Resident Evil Outbreak was a multiplayer game ahead of its time in an era that was just starting to get familiar with online console gaming. Originally released in 2003 for the Playstation 2, it featured a story that occurs during Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, following not the regular heroes of the series but instead the regular citizens of the doomed Raccoon City and their escape from that famous zombie outbreak. It featured two key play modes, one was the regular single player mode with random bots that lets you pick and play as any of the eight survivors and take them through five different scenarios/levels, each unlocked upon the completion of the previous level.
The other mode was the game’s selling point and that was the network mode, which featured four player online co-op; it was the first for the zombie franchise. Here you still picked any of the eight survivors but are teamed up with three other human players as you all go through any scenario/level you have unlocked. And let me tell you for an early online game, Resident Evil Outbreak was one hell of a fun time with so many outcomes and possibilities with each play through. You’ll never get the same experience twice!
While yes, Resident Evil Outbreak by today’s standards is pretty dated in terms of presentation. At the height of it’s popularity, it took what made classic Resident Evil and up the ante of it to eleven. On top of just having four player co-op, you could also barricade doors, hide in lockers and under beds, shoulder an injured teammate, if gravely injured you can crawl on the floor, zombies can follow you room to room, there is an infection meter and if that goes up all the way you too can become a zombie! There was even a unique talking mechanic that used the right stick and left trigger on the Dualshock 2 to make the characters talk with each other in an era where using a mic on a console was unheard of. While some of this may sound anchoritic now, at the time it was a revolutionary leap in Resident Evil game play and console online gaming in general. It was a way the series could have continued before it made a far more drastic change just a year later in 2004 with the action centric Resident Evil 4 on the Gamecube.
For me, Resident Evil Outbreak will always have a soft spot in my heart, it introduced me to online gaming and actually got me used to it as a teen. My high school friends and myself played that game so much so that a lot of it is still engraved in our heads and we reference it from time to time as being a great horror game. At first it was simply for the fact that we were playing the first ever four player co-op Resident Evil game, but then over the years after playing each sequel in the main series and playing other co-op centric horror games we realize that Outbreak — and its sequel, File 2 —did something far better that later co-op horror games just can’t do, it was that sense of discovery you get by exploring a haunted place together.
With modern horror co-op, you can’t really explore freely and you’re forced more into a linear approach of moving through the game with a friend. That was different in Outbreak, you can effectively split up from your friends both by choice or by sheer accident due to elevators, covering more ground and finding new routes. Outside of your infection meter slowly rising, you were never timed to move fast in a level; you were free to explore and backtrack whenever you wanted. It was a true survival horror feel in a multiplayer environment. It’s something you don’t see at all in the likes of the Left 4 Dead series or later Resident Evil games that had co-op — these games kept you moving forward as a team and not giving you a sense of dread if you haven’t heard from a friend in a long time. And because Outbreak didn’t have an actual voice chat, it became a part of the challenge in trying to find someone again to see if they have a key item you needed to solve a puzzle or to check if they’re simply alive in the game.
It kept you wondering.
The only games these days that carry such a vibe are asymmetrical horror games like Friday The 13th or Dead By Daylight. In these games you can do much of the same of what you would find in Outbreak, finding key items to progress, but you’re mostly on the run from another player who is the killer trying to stop you from escaping. You can’t truly put up a fight against such beings though compared to how it was in Outbreak, while it was challenging it was always fair with you having a fighting chance with it’s zombies and other monstrosities.
With Outbreak, each level had a theme of some sort and a reoccurring boss monster that you had to deal with outside the first level of the game. Below Freezing Point took characters back to the labs of Resident Evil 2 and had them trying to find a way out while dealing with the massive moth that can abduct players. Another level, Hive, featured the players going through the Raccoon City Hospital that was explored briefly in Resident Evil 3. Here the players were constantly under attack by the Leech Man, who would scare the crap out of any unsuspecting player to stayed in a room for too long. And of course in Decision Decisions, that was a throw back to Resident Evil 1 and also the longest level in the game with many branching paths, players had to deal with a new Tyrant itself which would stalk players continuous between rooms until dealt with! I remember spending a lot of time with my friends on our first runs of each level, trying to figure out how to beat these monsters. And keep in mind, this was before any of us had voice chat while gaming, so we had to talk about our strategy either before hand if we knew what would happen or pray to god that they would be able to read our mind and follow us to safety. It lead to a chaotic nature of events, and is something you just can’t replicate in todays modern horror co-op games due to voice chat making it far to simple.
