When we first heard about Resi: Online (as it was then) and splashed it on the cover of PSM2 it was online only and we described it as being the 'first real reason to buy a Network Adapter'. So when the shitshell dropped that the game wouldn't be online in the UK we almost choked on our collective bile. OK, Capcom haven't properly said that it won't be online but let's just say it's 'unlikely'.
So Japan get a single-player game plus an online team version and UK is heading for just the single-player game. A disaster? Not necessarily. What we hadn't banked on was the diversity and size of the five single-player scenarios in the game. Described in an off-hand manner by insiders as 'mini adventures' they are - we're pleased to report - brilliantly sizey. Given that there's five of them you've a game with the total and weight and mass of Code: Veronica - easily. And, if anything, the violently different, disconnected episodes allow the game to be even more diverse than the traditional 'single' Resi adventure. Some are set in Raccoon city, others in Umbrella secret bases. It's the best of all (Resident Evil) worlds.
Additionally another new feature is the creation of eight different characters with which to play. Clearly inspired by the need to give online players a believable alter ego they nevertheless have different abilities.
Whoa momma. Get this - you can put things down. No more will you have to eat herbs you don't need or fire off fruitless shots just to clear an inventory space. You can pick up the new item and sacrifice something you think you won't need. Then you can come back later and pick it up if you like. This just feels a lot more natural. And ditch any memory of magic teleporting crates too.
TAKING THE LEAD
It's possible to take items from (and give items to) your buddies. After choosing a character, each scenario (story) begins with you and two AI-controlled mates. They run around picking things up, healing themselves (and you), loading guns and opening fire. You have a limited vocab of commands you can give via the right stick and the ability to hide while they kill zombies or to tap them up for a green herb from time to time is great. However, given the AI team-play in Conflict: Desert Storm or The Thing this lot are very unpredictable - disappearing off at inopportune moments - and frequently annoying, gabbering a library of stock phrases ranging from "Dear God!" to "No shit!" Of course, in the 'proper' online game these players would be 'real' people. Though it's hard to imagine 'real' players being any more competent or less annoying.
Special mention must go to the new T-Virus meter. Get bitten in an attack and the T-Virus slowly takes over your body. Each successive nibble speeds up the descent into zombiedom and only sparse drugs dotted around can slow it down. The result is that the game can become a race against time as you struggle to make it to the end before you snuff it, but certain scenarios become impossible if you cop a chomp early on. It's a 'new feature' certainly, but one which is more a 'pain in the arse' than radical gameplay enhancement. Plus - in multi-player online mode - turning into a zombie allows you to play as a zombie and run about and chomp people. Unfortunately in single-player mode it just makes you flop onto the floor dead. It serves more to remind us that offline we're missing a trick.
FANCY A BITE?
And chances are you'll be getting nibbled quite a bit. There are now more zombies on-screen at once (we counted eight at one stage) and they can now come through doors and chase you from room to room. There's no comfort to be drawn from clearing an area. Come back and another hoard of undead will have crept in from the street and taken up residence. Both of these factors make Outbreak bastard hard - plus bringing up the ammo/health menu now no longer pauses the game so multi-button push reloads and health-ups need to be done on the fly - while you're getting mauled. We kind of like it but boy, will it piss you off at the start.
Another new feature is the ability to break down doors, bypassing the familiar (boring?) process of finding keys. Some characters are better at this than others however. It's like the game wants you to have fun rather than adhere to strict, unrealistic Resi rules.
Outbreak - even minus it's online mode - feels like the first proper shake up Resi has had. The switch to true 3D (first done in Code: Veronica) actually had less effect to the gameplay than the new abilities to crawl, kick stuff open, kick, punch or dodge (depending on your character) and persistent, numerous and believable zombies.
Who knows, Capcom may include online in the UK. But even without it Outbreak still does Resi's good name proud.
Resident Evil Outbreak reaches the UK in Spring