Resident Evil is the godfather of survival horror. But while upstarts like Silent Hill have been stealing the limelight recently, Resi's been languishing in Cube remakes and dodgy prequels for what seems like years.
Outbreak could be the game to re-establish Resi as the premiere pant-wetting adventure series. It's online (in Japan and US at least - we're STILL waiting to hear if Capcom will shaft us here) and it features a ton of new things to do and horrors to leg it from. But do fresh ideas mean there's fresh meat to tuck into?
Party Of Five
Outbreak features five large adventures - they're the same in single or online-only multiplayer. Each takes a few hours to crack, so it should work out about as big as Code Veronica - that's plenty of puzzle-solving and zombie-clubbing to get your gnashers into.
The game starts in a Raccoon City bar. While the eight main characters (see far right box) are chewing the fat, one customer is chewing on brains. All shambling hell breaks loose. You've got to get people out of the bar, up onto the roof and across to another building. From there it's a swim (just one of the new moves - see above right box) through water-filled tunnels, and finally building a bomb while being assaulted by waves of zombies.
And that's just the first mission - and the start of the outbreak. Later you tackle the Raccoon City Hospital and an Umbrella secret base, in missions spanning a timeline of all three of the first Resi games.
Another cool new twist is that most heroes tackling the Umbrella evil this time are barflies, not cops or soldiers. Only two start with a gun. Often you're using improvised weapons like pool cues or bottles. Less tooled up characters need to be smart and co-operate with the better armed bad boys around you.Whether in multiplayer or single, much of Outbreak is about working as a team. You can make context-sensitive appeals with one button, or use combos to order people more specifically. If you're in the same room you can share inventories too.
What you can't do is speak into a headset online - Capcom says this is to keep the tension up. But the upshot in single-player (and the less co-ordinated multiplayer sessions) is that the game is awash with shouting idiots running around in circles. And you NEED these idiots to help you with a proportion of the classic Resi puzzles.
This means mastering the awkward order system to avoid you (or them) ending as zombie-brekkie and, while characters DO come back after each scenario, their deaths affect your rating plus the ending you get. Another - albeit lesser - gripe is the loading time, made all the worse by zombies occasionally pushing you through doors while trying to chomp you.
Dark Side Of The Doom
On the plus side, Outbreak plays fast and scary. There's no let up - zombies chase you through areas, break down doors you've barred and repopulate areas you've left. There's even the chance to indulge your dark side in multiplayer. As your party get chomped, their viral percentage rises, they slow down and start limping. Hit 100 per cent and you're dead. Unless you're online. In which case you join the ranks of the flesh-eating undead, and chase down other players!
With options like that it's clear Capcom is trying hard to make Resi relevant, scary and interesting again. And it could well work.
It's Resi, but not as we know it. Online play (if we get it) should be neat and there's loads of new, exciting innovation. Shame the comms system is so clunky, though.