story-driven game, apparently, so will players always have to start from the beginning, or can they join a game in progress? What will the single-player portion of the game be like? What will the replay value be like? At any rate, Capcom has some impressive visuals to show for Resident Evil Outbreak, and the multiplayer portion is certainly functional and makes for a cool E3 demo, but we're still having a hard time figuring out exactly what the full version of the game will be like.
On its own merits, Resident Evil Outbreak looks like an impressive new title in the survival horror genre. Hopefully the single-player and multiplayer features will be fully fleshed out before the game's release, since the concept is certainly promising.