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Codename: Outbreak

Score: 65%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Virgin Interactive
Developer: GSC Game World
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 16
Genre: Miscellaneous

Graphics & Sound:

I can't decide on my opinion of Codename: Outbreak's graphics engine and look. On one hand, it can handle expansive outdoor environments admirably, to the degree that things start hazing out because of distance rather than draw-in. On the other hand, running down a road looks absolutely terrible, as you can see the different levels of complexity rendering starkly because of the white line down the road. The character models are quite well-detailed, with nice texturing and the like; buildings are obviously cut-and-paste jobs, with the same location for destroyed elements in each. The end look is muddier than I like my games, and some of the level-of-detail problems are downright hideous. I have the feeling that the engine could have done more, if only it had been pushed to do so; stuff like the water 'lapping' looks awful. In any case, the game definitely looks dated by today's standards.

The game's sound is equally sparse. The voice acting is decent, if extremely sparse, and the game's music even more so. There are sound effects for the various weapons, but they're nothing special, tending towards the weak side of things. I did like the sound-enhancement properties of zooming in while playing--it's a neat touch. But for the most part the game's sound feels undeveloped, as if there isn't quite as much there as they were planning on putting. There are also some issues with the playback; after switching characters, you don't hear the footsteps until a few seconds after you start walking, which is bizarre to say the least.


And the game ends up feeling much the same--lots of potential, undeveloped. There's an interesting if overdone plot, promise of character development that never really goes anywhere, and gameplay which, while entertaining, is strictly derivative. Coupled with a difficulty level that jumps all over, Codename: Outbreak is a hard game to recommend.

The story behind the game is very by-the-books: alien meteor crashes into Earth, investigation, death, inevitable alien beasties. The beasties, of course, can take control of humans, which means you won't just be fighting awful green things from outer space. You're a member of an elite squad of soldiers, and of course it's up to you to dive into the various infected areas and cleanse the world of the alien scourge.

The game plays like a slightly altered standard FPS. Before each mission you can pick your characters' loadouts, and even choose different people to bring along--each character has a specialization, with different statistics that can make them more or less useful for the task at hand. You can also choose whether you want to tackle the missions during the day or at night, which are different challenges. You and your squadmates will be put up against some serious opposition.

Once you're inside the missions, you control the characters very much like any other game in the genre. Instead of carrying ten different weapons (how do they do that, anyways?) you have one weapon that can handle all of the different weapons. It's kind of goofy, but it's the sort of thing that I've always wanted, so I suppose I can't knock it too much. And watching the little attachment pop out when you want to launch a rocket is pretty cool, I'll admit.

The missions themselves range from extermination to extraction, and the objectives can and do change while you're playing. There's lots of items littered about in the different areas, which can keep you up to date with the plot of the game or just add flavour to the experience. You and your teammate may need to practice stealth to get past a certain area, or it may be more efficient to just go in guns blazing. The choice is generally yours.

Unfortunately, the actual feel of the game leaves a lot to be desired. The enemy and companion AI leaves a lot to be desired, getting stuck on entirely too much in the environments, requiring way more finagling than it should. This interrupts what should be a swiftly-moving game experience, and can be very frustrating. Add to this the rather realistic damage system, which, while neat, is also frustrating in some of the more difficult spots. It's also hard to really appreciate whether or not the different stats make a difference; when you're controlling a character, they generally feel just like each other, and the AI is pretty dumb any which way.

Along with the dozen or so single-player missions, the game sports a multiplayer experience. The multiplayer is supported by Gamespy Arcade and internally; good luck finding people to play with, though. Along with typical game modes, you can play the game cooperatively, which is a nice touch.


You can choose the difficulty level for each mission in Codename: Outbreak before you start it. The standard difficulty level can be surprisingly challenging, although much of that comes from having to keep your idiot partner out of the line of fire. I found myself regularly swapping to the least-damaged character, just so the computer didn't kill one of my folks off on me. You can set the game harder or easier, as you prefer, which is nice; some missions may warrant lower difficulty settings for the less hardcore in the crowd, especially since some degree of damage often carries over between missions.

Game Mechanics:

Codename: Outbreak's controls are fairly standard FPS fare, although they have a bit more complexity added to them by the addition of 'stance' controls. Unfortunately, much of this added functionality is only found by toying with the game, or looking in the manual which is unfortunately secreted away on the game disc. Why they didn't make it an option on the AutoRun menu is boggling to me. The game's load times are quite minimal. I dislike the menus, mainly because the animation is distracting and takes too long, and because of that saving and loading is more of a pain than it should have been. The game seems to play just fine, although I felt that the sense of scale was rather skewed--I took damage 'falling' from heights that seemed a little on the low side, and there were a number of clipping issues. I also wish that the character 'development' engine was a bit more robust, and felt less like raw number-crunching.

The feeling that I got coming away from Codename: Outbreak is one of disappointment. There's quite a bit of potential here, and some of that is realized, but the cookie-cutter environments, unrefined gameplay and lack of differentiation makes the game a hard sell. Fans of the genre tired of everything else they have may find quite a bit of enjoyment here, but most people will be better off with more refined games that go for about the same price, now that they've been on the shelves for a while. Codename: Outbreak isn't bad, but it is unrefined, and that makes it a much harder sell.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:

P2 266, Win9x/Me/2K, 128MB RAM, 4x CD-ROM, 3D accelerator w/ 8MB memory, sound card, mouse, keyboard

Test System:

Athlon 1.1GHz running Win98 SE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live!, 8x DVD-ROM

Windows Original War Windows The Outforce

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated