I would prefer the codename ‘Counter-Strike.’
Behold this oracle, brought to you by the iridescent prophet you call a monitor. 2012 years after the betrayal of Judas, huge asteroids plummet from the sky, shaking the earth with ridiculously little impact. Instead of instantaneously being reduced to steam, the surrounding population (every member of which carries a sophisticated assault rifle) is taken over by weird crab-like aliens which pour forth from the smoldering crater.
And now (ten years in the future, that is), the fate of the Earth is in the hands of six men with strikingly unique names like “Joker” and “Dragon.” Armed with advanced weaponry and lousy graphics, these men set forth to undertake an operation so covert that it will surely be forgotten as soon as you stop reading this review.
Yes, the folks at Virgin obviously had a crack team of chimpanzees working on Codename: Outbreak‘s plot around the clock. Cold, weak and fed only what Fritos were thrown at them by their tormentors (evil video game people eat Fritos instead of Doritos), the monkeys finally finished Outbreak‘s miserable story and were released into their natural habitat, the United States Senate building.
Far from Shakespeare, Outbreak‘s derivative plot is the icing on a very stale cake. In fact, calling Outbreak a cake would suggest it were created from raw ingredients. Rather, Outbreak is like a couple half-baked cakes mashed together and re-baked for ingestion by only the hungriest first-person shooter fans.
Unfortunately, Outbreak should have studied the play mechanics of its successors more carefully. General movement is fine, but climbing is specifically problematic. Climbing steep hills, leaving water, and navigating debris are all as sloppy as a week-old mud-pie.
When standing on a hill, your player will slowly slide down its face. When walking on certain debris, your player won’t move unless the jump button is tapped repeatedly. And, when attempting to climb a shore to leave water your character will take a couple slow steps and slide back in. In the water situations, you’ve got to comb the shoreline for the one bit of land on which you can gain footing. It would have been nice if some texture such as sand could have gotten you on track, but alas, scalable and non-scalable surfaces look as similar as two twinkies.
Also, close-quarters combat is an irritating experience, as your high-tech machine gun/shotgun/laser cannon/sniper rifle all rolled up in one jumps around like a kangaroo on speed. To make matters worse, you usually jump yourself right into the middle of a bush. Your enemies, as opposed to falling to the ground and dying of laughter, proceed to dance around the bush and fill you with holes.
As a result, the enemies are much more manageable if taken from a distance. There are several reasons for this, the foremost being the scope on your gun (which happens to contain three or four guns in one). The scope is useful as it allows you to spot enemies in advance, and either take a smart angle on them or snipe them.
Unfortunately, there are two problems with sniping enemies. The first is that they just sit there and take it. Sure, they’ll run around a little, but they never take cover, which suggests shoddy AI. Secondly, when looked at from a distance, the enemies are terribly pixelated little stick men. You can’t see their legs, much less geysers of alien blood spouting from exit wounds.
Then again, the blood doesn’t burst forth in violent song at any point in Outbreak. Not that that makes sniping any better; if anything it just makes up-close skirmishes even plainer.
Outbreak plays through twelve missions which all contain boring objectives and less than stellar gameplay. However, you do get to pick a companion to hold the bucket while you mop up alien scum, and the companion is a nice touch. However, since your dialogue is limited to things like “Go, Go, Go!” and “Cover me,” any sort of coordinated counter-strike (ahem) is out of the question.
As mentioned, each weapon in Outbreak is basically several guns in one. Hypothetically, one could see how access to three or four different types of ammunition at once could be useful. Maybe you could throw out a volley of bullets to stun the enemy, and then finish ’em off with a well placed shotgun blast without missing a beat. However, you still have to cycle through weapons – it’s just that instead of putting one away and taking another out, the huge barrel of your gun rotates.
Such a system in no way distinguishes Outbreak‘s gameplay from any other FPS and appears to be just a cut corner. As opposed to different animations and postures for each weapon, the designers just drew three or four different barrels and implemented a rotating animation. Thanks for the half-baked cake.
Outbreak sports some cool features at the beginning of each mission, like the ability to outfit each soldier with different amounts of ammo and different kinds of armor. However, while the armors have statistical differences, they don’t have any really cool extra abilities like cloaking or super jump to really add much fun. You can choose whether or not to take on a mission during the day or at night, which would be a cooler feature if Outbreak were a better game.
The sound effects are decent, even though their implementation is dysfunctional. While you can hear your cohort’s weapon firing, you can never hear your own. I’m sure it would sound good if it ever sounded at all.
Aside from its single player campaign, Outbreak has various multiplayer options, including the ability to play through the single-player campaigns cooperatively. Unfortunately, the Outbreak multiplayer software doesn’t work well, which means you need to use Gamespy.
Next to the likes of Red Faction, Counter-Strike, Serious Sam, Operation Flashpoint and Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Codename: Outbreak breaks down into a derivative mess of weak AI, mediocre graphics and a silly plot. While not inedible, this game is only suitable for the starving.