Still brain dead.
It's a good time for zombies. The recent remake of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead featured some pretty awesome undead freaks, and although not technically zombies, the relentlessly zombie-like villagers helped turn Resident Evil 4 into an experience that will make everyone's Best of 2005 list.
That being said, it's not entirely fair to compare Resident Evil Outbreak: File 2 is to that recent Gamecube classic. Resident Evil 4 refined and nearly perfected the Resident Evil experience, but didn't try to change it. There have been only two Resident Evil titles that have really tried to break the mold and do something new, different and revolutionary. One of them was the hard-to-control, but awfully interesting Resident Evil: Dead Aim, which I liked better than just about everyone else. The other was the revolutionary but problematic Resident Evil: Outbreak.
If you played the original Outbreak, you'll know exactly what to expect from File 2 because it's mostly more of the same, featuring the identical cast of eight regular Joes thrown into a viral nightmare. This is one of the things I really liked about Outbreak to begin with - trying to survive a zombie assault as a plumber or a waitress is just scarier than playing as a S.T.A.R.S. super-agent. These poor shmoes need a zombie survival manual.
Each character has a special ability. Yoko the student can hold extra items in her backpack, especially useful with the tiny inventories in Outbreak. Wussy Jim Chapman, the subway conductor, is so non-threatening that zombies are much less likely to attack, and if they do, he can just play dead until they shamble away. Alyssa, a reporter, is the only character who can pick locks, and Joe the plumber has the mind-bogglingly useful Duct Tape, with which he can magically transform everyday objects into handy-dandy survival tools. Doom 3 could have used a guy like Joe.
File 2 features four new scenarios you can attempt to survive, some of which are very creative. Try the terror of a zombie-plant infested hospital deep in the woods, or the old standby, the Raccoon City Police Department building. My favorite is the Raccoon City Zoo. Rampaging zombie elephant? Brilliant, just brilliant.
All four levels are available right from the beginning and are entirely disconnected from each other, like four totally different, interactive zombie movies. If you play them offline, you select two of the other characters to play with you. Unfortunately, the A.I. is slightly dumber than a rock. They just run around, vaguely following you while bumping into things like a hamster in an exercise ball. Their most useful trait is that they often pick up things that you can snatch out of their hands.
Really the focus of the game is the online play, which lets you survive with three other people. This is the revolutionary concept of the game I mentioned earlier, and if it had been done better, could have been the one of the best multiplayer experiences yet devised for the PS2.
But that's a that's a BIG could. The problem is that your multiplayer compadres are almost as infuriating as their moronic A.I. counterparts. Playing for the first time and trying to survive the zombie zoo with other real people could have been a serious gaming moment. Instead, you end up with one guy who has the level memorized down to the last pixel and just keeps shouting, er, typing "Come on!" "Come on!" in an effort to complete the scenario in some unknown time limit in order to unlock some unknown bonus, and another guy who thinks its fun to stand in your way and stab you in the arm with a kitchen knife over and over again.
Outbreak desperately, desperately needs headset and voice-support like SOCOM, but has omitted it for the second time. Your conversational options are again controlled by the right stick and have improved in variety, but are still far, far too limited. If I may repeat myself from the original Outbreak review:
So you end up saying "Thanks!" when what you really need to say is, "Oh my god, that was close! Awesome job guys. Alyssa, come over here and pick this lock, would you?"
When will they ever learn?
At least they learned to listen to another thing we've been rallying for at GR " zombie rights. If you die and are overcome by the virus, you get to go after your former teammates as a zombie for a limited time. Awesome. Wish they let you play as a zombie for the whole thing.
The graphics are good - not God of War "OMG I can't believe the PS2 can do this" - but decent nonetheless. Unfortunately, just like the first Outbreak, loading times are frequent and frustrating. They're shorter than before, and if you are one of the seven people who own a PS2 hard drive, can be dramatically shortened, but it's still a clear problem.
That being said, the game still has its moments. When you have a good group and the zombies are bursting through the windows (or the elephant is bashing through the walls), its so cinematic that you almost forgive the other problems. Then some idiot is trying to stab you in the arm again while shouting, ugh, typing "Thanks! Thanks! Thanks!"
I'm a huge fan of co-operative online play. I find it terribly compelling. But it has to have better checks and balances, and more importantly, better communication than what is offered in Outbreak. It's a great concept and could have been a ton of fun if only it were set in a more open-ended, no-load time world, like GTA with zombies. But instead, it's like the inane comments invariably written on my own report cards all through my youth: "shows great potential."