Codename: Outbreak is a first- and third-person shooter that has few redeeming qualities beyond a handful of initially notable options that ultimately turn out to be novelties. Previously known as Venom, the game has been in development for a while at GSC Game World, the creator of Cossacks: European Wars, and perhaps it would have been better received had it been released earlier. But as it is, Codename: Outbreak fails to stack up against the current crop of similar games.
The game takes place on Earth in the not-so-distant future. A passing meteor shower has peppered the planet with a mysterious alien life-form that, when hatched, attaches itself onto the back of people's necks and takes control of them. If that sounds like the plot of every corny Hollywood movie that involves mysterious alien life-forms, that's because it pretty much is. You assume the role of a leader of a small band of military operatives who've been tasked with the duty of cleaning up this infestation. This plot progresses through uninspired cutscenes that involve little more than a floating camera that pans around your characters as you receive your mission briefing, although there are two high-quality prerendered scenes that play at the beginning and at the end of the game, respectively.
Before jumping into each mission, you have the option of choosing to play as any two of your six initial operatives, each of whom has different ratings for characteristics that include speed, reaction time, stamina, and maximum health. You can even outfit your party with one of several suits of armor. These have an additional effect on your overall physical attributes, since each suit will affect your running speed and has varying bonuses for protection against different types of weapons. However, in practice you'll be hard pressed to note any real difference between any of the armor or soldier attributes. In between each mission you can also select the types of weapons that your two characters will carry onto the field. It's interesting to note that while there are eight weapon types in the game--including sniper rifles, lasers, and shotguns--there are only a handful of physical weapons to choose from. In what's probably a first in the genre, Codename: Outbreak's different weapons actually share the same 3D model, but they have a rotating barrel to accommodate the different munitions. So one weapon might have the capabilities of a shotgun, a submachine gun, and a sniper rifle, while another will have a grenade launcher, a shotgun, and a flare dispenser. It's a novel idea, but it's hardly believable, as it's hard to imagine a single weapon that can be used, for instance, as a mine layer and a laser. Also, the fact that many of the weapons overlap in some of their capabilities will probably leave you a little bit confused.
There are about a dozen single-player levels in the game, though they can be played either during the day or at night, and they all involve standard conventions of first-person shooters, like killing everything with a pulse and finding the right keys to open the right doors. In fact, at one point, your mission briefing even says that a certain set of "gates are surely closed, and the keys are likely held by security." There are certain elements of stealth involved in some of the missions, particularly the night missions, but your teammates always seem to go in with guns blazing, blowing any measure of surprise you had on the enemies. The ensuing firefights are nothing special and often result in your enemies standing face to face with you and your teammate, guns blazing. Sometimes, these soldiers will run back and forth along a straight line in a shallow attempt at seeking cover, but more often than not, they'll resort to the stand-in-place approach. Similarly, your teammates' pathfinding is a joke, especially in indoor environments, where they will always get stuck in a doorframe or around a corner. At times, the only way to overcome these problems is to switch players and execute the maneuver of navigating a 90-degree turn by yourself.
This same level of mediocrity can also be found in Outbreak's other qualities. The game's voice acting flirts with being outright bad. All the characters in the game, from the soldiers to the briefing officers who constantly update your objectives within each mission, speak in a complete monotone and pay no heed to punctuation whatsoever. Most of the game's other audio effects are largely forgettable as well--the gun effects lack any visceral punch to them, and ambient effects are scarce. The visuals are no more impressive, either. The characters are made up of a low number of polygons, and their animations, while smooth, are nothing special. On the other hand, the environments themselves are fairly expansive, and strangely enough, the trees look especially good. Unfortunately, everything else is made up of muddy textures whose seams are easily discernable. There are also some serious mip-mapping issues that are immediately evident--you can see the exact point toward the horizon where the textures go from very fuzzy to not so fuzzy.
About the best thing that can be said about Codename: Outbreak is that it comes with a suggested retail price that's less than that of most new games. It does have four multiplayer options that let up to 16 players compete against each other at once, and one of those options is a cooperative mode, a feature that more first-person shooters should adopt. The game has a built-in game server browser, although no one could be found playing. And despite its low price, better shooters such as Serious Sam: The First Encounter (which also has co-op play) can be had for less. Aside from a few novelty options, Codename: Outbreak is an uninspired first-person shooter that really doesn't stack up against the glut of similar games currently out on the market.
Editor's note 12/17/01: The original review was based off of the German retail version of the game, and has since been amended with reference to the different audio found in the US version.