After the success of the first Outbreak, Capcom ended up releasing a follow up called File #2 which contained five more levels and was sort of a disc-based expansion to the first game — remember this was the Playstation 2 and a digital storefront with constantly updating games were not a thing in Sony’s eyes just yet. File #2 itself was a solid attempt at recreating the magic of the first Outbreak and introduced a brand new mechanic that was a first in the series, and that was being able to walk and shoot at the first time. This alone changed the dynamic of survival horror in and of itself. While it was a thing in the Silent Hill games before this, it wasn’t as smooth as how File #2 did it. File #2 up the ante even more so for what a Resident Evil game should be, but sadly due to unforeseen circumstances we never got a File #3 and the Outbreak series was quickly forgotten by Capcom.
The reasons why we never got a File #3 or anything of a follow-up to the formula presented in Outbreak was due firstly of the fact that Xbox Live for the original Xbox launched shortly after the first Outbreak came out. With Xbox Live, it introduced true console voice chat for all online games on that system making the pre-text chat that Capcom had in place for characters to talk to each other in the game out of date already. Gamers were spoiled with voice chat and all the things you can do with it within a critical moment of multiplayer games.
The second reason was from Capcom themselves, they changed the formula of Resident Evil drastically with the release of Resident Evil 4 on the Gamecube in early 2004, this took a bite out of the sales of File #2 as everyone jumped to the next mainline entry of the series and on top of this, it was a drastic departure of the style presented in the Outbreak games. No longer were we using fixed cameras, exploration and horror in Resident Evil 4 but instead we were getting an over the shoulder camera, linear tunneled progression and heavy action. This effectively segregated the fan base from the fixed camera purist of the old style and the over the shoulder fanatics of the new style, but that’s an article for another day.
Lastly, Outbreak required a broadband internet in order to play. Back in 2003, broadband was a relatively new and very expensive type of internet to have. As such not everyone had it and dial up was still the norm compared to how dial up is a relic of the past and everyone has broadband in their homes. But because of this, not a lot of people picked up Outbreak initially cause if they did, the game’s major selling point would have been effectively unplayable for them.
These where all things that lead to Outbreak not achieving the success it needed to grow, some of it was due to bad timing and another was a technical limitation. But I believe now is the perfect time due to the soon to be released Resident Evil 2 Remake in January 2018, the already praised back to basics survival horror approach of Resident Evil 7, and the fact that broadband online gaming alongside voice chat is now much more prevalent thing on all consoles. The market is finally there again for us to enter the world of Outbreak.
Capcom if they wanted to, can easily port the game as it is over to modern systems and leave everything exactly the way it is; I’m sure both fans new and old will gladly play it. I know I would. But if they took it a step further and enhanced the game as new remasters, they can do so much more too. Be it new analog control mechanics that mimic the Resident Evil Remake’s Remaster controls that’s found on modern system to even incorporating faster load times and new network features, like updated rooms and chat options to have with random players you don’t know — the original game had a feature where you can text chat others before a level starts and discuss strategy. There’s just so much you can do in today’s market with an intellectual property like Outbreak that would make the fans of the series itself happy.
To put it shortly, the possibility is nearly endless for Capcom on this if they choose to do something under the Outbreak name. Outbreak when originally released was far ahead of its time, in a world that wasn’t exactly ready for it. But right now, I believe the world is truly ready for it and you don’t need to sacrifice anything out of the game to make it modern. It holds up pretty well. But sadly Capcom seems hesitant in doing anything for Outbreak, so in the meantime we just sit around and play other co-op horror games that feel lacking.