Press Start: Resident Evil Outbreak – Online Gaming Ahead Of Its Time

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There’s been a lot of talk about the Resident Evil 2 REmake as of late, but few details have been released for it, despite hitting its 20th anniversary. There have been some fantastic games in the Resi series, but today I want to talk about one part of the series that may have been ahead of its time – Resident Evil Outbreak

Resident Evil Outbreak – released in 2003 for PlayStation 2 – was set to shake up the Resident Evil formula. It was set to be an online multiplayer driven game, where you and some buddies would partner up to take on the multiple scenarios set in Raccoon City. 

An ambitious twenty scenarios were planned, which would take place in both new and old locations of previous games. The overall concept was eventually downsized with five levels initially released for Resident Evil Outbreak and five additional scenarios were released as part of Resident Evil Outbreak File 2 (released in 2004). These levels saw the player having to deal with standard zombies, lickers and dogs, but saw the introduction of new enemies to battle including leech monsters, new forms of Tyrants and even giant zombie elephants. 

The games had a very minor story, but saw you go from a bar attacked by the newly released T/G-Virus outbreak and move through the city in these somewhat segmented scenarios. It also pitted you with a new game mechanic with a timer of sorts. Each character was infected with the T-Virus, which was gauged by a percentage. The more damage you took, the faster the counter ticked. If it reached 100% then you died, coming back as a zombie in the online version. 

Another aspect of Outbreak and its sequel (that changed up the traditional gameplay) is that you had characters to choose from. These characters were everyday citizens of Raccoon City. Although they had the similar basic abilities to carry a limited set of items and the basic function to defend themselves, each character had their own special abilities or unique items. 

Cindy, for example, has a herb case which can hold more herbs, Yoko’s backpack can store more items and David can makeshift weapons. The relationship of all these characters was key for item management. If you were playing single-player version, the AI partners had a habit of using up ammo and health items rather quickly. They also would die. A lot. This was a pain, especially in the later, harder levels. Communication options were very minimal and did not really convey the sense of danger or peril your character may be in. 

So why was Resident Evil Outbreak ahead of its time? Well, as I mentioned at the start, it was designed with online play in mind. Playing with other players could only be achieved online. There was no couch co-op available and single-player made you play with fairly dodgy AI partners. 

Now you might be thinking that PlayStation was not an online platform, but it actually was in several regions, including the US, Europe and Japan. As it was still in the early years of having any sort of solid online network infrastructure, Europe missed out with online play in Outbreak. But look at the online ecosystem nowadays! It is filled with high speed connections, loads of multiplayer focused competitive and cooperative gaming and solid infrastructure across several console and home computer platforms. 

Since the release, the official servers to play the game were shut down on March 31, 2007. Thanks to a dedicated fan base, it is now playable again via fan servers and is still being enjoyed today. 

So is it time for a return to Raccoon City with your friends? I think so. Even though there have been several attempts already with the not-so-good Operation Raccoon City and Umbrella CorpsOutbreak does have a following and sold a solid 1.5 million copies. It would be great to see the creators’ full vision finally realised, but for it to work, some major features would have to implemented into a new release, such as: 

  • Survivor creation – Create a custom character. Choose a weight, height and special ability that would affect gameplay. A lighter character can move faster, but will take more damage, while a heavier character could kick down doors or push certain objects. Your special abilities would also come into affect. Will you choose to craft weapons or craft healing items? Or maybe you can hack electronic devices to open doors or security cameras. 
  • Voice chat – Allow players in the same room to communicate in real time or shout if you are alone. Introduce walkie talkies so players can talk from across levels.
  • Inventory management – Let the player find bags that allow them to hold more items. Have individual weapons and item slots e.g. one primary and a secondary slot perhaps.
  • New locations – Give it more of an open-world feel. If there is a gun shop, weapons are likely to be there. Pharmacies would hold health items. These locations would have to be reached be whatever means necessary. Areas can be avoided or skipped all altogether.  
  • Give the players options to defend themselves – There was a mechanic of barricading doorways, so expand on it where players would have to find alternative routes if they fall behind and a route is blocked.
  • Promote teamwork – This can be tied to puzzle solving or time restrictions. You and the other players need to get through a scenario whatever way possible. You can get through it on your own, but this will lead to harder challenges.
  • Put the player in tough situations – Depending on how you play, the scenario would change accordingly. Different item/weapon placement or different enemy positions would keep it fresh for players. Limit resources, as the city is in chaos. There shouldn’t be massive rocket launchers just lying about. 
  • Increase the number of players – This could lead to groups of teams forming and these teams could meet other surviving players. 
  • Introduce extra game modes – A horde mode, for instance, where players can fortify a position and defend against waves of enemies.

What do you think? Do you want to see a full-on survival horror multiplayer Resident Evil? Let us know in the comments! 

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