Analysis: What It Means To Be Next Gen – Outbreak Rant

So I’m floored by the next gen hardware. Things like live streaming, and fast responsiveness are really cool and dandy in my opinion. Super awesome gfx and cloud AI generation is cool and what not.

But what changes the game experience? What really introduces new mechanics that really push the envelope?

Not nitpicking on a single game, but for example’s sake, lets look at Titanfall – a highly anticipated next-gen game that has got most people talking. I’m excited because its mechs. I love mechs. We don’t have enough mechs, period. But its an FPS, with a little bit of admittedly cool looking parkour mechanics, that lets you hop into a mech. Interesting, but whats so next-gen about it that I need to buy a brand new system with the latest hardware besides the GFX?? I’ve hopped into mechs before in other games, maybe not as seamless or as fancy granted. But I’ve seen it and done it. I’ve parkoured in FPS games, mixed results depending on the game. Clearly, I’ve shot people in a game before too.

I was just thinking of some “I wish this was a thing” games I would like to experiment on trying to make myself for my portfolio. I’ve come up with a ton of ideas before, but one struck very similar to something I’ve played in the past. I couldn’t remember for a short moment, but it hit me eventually. Resident Evil Outbreak.

For those that don’t know the current state of Resident Evil, its quite the example of how AAA games lately have been kind of mellowing out and aren’t as original as they should be. They try too hard to appeal to everyone sometimes, other times its they go for more flash than stubstance, any combination, you could go on. The fans demand that Capcom step back from their action-movie romp and try their hand at some classic Resident Evil, boating controls and all. Which many would argue is far too outdated to be liked anymore because we’ve come so far from that. People can bark back and fourth both sides all day long and that’s not necessarily where I’m trying to go with this.


Resident Evil had a game called Outbreak in 2002. And a fairly less enticing sequel – Outbreak 2. So the first game came out nearly 3-4 years before next gen systems. Yet, despite its flaws, Outbreak tried to be more unique and “next-gen” with its design than most games I’ve played since. And I’ve played a lot of games. I sometimes tend to like games that a lot of others did not. If you played Outbreak and didn’t like it for X reason(s), I understand. Capcom clearly saw that Outbreak didn’t receive the commercial success it needed to receive more games like it so its understandable. But the point here being is that something so genuinely amazing for its time got swept under the rug, and now in time we’re at a place where we don’t have enough that is as unique. Bar some incredible indie games of course.

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What was so special about Outbreak? Well, you had 4 players playing Resident Evil at the same time. Anyone who has played the last two Resident Evil games may possibly shriek at how horrible that sounds. No, it was nothing like the recent ones at all.

You all pick 1 of several characters with different abilities. One had an extra inventory slot, one could mix and carry more healing herbs, one starts with a pistol, one could combine items with more oopmf a la Dead Rising 2/3, and more. Each scenario (level) would better suite some characters over others, and with that, some levels require certain characters for the story (played by the AI if not chosen and otherwise not seen). But if that character is presently being played as, in his or her related scenario, additional scenes and sometimes bonuses would be granted. Really fun to see played out. Think Left 4 Dead’s Bill’s Fate DLC thing if you’re acquainted.

You all had to complete the level by solving puzzles and collecting key items to progress. You would, in most cases, start together in the group of 4 and were presented with the awesome choice of either splitting up and tackling the level seperately but faster. Or taking on each objective (if this was your first time playing, it was more of exploration to discover what the objective was) as a group or group(s).

Each had its own issue.

  • seperately allowed the group to complete the level faster, allowing for an additional bonus. However, the survival horror kicks in here and the (sadly now forgotten) infamous Resident Evil difficulty/challenges of being alone, not always knowing whats ahead, and the extremely limited resources. You could get picked off alone much easier.
  • together as a group allows safer completion of objectives but you’d take longer. And the game has an internal counter on all players before automatic death (more in a sec). That and rescources were spread so thin that you might spend more time trying to fight/scouring over who gets what that no one would be useful. Especially if you didn’t pick characters suited.

So the internal clock was infection. The longer you take in the level, the higher your infection rate gets. Hits 100%, you die. If you get bitten/hurt by monsters, your infection rate increases. So now not only does the game have the fantastic split up/group design, you now have to beat the timer while keeping out of harms way. So that close call you make might now actually save you after all. If you die, you become a zombie for a short period of time. Which, in a team game like this, was more of a flaw but worth noting for its time in 2002.

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My next big point. So communication. You can’t type, except for in the lobby before the game began. If you’re in the SAME room as a player, you can do predetermined messages like “I need ammo” or “I need – X – item from your inventory”. If you’re off on your own and die, no one gets alerted. You have no way of telling the other players you died either. So if you were trying to accomplish some objective you were assigned to do, no one else would know you failed unless they come looking. Think about this mechanic for a second. Please tell me you see this brilliance, and how new technology and all this social media (?) can actually hinder/dull our sense of awesome design.

