Will We Ever See A New Resident Evil Outbreak Game?

Resident Evil Outbreak
Resident Evil Outbreak

You know a mainline series is successful when we have to do an article about whether or not a tangential spin-off from that franchise will ever get a follow-up. The mainline Resident Evil series is always going to receive sequels, remakes or adaptations of some kind, but then there’s spin-off titles like Resident Evil: Survivor and Resident Evil: Revelations, which may never be revived by Capcom.

Still, there’s one spin-off franchise that Resident Evil fans have been clamouring for ever since this side series made its debut on PS2: Resident Evil Outbreak. Despite maintaining fan interest for around two decades, Capcom has seemingly left this particular strain of the franchise to die on retro consoles. Today, we’re going to explore the history of Resident Evil: Outbreak, and whether we’ll ever see Capcom revive this side franchise on modern platforms in the form of Outbreak 3.


The History of Resident Evil Outbreak

Resident Evil Outbreak
Resident Evil Outbreak

Despite the fact that the first Resident Evil Outbreak only launched during the tail-end of 2003, the legacy of this particular spin-off series actually predates the release of Resident Evil 2. According to a Famitsu interview with Outbreak’s producer Noritaka Funamizu, the idea was suggested by the original Resident Evil director Shinji Mikami, due to a growing interest in console network play.

In response to Mikami’s input, Funamizu went on to create a small mini-game that saw survivors trying to outlast hordes of zombies and other typical RE monsters. Unfortunately, the project was shelved pretty quickly, as during internal playtests Capcom felt that the demo failed to encourage teamwork between players. During the same interview with Famitsu, Funamizu noted that some would run away, leaving others to die, while others decided to hoard ammo and resources, dooming the other players. Ultimately, Capcom came to the conclusion that Resident Evil was scary because you were on your own, and Outbreak was abandoned for a couple of years.

Sometime before 2002, Capcom restarted production on Resident Evil Outbreak, utilising the information that was gathered during the initial playtests. Capcom’s Production Studio 1 was responsible for the game’s development, as opposed to Mikami’s Studio 4, but Outbreak went on to form part of an initiative from Studio 1 to create “network focused titles”. Around the same time, Studio 1 created Auto Modellista, an obscure racing game that was swiftly discontinued, along with a small online RPG called Monster Hunter.

You might have heard of it.

After a series of reveals and info drops across 2002 and 2003, Resident Evil Outbreak finally launched in Japan in December 2003, with a US and EU launch in March and September of 2004 respectively. Outbreak was set during the Raccoon City outbreak, with five scenarios and eight playable characters. While there was a single-player campaign, Outbreak of course came into its own with online play, which allowed up to four players to join together and complete the game’s scenarios.

Resident Evil Outbreak
Resident Evil Outbreak

Five levels might not sound like a lot for a Resident Evil game, but Resident Evil Outbreak encouraged replayability above all else, with a host of collectibles to find and events to trigger in order to achieve 100% completion in a level. Doing so unlocked new costumes for each of the game’s main characters, so there’s something to keep players coming back for more once they had finished their initial playthroughs.

Unfortunately, Resident Evil Outbreak caught some flack upon its official release because of its decision to not use voice chat to allow players to communicate. This was because the developers felt that regular voice chat would basically destroy the atmosphere of the game. Instead, the developers opted to use an ad-lib system that let players select short lines from certain conversational categories, such as “help” or “go there”.

Resident Evil Outbreak received a 71 on Metacritic, and while a lot of critics enjoyed the concept for a co-operative survival horror experience, which was relatively new at the time, the lack of proper communication support drew a lot of ire. The negative reception was amplified by Microsoft and Bungie, who had released Halo 2 on Xbox with Xbox Live, which was winning critics and players over. The PlayStation 2’s online support was woeful by comparison, particularly in Europe.

Most game developers, particularly Japanese ones, ran into a lot of difficulties when it came to creating online games in PAL regions, and Capcom was certainly no exception. The launch of Resident Evil Outbreak in Europe came without any online support at all to speak off, which really hamstrung the selling appeal of Outbreak in one of the world’s biggest markets. Fortunately, Capcom had another crack at the Outbreak formula.

Outbreak was originally planned to be much more expansive, with a lot more levels in the pipeline. After Outbreak, Capcom Studio 1 spent a year taking some of the in-progress levels and fleshed them out further for Resident Evil Outbreak: File 2, a standalone expansion/sequel. While Capcom sought to improve upon the formula introduced in the original Outbreak release, the results left a lot to be desired.

On paper, Outbreak: File 2 should have been a slam dunk of a release. The same eight characters were playable, but five brand new scenarios were playable, four of which were available from the get-go. Some of the levels were much bigger in scale, with the first scenario “Wild Things” being a particular highlight with its depiction of Raccoon City Zoo. Other missions also gave players more choice in how they tackled certain dilemmas or level paths, which on top of the collectibles introduced in the first game gave a lot more in the way of replay value.

Improvements were also made to the game’s online offerings, such as better lobby functions and just the fact that the online was even available in most of Europe. Having the majority of a region be able to use the online mode is an improvement in and of itself. Outbreak: File 2 also featured a new control scheme which allowed players to strafe and shoot, which was pretty remarkable considering Outbreak still utilised fixed camera perspectives and tank controls.


