Codename Outbreak, originally called Venom, by Russian developers GSC Gameworlds has been in development for some time so when the game popped through the door we were eager to see how this tactical action shooter shaped up. With so many shooters grasping for a share of the market can Codename Outbreak bring something new to the genre?As the title suggests you’d expect some sort of alien infestation that must be squashed before it takes over the world and that’s exactly what you get. After a meteorite comes dangerously close the planet large fragments enter the atmosphere creating huge craters. Around these huge cavities new alien life forms. People start going missing and a research laboratory investigating the meteorites loses all communication with the outside world. The planet is now under threat from the alien life forms and it’s up to you and your crack military team to put a stop to it once and for all.The game kicks off with a pretty well done intro sequence of troopers running through a forested area being pursued by a creature. The movie does set the scene well and before long you are straight into the single player game and the first mission briefing. Codename Outbreak is played on a mission by mission basis with the plot unfolding a little more after each mission as you discover more about the alien infestation. This method is ideal if you want to jump in periodically for some action but it does tend to ruin the flow of the game a little.During the missions you’re not alone, you can bring another squad member with you. In the briefing screen there’s a list of troopers to pick from each with their own attributes and wepon a*ignments. The AI player can be given instructions to cover or stand ground and you can switch control between the two characters at any point with the press of a key which is nice feature. In the first few missions you are stuck with the same team and now until mission 4 or 5 can you start switching to the others on the list.We liked the game’s AI a lot, your foes are particularly tricky to pin down in combat and they would hunt you down, not always taking the most obvious route. They duck, take quick looks then vanish keeping you on edge at all times. The whole experience is heightened by the enemy shouting commands at each other or making comments like ‘where are they?’ The game does prove challenging, even on easy, and that’s helped by the games levels which are well designed with good cover spots and hiding positions. We did encounter one problem with the team-mate AI though they did get stuck on the spot on more than one occasion. Each mission offers up new challenges in a variety of locations, both inside and outside. Before each mission you’re given your orders which may for example involve collecting data discs or security passes to progress further in the current mission or onto the next. Each character has an inventory so items can be picked up or dead enemy soldiers can be searched for useful items. As this is a tactical shooter, realism is the key and GSC have opted to give the gamer very little chance to boost health when injured. If you do find an anaesthetic syringe, crack open the champagne, it will be the last in along while. This will either please gamers or frustrate them immensely depending on your style of play.The best approach for this game is stealth, enemy react to noises and commotion, the lower your profile the higher the chance of succeeding. This is not a game where you try and clear the level of enemies, be a coward, run and hide until the coast is clear. You’re best buddy is the zoom function on the weapons, spotting and listening out for enemies while crouching in a river or behind a bush will give you the upper hand, especially with the sniper rifle primed and ready for action.Tghe levels are nicely put together with enemy defenses positioned in awkwrd places to make life hard. You can be running around quite happily and then suddenly start getting shot up from some mysterious enemy location. Only after a bit of ducking around and a good scope with the zoom do you usualy find a hidden guard tower or enemy position. The levels certainly keep you on your toes.Codename Outbreak features one physical weapon but this piece of hi-tech military hardware has all the firepower you need rolled into one neat box of tricks. Instead of creating lots of different weapon models you GSC have given you one weapon which transforms via sliding mechanisms into the different weapons in the game . You can easily tell what weapon you’re using by the indicator on the back of the gun. If you loved those ‘robots in disguise’ you’ll like the way GSC Have put the weapons together as parts slide and transform. There’s a good range of wepaons everything from sniper rifle to rocket launcher, although you’ll find the sniper rifle your best option for the majorityof missions. Heavier weapons like the rocket launcher are only really useful against heavy armour like tanks, against men they do dish out the damage but give away your position.The game’s engine looks a little dated, graphics were a little ropey in places but the outside areas do look good. The inside areas are where the game looks a little dodgy and you can’t help feeling they should have just ditched the inside locations and concentrated on the more tactical outside areas.The most frustrating thing for us was the game’s stability. On our 512Meg Ram 1.4 Ghhz Athlon the game just crashed non-stop, it would lock forcing you to completely reboot the machine. Let’s just say the fist was nearly thrust through the monitor quite a few times before we switched to our second machine which was 650 Mhz Pentium III with 128 Meg ram. The performance was no where near as good but at least the game stayed stable and was reasonably playable.The sound in Codename Outbreak is not bad with one exception, the voice acting. Codename Outbreak features some really dodgy voices that sound like Arnie with a hangover which was a real shame as the music which was suitably rocking in combat situations and did the job perfectly. The weapon sounds are also very well done and sounds like breaking glass and footsteps only helped heighten the tension.Codename Outbreak is a mixed bag. The game’s stability was a real problem for us making things a little frustrating at the start. The flow of the story was slightly ruined by exiting after each misison back to the briefing but that’s what you’d expect from a more tactical shooter where squad memeber have to be switched. Voice acting was pretty poor and this was the only let-down in the sound department. The problem with the game is you’ve seen it all before. Despite the fact its quite fun, there just isn’t enough here to make you go ‘WOW!’. If you fancy a bit of stealth shooter action and some challenging AI then this may be worth a look, but remember, don’t expect to be blown away by this game, its not without its problems.