Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City

March 23, 2012, Author: Trent Pyro

Resident Evil is the most immediate franchise for many when considering horror games. Its first incarnation on the PS1 in 1995 revolutionised fear in video-games, and taught us that less can definitely be more with sparse resources and solitary gameplay. Fast-forward to today and Resi fans have been spoilt, both by the bar-raising Resident Evil 4 in 2005 and the gorgeous action-fest of Resi 5 just a few short years ago. Patient as always, followers of Capcom’s franchise have had numerous editions of the last proper game, plus mobile spin-offs to keep them occupied until the inevitable release of Resi 6 later this year.

What to do until then, I hear you cry? Well, not one to make us go too long without a shot of the old T-Virus, Capcom have recently released Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. Following the course of an Umbrella clean-up team trying to cover their employer’s tracks after the monumental outbreak in the city, it takes a much more action-based approach in the the form of a co-op shooter rather than a survival horror. Controversially this instalment is developed by an external studio, Slant Six Games and only published by Capcom.

Is this a sign that the company is abandoning the survival horror roots of the series and letting it become just another action title? Well, not exactly…

Mission objectives confirmed
For those who know nothing about Resident Evil (how is it under that rock?) I’ll give a brief overview. During the events of the second and third games, the deadly T-Virus is accidentally unleashed on the unsuspecting residents of Midwestern Raccoon City. Developed in secret by pharmaceutical giant Umbrella Corp, it’s a bio-weapon capable of reanimating the dead and mutating the living. Cue jogging around a city in chaos, capping zombies and facing off against Lickers, Tyrants and all manner of beasties with very few resources and a constant sense of gnawing dread.

Operation Raccoon City (ORC) switches focus to the Umbrella Security Service, or at least six of them. Their mission is to sweep the city recovering and destroying any evidence of Umbrella’s involvement, lest anyone find out it’s all their fault. Considering their occupation, it’s no surprise your team are a pretty amoral bunch who talk about ‘the mission’ a lot and don’t worry too much about the hundreds of people they gleefully murder.

Split into a number of chapters, the story riffs well on key points in the series and does a lot to intrigue lifelong fans like myself. What it fails to do is weave a compelling narrative from start to finish, the missions feeling more like self-contained stories. Even then, the plot only goes about as far as ‘Listen up squad. Find X and destroy it, then collect 3 of Y and use them at Z, then extract”, eschewing almost all the compelling storytelling the series is famous for.

Sure we get to meet the team who attempt to silence William Birkin and fight him in his Tyrant form. We have to find and fix the Nemesis so it can plod around Raccoon City scaring the shit out of everyone and hunting poor Jill Valentine. Yet none of this manages to be an enthralling narrative in itself, simply playing second fiddle to the superior events of the principle series and chucking in random fan service for good measure.

Newcomers to the franchise will be unaffected by most of this and will likely see a mission-based co-op shooter with zombies and a brilliant lore. It’s just shame the actual game doesn’t stand up to its namesake very well.

Team tactics
I can describe how ORC plays in one sentence; ‘Holy fucking Christ how can I shoot four things from three different angles at the same tim. Oh shit, I’m dead’. Obviously I’m going to elaborate.

Controlling like the bastard child of Gears of War and Resident Evil 5, it feels surprisingly comfy at first. Controls are simple and all seem to work fine. Aside from the basic shooting and mêlée control, each of the six characters has unlockable abilities that can be triggered with the Y button. As you can only have one (out of the three available) equipped at a time it adds a layer of tactics and variation to the team.

The cover system is automatic, sticking you to every nearby surface like magnet to fridge. You move dynamically around each cover object and a quick hold of LT will pop you out so you can cause mayhem. Oddly you can’t vault over anything but it doesn’t impact too badly on the overall gameplay.

Another unique feature is the Quick Draw system. Hold down the Weapon Switch button (default LB) and you draw your pistol and auto-target enemies. Walking around in a sort of quasi-twin-stick-shooter mode, you pretty much wipe out everything in your path. While I expect its intended to be used in emergencies when you need some superhuman aiming ability to avoid becoming zombie food, I found it very useful for clearing groups of walkers with no effort. It does munch your ammo like the undead do flesh though, so it’s not a one-stop solution.

Weapons are varied and can be chosen in the lobby, while better versions of the standard assault rifle, submachine gun, shotgun, sniper rifle and pistol can be unlocked with XP earned in the main campaign or online (more on that later). While none but the shotgun feel very powerful, they all do the job of cutting down whatever is in your path.

Every time you get hit by a zombie you run the risk of becoming infected. Your health is replaced by a blue circle that drains rapidly, turning you into a zombie yourself when its emptied. Using an Anti-Viral spray cures you but they’re few and far between. It’s a neat gimmick but becomes increasingly annoying as the game wears on. As does pretty much everything else.

