Codename: Outbreak is a game that starts as it means to go on, literally. This is not meant in the good sense though unfortunately, if you'll read on, I'll explain.
Starting life as a game called "Venom" by GSC Game World; we caught our first glimpse of Codename: Outbreak way back in early 2000.
The premise of the game is a standard sci-fi / horror B-Movie kind of plot, a chunk of asteroid crashes to earth infested with alien life forms. The said life-forms are parasitical and attach themselves to the back of the neck and take control of whomever they inhabit, rather similar to the ill-fated "Dark Skies" television series. This sets up the plot for you and your team-mate to go into ground-zero and mop up the mess.
The game starts with an intro movie that involves the ambush of a couple of friendly troops in the woods, it doesn't really set the plot up, its just there for effect. There are no cut-scenes to speak of, everything is conveyed to you in a text-only mission brief then usually a short flying bit where you're told your mission objectives in what is possibly the worst voice-over I've ever heard.
I'm sorry, at first I thought the voice-overs were comical, endearing even, but unfortunately the continuous pitch less, tone-deaf and unpunctuated speech from all the actors become a serious annoyance by the end of the second mission.
The rest of the sound in the game though is actually pretty good. Action is punctuated with a very fitting rock track and footsteps are affected by whatever you're walking on. Using the zoom feature on your gun even boosts the effective hearing range, allowing you to hear into distant lookout towers or roadblocks.
The visuals are "powered" by GSC Game World's proprietary Vital Engine ZL. I say that only in the loosest definition as if it were not for the high resolution textures and the ability to add detail textures, you'd think this was a quake 2 licensed game. Maybe I'm being a bit hard on it, the engine does have the ability to create outdoor areas of some considerable size, but there's no real complexity to the layouts and internal levels are angular and repetitive.
And then there are the team mates and other NPCs.
My mother always said if I can't do something properly, don't do it at all. Actually, she didn't, if she had, I'd have to ask why I'm a game reviewer (hey, don't you say a word...) but perhaps the programmers should have heeded this advice when coding the AI in this game. Generally speaking, the AI is adequate as long as you don't go near any hills, walls, trees, bushes or corners. Whatever you do, don't try to get your team-mate or any other NPC to follow you anywhere indoors. If the ability for your computer controlled partner to get stuck on absolutely any object that's in its way is a feature though, they've banged it on the head.
I know I'm being harsh now, but do we really deserve to have to play the game twice? That's what you end up doing; switching players so that you can unstick yourself from whatever telegraph pole has leapt into your partner's way.
So far I've been pretty negative of the game but that's pretty much the extent of my complaints with the game. What's left are a collection of cool ideas and even some well executed ones, like the multi-purpose weapon you carry.
You don't carry a whole range of different guns; your weapon has a range of different barrels which each provide a different function, shotgun, auto-gun, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, laser, grenade launcher, rocket launcher and mine launcher, quite a selection I'm sure you'll agree.
Ammo becomes a problem very quickly so it's a good thing you are able to pick up objects and frisk dead bodies for more, a cute Deus-EX feature that's more than welcome. Not sure about the whole hypodermic needle thing though, if I was a soldier, I wouldn't want to carry half a dozen of someone else's needles around to boost my ailing health...
Other cool features include being able to play missions in day or night, choosing the team you want to take out and even co-operative multiplayer.
Unfortunately though, normal multiplayer is a non-starter, its no fun at all, the weapons just don't inspire any kind of excitement like quake or UT and aren't realistic enough to appeal to the delta force or counter-strike guys.
To sum up the game, I'm afraid it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. The graphics are weak, the sound is irritating and the levels are bland and repetitive. The AI is poor; there is little variation in enemies and despite the initial "cool" aspect of the multi-purpose gun, that too just ends up feeling nasty.