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ECTS 2003: Resident Evil: Outbreak

The Zombie slasher returns to the PS2.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

After the criminally ignored Resident Evil: Dead Aim, Capcom has decided to go back in time in more ways than one with the next PS2-only title in the series. Subtitled Outbreak, this is first in the franchise to allow gamers to hook up in four player co-operative online multiplayer action [or maybe not for PAL gamers, but more of that later -Ed].

Set once again in Raccoon City, Capcom has returned to the era of Resident Evil 3, where the whole cursed place has not only been overrun by shambling zombies, but is on fire. Needless to say, you've got to guide one of the eight available characters out of there. And unlock a whole lot of doors along the way.

Classic look and feel

In terms of the basic look and feel, Capcom has opted for the 'classic' route of old, with a fixed camera perspective, along with the familiar combat, control, inventory and puzzle mechanics that have been firmly embedded in the series since the very beginning [is that a collective groan, or have Zombies infiltrated ECTS? -Ed].

Likewise, the atmospheric gloom and richly detailed rendered backgrounds remain, although don't quite match the recent Cube-exclusive duo for visual opulence, lacking the small touches, such as the incidental animations.

What the game does try to do differently is lend a team play element to the proceedings, and tasks you with hooking up with three other players online in order to survive and work your way out of each of the five scenarios intact.


Kicking off with the usual spectacular rendered intro that Capcom is famous for, the sequence pans through a filthy rat-infested subterranean environment, littered with bloodied corpses strewn over metal walkways, empty bullet cases, all played out to a sweeping orchestral soundtrack. The stylish CG movie takes a detour via smashed toilets, giant misshapen skinless mutant giants, and packs of rats that morph into multiplying bacteria, before finally ending this exhausting journey back on ground level via a storm drain.

With that over, the player has a choice of four skill levels, and eight characters, each with their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Kevin, a Raccoon City Police Officer, is the only character with a handgun available at the start, George, a doctor, is good at mixing health promoting herbs; Yoko [oh no -Ed], is a "Japanese woman shrouded in mystery", and can carry more stuff than anyone else; Mark, is a Vietnam War vet with "high defensive capabilities"; Cindy, a waitress at a bar, can sleep with zombies, er, I mean has a case that can be filled with objects; David, a plumber, can combine items to create new weapons; Jim, a railway worker who is good at solving puzzles (and is lucky, being able to flip a coin to avoid a zombie attack) and Alyssa; a sneaky reporter type (aren’t they all) that can pick locks. Obviously. One of the characters can even play dead, apparently, enabling the player to avoid the slavering hordes.

The first of the five 'scenarios' kicks off in a good ole Raccoon City bar, where the clientele have their tasty beverages rudely interrupted by a posse of flesh hungry zombies bursting into the fray. At this point, your character becomes controllable and you're then tasked with wading through the zombies and the various locations to safety.


The first playable impressions reveal a few issues, however. In our brief play test, we stumbled over the same problems that will doubtlessly blight any co-operative online game; namely you're always a bit crap as working as a team to begin with. Inevitably everyone wanders off in different directions to explore rather than co-operating, but as producer Tanaka-san pointed out "it's gonna be tough if you keep playing all by yourself, but the fun of online play is the co-operation."

Indeed, it was tough going, and within minutes all of the headless chickens assembled bar your faithful correspondent had been eaten by zombies. If you do bother to work together, you can actually help your mates in a variety of ways, such as trading useful items and reviving downed team-mates. If they deserve it, naturally.

The control system is a mixture of the familiar and the new. Most of the controls you'll be utterly familiar with, but one addition is the issuing of four main commands to your buddies, which are assigned to the right stick. Depending on the context, you'll be able to call out key phrases such as "help me out here!", "anybody there?!", "come on!", "thanks", "is there something you can see", and the like.

Headset/microphone support hasn't made it into the game, as a means of preserving the atmosphere, says Capcom. We guess it would have been a practical solution to communication, but when you consider how many 'tards there are out there, it's not a major surprise. "We wanted to retain the fear of being chased by zombies," he said. "We didn't want people chatting - it'd spoil the tension."

Out for the count

Death is, of course, omnipresent, and although you won't be able to respawn once you're out for the count, if your team-mates make it to the end of the level you can join in once again. But given that completion of a level is said to take well over half an hour, we can't imagine too many people wanting to hang around too long.

Mercifully, there's a standalone single player mode too, for those who prefer things this way, but the co-op element will remain. How it will work in practice is anyone's guess at this stage, but two (rather than three, curiously) NPCs will be on hand to help you out instead. But there's no partner swapping Ressie Zero style. This aint no swingers club, boyo.

Annoyingly, it seems that the online mode is far from a given in the PAL version. Although Tanaka-san was at pains to point out that he would like it to make it into this edition, the situation was far from clear cut. "There are still plans for online for PAL, but we're considering releasing it offline. It depends on SCEE, because the [network] system is very different [compared to Japan or the US].” Even more worrying, if the game does feature an online element in PAL territories, it'll push the game's release date even further back - currently on track for a May 2004 release, with Japan getting it late November, early December 2003, while those spawny Yanks get it in March 2004.

Make some noise

With the game not far off in Japan, we'll be looking to bring you a better idea of how it plays nearer Christmas, with the US version following a few months later. And with the excellent looking Resident Evil 4 coming to the Cube in 2004, it's going to be a great year for survival horror. Until then, voice your support for full online play and let Capcom and Sony know your thoughts.

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