The chief issue here is difficulty. Unlike most games where you gradually have to improve to deal with the ramping challenges presented to you, ORC lulls you into security with an exciting but relatively easy first few stages and then brings the hammer down so hard you can actually feel it crushing your skull. Enjoyable pop-and-drop firefights with faecal-brained soldiers become impossible gauntlets of misery, with squads spawning behind you and spamming grenades.

Zombies move faster and are more aggressive, while getting infected seems to happen much more often. Instead of forcing you to think more tactically or presenting new challenges, ORC just throws more and more and more at you. It’s the cheapest and most uninspired way to increase the difficulty and quickly reaches a level of impossibility that boils the blood and causes hair loss.

Looks like Nemesis wants to be here about as much as I do...

Case in point: the battle against Nemesis. He’s standing on the ground in a warehouse while you potter about on the gantries. Within the first 10 seconds you’re swamped by an army of zombies. If you try and thin them out, Nemesis’ mini-gun wipes you out in a second. If you take cover from his fire, the zombies start on your limbs and before you know it you’re either dead or infected, which in single-player is about as good as. So you grind through multiple deaths and finally get a pattern of running away from the zombies and cover-shooting the big boy. Problem solved right? Wrong!

Slant Six obviously didn’t think it was hard enough, so a squad of soldiers comes bowling in. So now you’re getting shot from at least two angles and munched on by zombies. Every time you down the soldiers another squad or two spawn, usually behind you. Even if you manage to live through all that, the Nemesis takes so much damage you’re more likely succumb to the infinitely spawning zombies or lose your nerve and get mowed down by mini-gun fire. It’s fucking impossible, and that’s on the Normal setting.

It’s in these moments of intense frustration that the technical forgery of ORC becomes startlingly apparent. While the shooting is fine, it is not designed to cope with so much shit going on. Switching weapons, picking up ammo and even reloading are insanely unreliable; I once had to hit X six times before my arsehole character slapped a fresh clip in.

The cover system makes you instantly vulnerable from behind with little you can do about it except slooooowwwwlllyyyy turn around and face your attackers. The zombies crawl out of nowhere, as if the ‘zombie appears from under the table’ animation was just copy-pasted into every walker in the game. Previously cool features like the Crimson zombies who take more fire just add more to the list of shit to deal with.

Playing on your own is tantamount to suicide. You chosen three squad-mates talk amongst themselves, even slotting into cut-scenes in a dynamic way I’ve never seen before. Yet in practise they’re little more than guns on sticks. They regularly stand around doing nothing while zombies dine on their fleshy parts or run head on into a group of soldiers only to fire one shot and then attempt to mêlée someone ten feet away.

The healer would rather heal a squad-mate that has almost full health than heal you when you’re at death’s door. The scientist not once cured anyone in my time with the game. Pretty much everyone else’s abilities are useless unless you’re playing as them, which makes picking your squad like choosing a football team from a bunch of writers, artists, musicians and philosophers; none of them have the applicable skills and you know you’re fucked.

Visual evidence
ORC’s looks do well to mask its festering interior. The characters and animation are all up to scratch, as are the brilliant locations. Familiar sites from Raccoon City and the distinctive, clinical look of Umbrella’s labs are all present and correct and look lush. Fire and explosions flash with urgency, zombies tumble and bleed all over the place and soldiers fall with satisfying accuracy when pumped full of lead.

All the returning characters look bang-on accurate, except maybe the Tyrant. While they don’t seem to have the same vibe as the foes in previous games, they do the job well enough.

It could have been so much more though. Resident Evil has always had a look; a style that would be recognisable from any single screenshot. This version of Raccoon could be any American city if it wasn’t for the recognisable names plastered about and the zombies could be from any of the myriad canon threads present in popular culture. Unfortunately for Slant Six, just looking nice isn’t quite good enough when dealing with the horror franchise.

Source of audio disturbance located…
Imagine taking the pounding gunfights of Battlefield 3 and stripping them of all the hard work DICE did on the audio. Imagine the firing the Lancer and being denied its awesome, distinctive rattle. Imagine throwing a grenade and being treated to the sound of a flour-bomb softly popping.

Welcome to ORC’s pathetic excuse for audio production. Every gun besides the shotgun sounds piss-weak and pathetic, fut-fut-futting away like cheap air-guns. Grenades just pop in a way I’ve never had the displeasure of experiencing before, tearing out all perceivable power despite their enormous blast radius.

Zombies moan with stock voices but invoke about as much dread as your local annual Zombie Walk, while even the mighty Nemesis sounds like a shadow of his former self. I distinctly remember shitting myself after the first time he burst through a wall roaring ‘STARS!‘ in Resi 3 but here he’s just another big target to shoot.

The music is more in line with the movies than the games, opting for techno-drum-n-bass that remains for the entire experience. I suppose it’s to show that this Resi isn’t about being scared but about being a bad-ass motherfucker who wipes out whole neighbourhoods of zombies. Maybe if the game could even half keep up with that premise it would work.

