A late-in-development build of Resident Evil Outbreak shambled into our office today, and we had a chance to put the game through its preliminary paces. Outbreak is the online sequel to the classic survival horror franchise that takes place in an episodic fashion. The game is broken up into short scenarios that place you and up to three other unfortunate individuals in Resident Evil-style situations so that you can fend for yourselves as you try to save your own necks. There's no overarching storyline, as found in the other RE games. Instead, Outbreak is set up only for quick play sessions with other people.
The first scenario in the game is set in J's Bar, an unassuming watering hole that's visited by a bunch of zombies thirsty for blood. Anyway, you get to choose from a bunch of characters that each have different attributes. For example, Kevin, the police officer, starts with a pistol; Mark, a burly security guard, is strong with melee weapons; David, the plumber, has a toolkit in his inventory and can make new weapons from found objects; and Yoko, a diminutive student, has a backpack and can carry more items than other characters. There are eight characters in all, and your choice does seem to have a dramatic bearing on the experience you'll have as you play.
Aside from the brevity of the scenarios, the gameplay in Outbreak will be familiar to any veteran of Resident Evil. You run from room to room looking for items that will help you out, all the while fending off those shuffling undead goons that have terrorized the whole series. The biggest change from a mechanical standpoint is that you're not limited to the antiquated tank-style controls that all the previous RE games have used. You can still play that way by using the D pad, if you want, but the analog stick provides a much more natural control scheme that lets you run in the direction you're pushing the joystick. The movement and turning speed seemed a little cumbersome to us, but then, we just started playing, so we'll likely get used to the feel of the game with time.
There are an awful lot of objects--especially weapons--scattered around Outbreak's rooms that you can use to your advantage. As per the Resident Evil standard, there are a surprising number of handguns and boxes of ammo available, but Outbreak also lets you get a lot more creative with your weaponry than in previous games. During our playtime, we used as weapons a nailgun, an iron pipe, a broom handle, and even a makeshift flamethrower fashioned from an aerosol spray can and a lighter. You can give items to other players or even dig into their inventories and request something they have be given to you. You'll have to be generous about sharing weapons and ammo if everybody's going to make it out alive because the zombies have a tendency to gang up on you if you're not careful.
One thing that really surprised us about the English version of Outbreak is how downright profane the game is. The game unfortunately lacks real voice chat support, so in its stead, you can communicate in a basic way by hitting four directions on the right analog stick that correspond to messages like "Go!"; "Come this way."; and "Thank you." You can also hit the square button to make your character ad lib a line about the current situation. The spoken lines are almost always different from the subtitles, and it's in these text versions that we saw a lot of naughty words. Then again, if we were under the duress of fighting flesh-eating zombies for our lives, we'd probably let a few zingers slip too.
Outbreak looks surprisingly good compared to most PS2 games. It's only the second Resident Evil game to ditch the static bitmapped backgrounds of yesteryear for polygon environments (the first was Code: Veronica on the Dreamcast), and it's definitely a better-looking game for the switch. The environments are extremely detailed and show off a lot of appropriate lighting and set pieces that establish a creepy atmosphere. The character models, especially for the playable characters, are also built solidly and look appropriate to the setting (as long as you can get over their uncanny resemblances to certain Hollywood stars, that is).
If anything, what we've played of Resident Evil Outbreak has us interested in delving further into the game--especially with more players since there obviously aren't many people playing it yet--to see what the later scenarios have to offer. The game is scheduled for release at the end of March, so look for more coverage, including our full review, soon.