Let me paint a picture You split off to do your objectives, or you travel together in pairs or something. You finish your objective and come back to the main area or you eventually reach the point where you normally cross paths with someone. But no one is there. No one comes. Are they suck? Did they try to progress ahead without you? Are they dead? You don’t know So now, you’re stuck with the challenge – wait a little longer (risk more infection) or go looking? You go looking. Now what happens if the other players come back and don’t find you. Now they might go ahead or go looking for you now. See the predicament? Everyone is now in extra risk of failure and danger. AWESOME DESIGN FOR A SURVIVAL HORROR GAME. This was pure gold!!!! And, lets say you stumble across someone’s body. Do you know how CRUSHING that is? The odds are now even more stacked against your favor because now you need to complete those objectives that he failed (or maybe partially accomplished) which you may or may not know how much he actually got done before dying. Not to mention, you have a certain amount of inventory. You now have to carry his or her key items if thats what he was trying to accomplish, and anything else that might seem important. Sometimes… you would know how terrible the situation is – you literally kill yourself to save you the trouble.

Now its entirely possible to beat each scenario on your own or with 3 or less people. The rewards can be greater too. But its all about that player decisiveness in the moment, analyzing how much needs to be done and the dangers that are ahead, planning routes, moving quickly. Its so genuinely unique in this particular game, genre, and time (2002 I remind you again).

 

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Quickly back to communication. So you went looking for your friend. He’s dead or you find him alive. You need to now regroup. You might not have any idea where they are. So you can only talk to each other in the same room right? But I neglected to mention you can hear adjacent rooms if you’re close to exits. So if someone is shooting or screaming for help or “are you there?!” in the next room…. you can faintly hear it. 2002 on the Playstation 2, barely on broadband and DSL Now do you run away and pretend you didnt hear the cry for help in order to save your own ass? Or do you help a hurt comrade, use your own medicine to heal him, and spare bullets to clear whatever danger?

Ok sound is cool. Enemies? They too can traverse rooms. Played Resident Evil 3? Yeah, its like-that-scary. The first introduction to the game in Outbreak 1 is a pretty awesome scenario. Zombies pile up room into room. So now, ontop of the infection timer, you need to act fast enough to complete scenarios before the zombies catch up. Granted, this particular scenario only happens in certain cases, but throughout each level – there is persistence where zombies can break down some doors. Or crawl through vents. You can block doors and barricade them, but they can still break through if given enough time.

Boss battles are particularly awesome too. So, some little spoilery stuff, but considering how Capcom took down the servers – I doubt you’ll go back and play with the terrible AI to find this out. Final level of Outbreak has a particularly hard boss that can be beaten down the hard way – brute firepower. But depending on difficulty and how many people might be injured/dead/dying on your team, you might not want to fight it head on. You can go and do optional/hidden objectives to help increase your chances in scenarios or boss battles. So in this final level for example, you can create a vaccine for the virus. The trick here is that you only have a limited number of uses. You can use the vaccine to cure your friends, whom may be infected enough past the point that even if you beat the final boss and escape WILL DIE ANYWAY~~ Or, you can use the vaccine to kill the boss in 1 single hit. You now you risk everyone, the reward, your entire hour or two worth of gameplay. ACTUAL GAME CHANGING DECISIONS. I use the final level as an example because its the one I significantly remember the most of how many times I’ve gotten screwed over or I had to sadly cut the cord on some unfortunate people.

You can also complete a level and leave people to die. If Joe-smoe is missing, presumed dead, and he doesn’t catch up – you can beat it without him. What a surprise that can be too!

It had its flaws, some kind of ruined the whole thing for people but generally it was so amazing that you just had to ignore those. Outbreak was way ahead of its time, not only for its genre but for gaming technology in my opinion. THAT is next gen to me. Even though this game was in the middle/end of a system life cycle, it was more next generation of a game than most ever are. It didn’t need super amazing or artistically appealing visuals. It didn’t need to be some game-changing sequel that ‘changed everything you once knew about a particular game/genre’. It just built upon mechanics that existed in the previous ~4-8~ Resident Evil games (0,1,2,3,CVX, gun survivors, ect ). It wasn’t trying to be an action movie, it wasn’t trying to appeal to everyone, it wasn’t trying to be flashy, it wasn’t trying to be something it wasn’t.

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tl;dr It was Resident Evil. Online. With some additional, witty mechanics.

So many awesome mechanics and design in one game back in 2002 that were unique and really groundbreaking. Way beyond its time. There are others too, Outbreak isn’t alone. Some games long before it are more amazing and got swept away. Why do we let this happen so much and why don’t we get more of these even when we acknowledge that its happening? Idies are amazing and they deserve all the attention we can give them, if deserved. But AAA games have their place too, if deserved as well.

I don’t have an answer on how to fix it or how to get AAA attention to realize they need return to their apex. But I do know that I would buy a game like Resident Evil Outbreak, and others as impactful and beyond their times, 5-6x over before buying another ‘next-gen’ game regardless of platform.

I think we spend too much time fighting over who is more superior as a system these days than anything important like this.

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