Bad connection command. Can you repeat that last?
For the first time ever a Resident Evil game is positively brimming with multiplayer modes.

The first is your basic 4-player co-op throughout the campaign, which considering the mental age of your A.I. squad-mates is pretty much essential. You all choose your characters and can revive each other when you go down; a massive improvement over the instant deaths of single-player. The only problem? It doesn’t work so well.

I played with a few friends and we encountered issues I haven’t seen before in any game ever. I’ll try to explain it as best I can using letters. A is hosting and B and C have joined. It’s all going smooth until B realises he can’t see C moving at all, and vies versa. There’s no reason for this, but it means B and C can no longer work together because they can’t see each other. A is now playing with two people he can see fine, but who can’t co-ordinate except around him. It utterly destroys the co-op experience and actually makes it more tedious than playing on your own. So the one saving grace of the merciless single-player is broken. Well done.

I also experienced invisible zombies, my infection meter rocketing to the bottom in a few seconds, aid sprays not registering in my inventory and even more issues with basic function. Now I have very slow internet and that could be a factor, but it handles most of my online gaming without any issues at all. Just in the last week I’ve played Borderlands, Gears 3 and Mass Effect 3 with no problems. Come to think of it, Resi 5 was pretty shaky online and so was Lost Planet 2. Maybe it’s a Capcom problem, but neither of those games required online co-op like a fucking saline drip.

Gears of Evil anyone?

To complement the co-op there’s a host of interesting competitive modes. Team Attack mode is basic Team Deathmatch and works well enough with the ORC engine but provides nothing to draw you away from the behemoths. Biohazard tasks each team with finding vials of the G-Virus and the team with the most wins; the least interesting mode on offer.

Heroes is a unique idea; one team is packed with Resi legends like Leon S. Kennedy, Claire Redfield and Jill Valentine, while the other team are Umbrella cronies such as Ada Wong and HUNK. The Hero team don’t respawn but can take enormous amounts of damage, while the Umbrella team have limited respawns and go down as normal.

The result is a tense and exciting match of ganging-up and hunting down familiar and much-loved characters from the franchise. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to finally be able to knife your least-favourite character in the face!

Survivor takes the Left 4 Dead template and puts a competitive twist on it. One chopper; two teams. It’s a frantic and vicious game where getting to the finish first is more important than killing the opposing team. This does result in a lot of cheap mêlée kills and grenade-showers though, and the extraction site can become a brutal killing field that rewards the lucky and not the most skilled.

It’s plagued by the same issues as any versus mode; over-skilled players annihilating everyone, trolls attempting to team-kill, team-mates refusing to revive anyone under a certain level; the usual pathetic bullshit. It’s mostly clean in my experience though and there’s a lot of fun to be had here if competitive multiplayer is your bag. The constant presence of zombies in every mode can be a grind at times and I’ve often been swamped when trying to take out an opponent, giving them a getaway and denying me the kill.

I can see why Slant Six would’ve thought it was cool to keep the zombies and considering it’s Resident Evil it wouldn’t have been right to just leave them out. Still, they’re a constant irritation that can often dampen the fun of an otherwise enjoyable set of multiplayer modes.

Mission successful?
Operation Raccoon City was high on my anticipation list and I was thrilled when I was chosen to review it. While I didn’t expect the next exceptional instalment in the series (I’m waiting for Resi 6 for that), I expected a hell of a lot more than this.

While the multiplayer is interesting and can be fun, the campaign is plagued with so many issues that it’s practically unplayable. Overall it’s a promising attempt to tell a different side of the Resident Evil story but is absolutely destroyed by some of the worst game design I’ve ever seen on the Xbox 360. Everything seems crafted to piss you off or get in your way, the levels are poorly constructed and turn into desperate dashes for survival and not thrilling action set-pieces.

The Resi Evil lore is thrown around like a bad joke as if saying ‘Umbrella’ and ‘T-Virus’ a lot would make it all acceptable. Instead it makes long-term Resi fans like myself feel cheated. It’s similar to the feeling you get when a book you love gets made into a fast-and-lose cash-cow movie, or a movie you adore gets an insultingly bad game adaptation. I thought Capcom’s involvement would ensure that ORC didn’t turn out too badly, but it seems all they did was sign over the licenses and bugger off to work on Resi 6.

If you’ve got Gold, I’d say give it a try; you might find some enjoyment in the multiplayer modes, although the novelty of playing TDM in zombie-infested Raccoon City and filling Leon Kennedy full of hot lead wears off pretty quick. If you’re one of the few who still haven’t plugged in, don’t even bother renting it.

Operation Raccoon City has one of the worst single-player experiences I’ve ever seen, and for a franchise that prides itself on terrifying, solo experiences that’s just unacceptable.


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