Where Is Outbreak At Now?

RE Outbreak
RE Outbreak

Resident Evil Outbreak: File 2 launched in September 2004 in Japan, followed by releases across the rest of the world in 2005, and it was nothing short of a flop, both critically and commercially. Reviewers were harsh on the sophomore release, with the game settling at a 58 on Metacritic, again faulting the game’s ad-lib system. However, outlets like Gamespot in particular felt that the formula shown in Outbreak: File 2 was outdated thanks to the release of Resident Evil 4, which is still considered to be one of the greatest games ever made.

The sales weren’t much better, with Outbreak: File 2 only managing to sell 91,000 copies in Japan during the first couple of weeks of sale. This was considered to be a massive disappointment by the Capcom bigwigs, who were also losing value on the Japanese stock market at the time, so the decision was ultimately made to shelve the Outbreak series. Online play was still enabled for Outbreak: File 2 until March 31st, 2007, when the PAL and NTSC servers were shut down.

Just because Capcom shut down Outbreak game, it doesn’t mean they were done with the idea of an online Resident Evil experience. The next mainline game in the series after Outbreak: File 2 was Resident Evil 5, which famously broke the mould by being a two-player co-op focused adventure, only with the gameplay improvements shown in Resident Evil 4 regarding the over-the-shoulder camera.

By the time of Resident Evil 5’s release, the landscape of online gaming had become a lot more sophisticated than it ever was. Xbox was beginning to hit its stride with Xbox Live on the 360, while Sony’s PlayStation Network became a much more prominent part of the console’s ecosystem, meaning that for console players, online play was more accessible than ever. A co-op horror game that almost required online play wasn’t doomed to be an obscure little curio like it would have been (and indeed was) on the PS2.

Resident Evil 5
Resident Evil 5

Capcom continued with that formula of online RE titles throughout the seventh generation of consoles, most notably with Resident Evil 6, which is an often maligned entry in the series. Whether that bad rap is earned is for history to decide, but one other game that’s notable for some light similarities to Outbreak is Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. Released in 2012, Operation Raccoon City is another four player co-op game where players try to survive the various horrors of the Raccoon City incident.

That’s pretty much where the similarities begin and end, as Operation Raccoon City feels more like a zombie-themed version of the tactical shooter SOCOM than any sort of survival horror experience. It was critically lambasted upon release, just like Outbreak: File 2, but Operation Raccoon City still managed to top two million sales just a few short months after launch. Quality doesn’t matter if you can shift a large quantity.

Despite the official servers being taken offline by Capcom, that hasn’t stopped fans from being able to open their own servers through emulators and the like, allowing for the Outbreak community to spread online nearly two decades after the game’s release. Communities such as Outbreak Server have ensured that the Outbreak games have received a second lease on life, which is pretty apt for a game about zombies. Something about rising from the dead, right?


The Future Of Resident Evil Outbreak

Resident Evil Outbreak
Resident Evil Outbreak

It feels like Outbreak 3, or at least some kind of Outbreak revival, is the natural end goal for Capcom’s current plans with online Resident Evil experiences. After tackling co-op, Capcom have taken the online side of Resident Evil in a much more adversarial direction, with titles like Umbrella Corps, Resident Evil Resistance and RE:Verse. While Umbrella Corps was widely considered to be one of the worst Resident Evil games ever made, Resistance managed to be a decently fun take on titles like Dead By Daylight, with whom Capcom have also collaborated with. Surely after all these “versus” style Resident Evil games, it’s time for Capcom to give co-op another go, potentially reviving Outbreak to do so.

As much as the mainline Resident Evil games tend to focus on single-player stories, especially with the way that the Ethan Winters saga and the current crop of RE remakes have been going, Resident Evil has always allowed room for the series to expand and experiment. There’s room in Capcom’s horror line-up for there to be a Resident Evil Outbreak release of some kind.

There’s also room for a new Dino Crisis, but that’s another story.

As for how the Outbreak series could make a comeback, there’s a couple of potential routes beyond just releasing a third game in the series that Capcom could take. One route could be a full-blown remake, similar to the work that Capcom have done on Resident Evil 2, 3 and 4. Seeing Outbreak being recreated in the RE Engine is a concept that’d likely make a lot of fans happy, though the idea of a 4K zombie elephant is utterly terrifying.

Resident Evil 4
Resident Evil 4

Another avenue could be to use the PlayStation Plus Classics collection to revive the actual PS2 versions of Outbreak and Outbreak File 2. Being able to play the original Outbreak games on official hardware would be pretty sweet, especially if Capcom re-enabled the online servers for those players too. If nothing else, it’d be a lower cost way of gauging interest in an Outbreak revival without going full send immediately.

It feels like there’s more interest than ever in the Resident Evil series, whether that’s due to the various film and TV adaptations, the revitalisation of the series’ formula thanks to the Ethan Winters saga, or the brilliance of the old school remakes. Right now, it feels like the best time Capcom has to try and reverse the fortunes of one of their most ambitious titles. It even looks like Outbreak is on their mind, as a page on the official Resident Evil website shows updated assets for both of the games.

Look, Capcom. Make Resident Evil Outbreak 3, or just remake the first two, and I’ll buy more copies for me and my mates. Deal?

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