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Defending Resident Evil Outbreak

Defending Resident Evil Outbreak

So for those of you paying attention to the interwebs recently, you’ll have noticed Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City has been announced. For those of you short on time or who can’t be bothered leaving this page to find out what it is, here are the important details:

– Team based shooter where you play as USS soldiers
– Developed by SOCOM Confrontation studio Slant Six
– Chance to meet and kill iconic Resident Evil characters

Which is… you know. Weird. Not that I want to colour anyone’s judgment because no-one has seen it in action yet but it does read worryingly close to a GameFAQs wishlist. Does Capcom not want to do horror anymore? In any case, Operation Raccoon City is reminiscent of Resident Evil Outbreak in that it’s bringing a team concept and online play to Resident Evil. So, quick thought based on the announcement, bolded for emphasis:

Resident Evil Outbreak was ahead of its time

Saying something was ‘ahead of its time’ is a convenient and face-saving excuse for its failure. Resident Evil Outbreak may be one of the instances where that excuse is actually true. Looking back, it’s amazing how its ambition seems to have passed people by and how easily it would fit into the current online slant of gaming if it were to be released today. Resident Evil 5 might be the most popular online entry for the series but Resident Evil Outbreak was the first time Capcom really attempted it. They went, to use the popular phrase, balls in.

Things to note:

You played a normal person.

Online play aside, this is what really set Outbreak apart from other Resident Evil games. You weren’t playing as a member of S.T.A.R.S. You were playing as a waitress or a plumber or a fat security guard. Each character had special moves but they included ducking or playing dead, not kicking zombie heads through windows.

You couldn’t stand toe to toe with the zombie invasion and fend it off with an arsenal of explosive weapons. You had to avoid it. Like a normal person.

It required teamwork.

It’s not a particularly impressive bulletpoint post-Left 4 Dead but Resident Evil games had been solitary experiences. Outbreak was about camaraderie.

While no puzzles actually required the presence of another player to be solved, the illusion was there thanks to you-pick-the-lock-while-I-board-up-the-windows design of the rooms and cute touches throughout, such as dragging injured players to safety while they fired their pistol. And that’s something even Left 4 Dead won’t let you do.

Survival was the goal.

You may think survival is always the goal in survival horror – ‘hence the name, stupid’ – but it’s not. Not really. The Resident Evil series itself is a great example. You’re not surviving. You’re stopping Umbrella corporation. You’re not escaping the belly of the beast as much as you’re venturing further into it, with a rocket launcher on your back and mixed herbs in your pocket.

In Outbreak, you’re trying to survive. You’re running way. It’s survival horror boiled down to its absolute essence of surviving a horrific experience.

It was incredibly tense.

This is obviously a subjective point but horror games are at their best when played through for the first time and you’re not really sure what to do, as confusion spreads panic. Resident Evil Outbreak married this gameplay to what was essentially a countdown timer – zombies could eventually break through doors and windows and there was no way of permanently dispatching them.

While this sense of emergency magnified the frustrations with the control system and design inconsistencies, it also made the game incredibly tense.

It obviously wasn’t perfect, hence why it has faded from memory. One complaint about Outbreak was its messy inventory system. Resident Evil has always had clumsy menus but it never mattered too much because the game paused whenever you reached into your pockets.

The problem Outbreak had was its online nature meant the game wouldn’t pause but Capcom didn’t tweak the inventory system to compensate. They hadn’t really come up to a solution for Resident Evil’s biggest online problem.

All these years later and Capcom still hasn’t found an answer – try passing a grenade to Sheva in Resident Evil 5 while fending off the infected to see what I mean – but the workaround is that Resident Evil 5 is paced in a way that you’re slowly introduced to the quirks of its system, while there are moments of quiet that allow you to rearrange your items.

Outbreak threw you in a bar, had zombies clatter through the window and trusted you to figure things out. Which is cool, because it’s nice when game designers trust you, but not so cool when that means you have seconds to figure out how to open a door instead of accidentally coating it with your only first-aid spray. Whoops.

Outbreak was released before online gaming really took off. Case in point, when Outbreak made its way to our shores, Capcom stripped out the online part altogether, figuring it wasn’t worth the effort of untangling its netcode for Europe’s messy broadband infrastructure.

The AI of your computer partners was awful. Even where online was available, voice chat wasn’t implemented, leaving players relying on crude in-game voice commands. As the final nail in the coffin, the netcode was horribly laggy because the only way to actually get online was via an import copy and hoping a transatlantic connection would hold up. It often wouldn’t.

But looking back, it’s almost painful to see how much ambition Capcom had and how brave it was to try so many new ideas with such an iconic IP. Painful not necessarily because it failed – Outbreak did have its problems and flawed execution means a flawed game, regardless of how much ambition is powering it.

Instead, it’s painful because it was simply released at the wrong time. A similar project now would find far more success as well as bringing a dose of old school survival horror back to life rather than the action direction the genre is spinning towards.

Oh, and the sequel had a zombie elephant. Beat that Operation Raccoon City.

  • Zombie Professor

    Wow, this is an excellent article! Well done Ryan, for standing up and defending Resident Evil Outbreak. The game was ahead of its time.

    In fact, there is currently over six hundred loyal fans of the Outbreak series working to convince Capcom to revive the series. The headquarters for the Resident Evil Outbreak revival team members is on the Capcom-Unity website at: http://www.capcom-unity.com/resident_evil/go/thread/view/7391/18679115/Resident_Evil_Outbreak_Discussion

    All the way back in 2007 a petition was created, calling for Capcom to remaster the Resident Evil Outbreak series. The current number of signatures is well over 7500. Check out the petition here: http://www.petitiononline.com/042690/

    So you see, the campaign to bring back Resident Evil Outbreak is alive and well. And I, as one of the members of the team want to invite you and all of the other Outbreak supporters to join us on the Capcom forum. Together we will convince Capcom to revive this great series!

  • Wow, thats really great! You really captured Outbreak it was defonatly before it’s time! I really hate that they have just abandoned this wonderfull series!

  • youngjoker

    Wow u couldnt have said it any better this game is way before its time indeed and u hit all the points that today’s Resident Evils that is missing the genre, Survival horror I would love this game to make it back in the new consoles

  • Pingback: Defending Resident Evil Outbreak? Are you kidding me? - Dead Island Forums()

  • Bastardcat

    Outbreak was terrible.

    -Inexcusable load times, you were basically punished for not owning the HDD.
    -Busted controls.
    -Really stupid AI meant offline play was NOT a viable option.
    -Poor inventory system.
    -Antiquated gameplay.
    -Annoying characters, if I had to hear “My life is #!@% on more time, I was going to snap the disc in half.
    -An entirely forgettable plot.

    The only thing that it did right, was that the graphics were top notch.

  • helloworld

    It definitely was flawed, but I think that even with those flaws it was a great experience. The first Outbreak was annoying to play through because of the long load-times, but the scenarios had interesting locations. I liked the second one a lot because the locations were much more different: you got to run around a forest, an abandoned hospital, a subway station, and a ZOO! You got to fight zombie tigers and hyaenas!

    I loved that you had the chance to play as ordinary people – its what makes the game one of my favorite Resident Evil games of all time. The fact that they were all different made it very replayable.

  • Zombie_Professor

    Hello, I’m back, I figured that some readers might be interested in reading a brief update about the progress of the campaign to bring back Resident Evil Outbreak.

    The total number of signatures on our Support Outbreak petition increases every single day. We currently have over 8500 signatures of support from Resident Evil Outbreak fans. We are closer than ever before to achieving our goal of 10,000 signatures. Once we do reach 10,000 signatures, we will be sending the petition to Capcom’s headquarters. http://www.petitiononline.com/042690/petition.html

    Our campaign is also scheduled to be featured in a three page article in the December 2011 edition of Resident Evil Zone’s gamer magazine “Evil-Mag.” Resident Evil Zone is Germany’s largest Resident Evil fansite. Our members are inspired by the enthusiastic support shown by the Resident Evil Outbreak fans over at Resident Evil Zone.

    With a few more Outbreak fans voicing support for the series, me might just be successful. So if you enjoyed playing Resident Evil Outbreak, please consider signing the petition and joining our discussion on the Capcom forum: http://www.capcom-unity.com/resident_evil/go/thread/view/7391/18679115/Resident_Evil_Outbreak_Discussion&sort_order=ASC