I reviewed Umbrella Corps, so I know perfectly well how deep the barrel of so-so Resident Evil multiplayer outings can go. If you’re willing to search far enough, you’ll find some of the most laughably awful squad-based shooters in recent memory, with Capcom shoehorning its beloved franchise into online blueprints it never belonged in. Despite the majority of fans decrying Project Resistance, Operation Raccoon City, and so many others as missing the mark, the publisher seems determined to keep jumping into the pool of multiplayer.
More power to it, but I wish these games made a more concerted effort to feel like they belong in the world of Resident Evil. That’s exactly what Outbreak did so many years ago, and it’s one of the few titles of its ilk that stand the test of time in the eyes of serious followers. Everything else is doomed to be forgotten, with the recent delay of Resident Evil Re:Verse doing very little to instil confidence that it will be anything more than yet another clumsy excursion featuring all the visual hallmarks of the property with absolutely none of the substance. I've been hurt too many times before to remain hopeful.
But a return to Resident Evil: Outbreak would remedy so much of that apprehension, partly because it features a concept that can be toyed with and expanded upon in so many distinctive ways. The original duo of games haven’t aged beautifully, but that’s part of the point. Launching for the PS2 in 2003, Outbreak was an experience that could be played either on your lonesome or with friends through online multiplayer, which at the time was still in its infancy on console. You’d need to fumble with an adaptor, register for an account, and organise lobbies for you and friends before even entertaining the idea of playing the game you bought. Back then these obstacles simply felt like normality, so taking a game hampered by them in terms of modern standards and updating it for contemporary audiences could have so much potential.
If you aren’t familiar with Outbreak, it follows a selection of characters as they’re forced to work together to survive in the wake of the Raccoon City incident. Kevin Ryman is a hardened member of the police department, while Alyssa Ashcroft is an investigative reporter eager to uncover the truth behind Umbrella and exactly how it’s involved in the city’s sudden destruction. There are loads of other great personalities to choose from beyond these two as well, all of whom have their own motivations and bespoke skills that can be used to survive each scenario. Obviously, it’s all drenched in the cheesy dialogue and campy atmosphere you’d expect from mid-noughties Resident Evil, yet the fixed camera angles still imbue it with a palpable sense of horror.
It took a familiar formula and turned everything on its head. Those who spent the early 2000s enamoured with the original’s gorgeous remake now had something new to toy with, and keep in mind this was before Resident Evil 4 marched onto the scene and changed games forever. Outbreak had you playing through scenarios featuring certain characters that would progress the overall storyline. Each one featured different locations and randomly generated items that forced you to think on your feet with each subsequent playthrough. Many of the wider beats remained the same, but being able to control different characters and adapt with minute changes made it feel genuinely fresh, like a procedural horror film of your own making. Having friends along for the ride only exemplified this feeling, even if some of the online elements would prove woefully archaic today.
The servers have been switched off for almost a decade now, so there’s no way to play Outbreak 1 or 2 today unless you’re going solo and have a PS2 kicking about, which makes a revival all the more essential. The modern equivalent to Outbreak would be something like the asymmetrical experiences of Dead by Daylight or Friday the 13th, where you step into the shoes of characters while fleeing from a player-controlled monster. Resident Evil even had an official crossover with the former, so Capcom is clearly aware that such an approach to horror is popular amongst fans.
There’s a gap to be filled in the world of narrative terror, one which Outbreak occupied for a short period before being thrust out of the limelight. All of the multiplayer horror games making the rounds today are fleeting ones, taking place in isolated matches where there’s a strict objective and method of completion. The tension comes from outsmarting your enemies and managing to survive against all odds. There isn’t an unfolding plot, wider mystery, or compelling cast of characters to understand - and that’s a big shame.
Resident Evil has conjured up its own renaissance because it wasn’t afraid to harken back to its roots while simultaneously embracing innovation, and its constant jaunts into multiplayer seem to go against that ethos time and time again. Whenever one is announced, I roll my eyes because I know exactly what I’m going to get. I want to be surprised again, even if the finished product underwhelms, because it’s far more exciting to try something new and fumble the execution than stew in mediocrity simply because it’s the status quo. Bring back Outbreak, or at least something with the same level of ambition that’s eager to take chances.
Vi and Caitlyn are gay and nobody can change my mind.