Game Over Online ~ Codename: Outbreak

GameOver Game Reviews - Codename: Outbreak (c) Virgin Interactive, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Codename: Outbreak (c) Virgin Interactive
System Requirements Windows, Pentium II-300, 64MB HDD, 3D Accelerator
Overall Rating 75%
Date Published Monday, October 29th, 2001 at 02:44 PM

Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

Not too long ago in the pantheon of PC gaming, there was a publisher from the UK, Virgin Interactive, who was responsible for publishing some of the most revolutionary products for the PC. They included titles from what used to be untried developers like Westwood's Dune 2 or Lands of Lore. Moreover, they were at the forefront of the CD-ROM mania of the mid 1990s with a little tiny game called The Seventh Guest. In the meantime, Virgin was always active in the console arena, garnering rights to popular early 1990s cartoons like Aladdin and The Lion King. In a world where publishers continuously amalgamate into even larger entities (Sierra to Havas to Vivendi Universal), Virgin was increasingly at a disadvantage. Small publishers simply cannot field the massive amount of capital needed to create A-class titles; now often bordering millions of dollars if one chooses to start from scratch without licensing any existing technology. With ill-fated (but critically acclaimed) titles like Heart of Darkness, Virgin would soon run into problems in keeping its operations and eventually, it put itself up for sale hoping to have its lucrative Westwood franchise integrated with a giant like Electronic Arts. Like vultures, the buyers sniped at Virgin's development houses and premier developers like Westwood left Virgin with nothing else but to close shop; that is, until now. Virgin's name has been resurrected and one of the first titles developed under its aegis is Codename: Outbreak.

The premise behind Outbreak is about as standard as the FPS features it has to offer. Aliens have invaded the Earth and an international coalition is selected to perform special operations in rooting out this alien threat. These aliens rely on the time-old trick of controlling their enemies' minds. This allows the developers to pitch some military personnel or pistol-wielding research personnel at you. Moreover, the aliens come in standard arachnid form a la Starship Troopers. Some resemble the face hugging ones a la Aliens. However, the aliens are not really played up, at least in the beginning of the game. Most of the time, you will be tracking down rogue military units and combating everything from the individual grunt to armed tanks and guarded rebel military installations.

When I first started Outbreak, I thought it was deceivingly disguised as Zombie's Spec Ops. It features a very similar, easy to control, buddy system in which you have a friendly AI who tags alongside you. Like Spec Ops 2, you are also allowed to change your weapon loadout and switch between characters with varying proficiencies. Larger, heavier guns will have a slower rate of fire. As Outbreak takes place in the near feature, you carry what is called a universal gun. It allows you to switch between grenade, mine and rocket launchers with more traditional sniper rifle and sub machine-gun. There is even a rechargeable laser equipped free of charge with every universal gun. Although you can probably get by with the default loadouts, it becomes useful to switch to heavier weapons, when one encounters an abundant amount of armor, for example.

Do not let the tactical options fool you though. Outbreak is very much a standard FPS, especially on the Easy and Arcade levels. Though you are given the ability to crouch and the engine renders ample concealing terrain, the action is more fast-paced than titles like Operation Flashpoint or even the venerable Rogue Spear. Think of it more along the lines of Soldier of Fortune. There are times throughout the game where you are coached through radio to avoid certain areas. But like Soldier of Fortune, firepower is an equal answer to stealth in almost every situation so those looking for a stealth/sneak game (Project IGI comes to mind) might want to overlook this title. I have found that killing the enemy is just about as easy as sneaking past them in every instance.

With that said, Outbreak is not a wholly unimaginative game. The 3D engine though not stellar by modern sense, is indeed appreciable and renders its terrain well. You'll encounter indoor environments as well as outdoor environs, although the outdoor settings have the campy boxed in Delta Force like feel to it. Some levels place you deep in research facilities while others have you actively engaging larger numbers in guerilla style warfare. Still, throughout the game, you are aided only by your AI buddy and the supposedly superior technology that you wield. It is always tough to do the audio for science fiction. Science fiction, by definition, is grounded in reality. Because we identify our present world in the fictitious world, we develop some feeling to a world like Star Trek or Star Wars. Near-future titles have to tread this precarious line even more carefully. We have preconceptions on how guns should sound, so when aliens appear, we have a realistic expectation of them as well. The effects here are a bit weak. I often wanted more bass because the high-tech weaponry was so passive. Moreover, the aliens do not make any sounds that we have not heard before in other movies or games. Outbreak features an intermittent music track. However, it merely complements the action and does nothing to increase suspense or dramatize the action, as say the music in Rogue Spear does.

Perhaps the most attractive option for Outbreak is the multiplayer mode. Both TCP/IP and IPX play is supported. Players can engage in a variety of CTF or deathmatch FPS genres. Furthermore, you can opt to field an all human player team in co-operative mode. All but the last single player mission can be played online. The caveat to this is the shaky multiplayer support. There is an option for dedicated server mode. With Windows XP and Windows 2000 test machines, I often encountered debilitating crashes both for the server and the client, independently. Luckily, if it is the client, simply rejoining will get you in the game. As each level is separated by certain "spawn points", it can sometimes be a trek in lengthier levels for new players to catch up with the existing game itself. Altogether, the options are great in multiplayer and it is certainly more fun to play alongside live human comrades against the computer. The minimal amount of cutscenes and cinematic sequences makes this game ideal for co-operative play. However, the execution is a bit questionable out of the box.

The last thing to note is the budget price of the new Virgin games. To save on cost, the game does not feature the usual game box and comes with a manual in the CD jacket. You can request for free manuals but I found it to be acceptable. Most FPS gamers will not have any trouble in setting the game up. There are plentiful amounts of configuration options for more advanced users to tweak. Despite some good technical foundations, I thought Outbreak could really, excuse my pun, break out of the FPS mode if it concentrated on creating a more tactically engaging game; perhaps more realistic. If not, it could at least dramatize the alien encounters, which so far as you are concerned, are nothing more than 'just another target'. In fact, the most potent weapons thrown at you are your own tanks and mind controlled ex-comrades who do not shy away from launching salvo after salvo of explosive ammunition. With the recent effects of the post September 11th era, most games have eliminated "realistic" violence and games that involve terrorism are now frowned upon. In consideration of the current events, Outbreak seems almost surreally whimsical in its treatment of a special forces vs. alien conflict. Perhaps that is what Virgin is aiming for, a light soufflé rather than a heavier formal cake.


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