Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City serves as a nice bit of filler in between the heavy-hitter RE releases this year – namely Revelations and RE6. It’s a multiplayer co-op tactical shooter that transports gamers back to the series’ roots in Raccoon City, with the story serving more as a ‘What if?’ scenario than actually being a necessary part of the plot. It’s action-heavy but light on scares, which isn’t a great formula with which to make a good Resident Evil game.
Operation Raccoon City’s premise sees a squad of heavily-armed Umbrella special forces agents sent into zombie infested Raccoon City, circa RE2 and RE3, initially to secure the transfer of the dangerous G-Virus, but later to destroy evidence of Umbrella’s involvement in the whole zombie disaster and bring the renegade Nemesis monster under control. It’s a nifty idea, although very reminiscent of the Resident Evil film, and it’s an opportunity to see some of the classic monsters in high definition, like the Lickers and Tyrants. The problem is you don’t really care about any of your squad’s characters, as they’re basically interchangeable (since you have to pick four out of a larger roster before you start) and all hide behind face-covering masks (admittedly practical, but not great for connecting with them). Mission outlines are presented in the same boring computerised maps you get with Modern Warfare and Crysis 2, and even the inclusion of fan favourite characters like Leon Kennedy don’t make the proceedings all that interesting.
The gameplay in the single player campaign is a pretty standard cover shooter, for the most part. Waist-high cover is strewn about almost every location you visit, as you pump enormous amounts of lead into opposing government forces, zombies and monsters. The enemies are pretty bullet-thirsty in this game too, as it not only takes far too long to kill a standard soldier type with your gun, it takes a hilariously long time with melee attacks as you beat them continuously with little to no effect. The shooting model in play feels rigid, but functional, but the cover system is kind of sloppy. Rather than being activated into cover mode by a button press or roadie run like Gears of War, your character just decides for themselves whether to take cover as you press them into a wall. This generally works fine, but if you’re just running around and accidentally walk into a wall, chances are you’ll automatically take cover, which can get very annoying especially if you’re being chased by enemies.
All this only really begins to feel like a Resident Evil title when you’re mowing down zombies, which is still a pleasure even if they’re not at all threatening in this incarnation of the series. They can only pose a danger if they start to swarm you, but even then you can usually run past the horde and to the next area with no severe repercussions. And, even for zombies, their AI is pretty dumb. I found several areas in the game where I could just stand and shoot my way through the zombie masses and they would completely ignore my presence, choosing instead to go after my team-mates. Speaking of which, their AI isn’t the greatest either. Your medic will often fail to heal you, your assault and demolition will often fail to attack targets, and your recon guy will most likely turn invisible and bugger off, only to get promptly turned into a zombie. That said, sometimes I could just let my team run into a room and clear it out without any contribution from me, so their effectiveness is certainly variable. It’s made all the more surprising, seeing as this is a game from the team behind recent SOCOM titles, who you’d think would be able to have AI teammates follow you without needing to teleport by this stage.
There are a few interesting mechanics at play that just feel squandered, particularly the way any character can turn into a zombie. If you are bitten by an undead, you’ll become infected, turning your health bar blue and clouding your screen’s field of view. Your health will slowly drain away until it reaches zero, at which point you’ll turn and it’s essentially game over in single player, as your character becomes uncontrollable. This just becomes frustrating, as you’re unable to cure yourself of the infection unless you happen to have an anti-viral spray (which Umbrella probably should have doled out to the citizens of Raccoon City). So, you can either keep playing, scrambling for herbs and first aid sprays to forestall your zombification, or just accept the inevitable and turn so you can restart from the last checkpoint. The concept just isn’t as fleshed out as it could have been.
Of course, to get the most enjoyment out of Operation Raccoon City, you’ll need to play it online, particularly on Xbox 360. There’s a special ‘Nemesis’ mode that’s exclusive to the 360 version (through paid DLC, naturally), that lets one player work against the team as the badass Nemesis monster. Apart from the campaign co-op, both PS3 and 360 receive a ‘Heroes’ mode (dividing players into two celebrity-filled teams including the lovely Ada Wong and Jill Valentine), ‘Biohazard’ mode, as well as standard Team Attack and Survivors. They work well to change up the action from the co-op campaign, even if they aren’t quite as engaging. There will no doubt be further DLC on the way to expand the co-op action, which will be welcome as the campaign only lasts about five to six hours, and you won’t stick around too much longer for the remaining multiplayer options.
While I’ve already mentioned that I didn’t care much for the game’s narrative presentation, Operation Raccoon City’s graphics are serviceable, if a little dreary. It obviously doesn’t have the same production values as something like RE5, but you do get a kick out of seeing updated models for the monsters you’re familiar with, such as the Nemesis. Both the voice acting and music are forgettable, but the sound effects of the various weapons can occasionally have a nice kick to them.
It may seem a little harsh to come down so hard on Operation Raccoon City for just being a standard cover shooter with the Resident Evil licence pasted over it, because that’s all it’s trying to do. It doesn’t seem to have the budget or scope to be anything more, so it settles for sending players on a trip down memory lane with some shooty covery gameplay to give them something to do. But, because of this it’s not going to appeal to many players outside of the Resident Evil fanbase, and even they will find the experience a little too unpolished and generic. Still, the year’s not over for RE fans yet, with another Resident Evil movie and RE6 on the way, so it might be best to wait a few months before handing your money over to Capcom for a better quality product.