Capcom’s Resident Evil series has gone through a lot of changes over the years, some good some bad, and Operation Raccoon City’s laser focus on its third-person action is one of the series’ riskiest moves. Eschewing terror for bullets, the game asks players to go back to where it all started and to see things from the bad guy’s perspective.
The game plays on fans’ knowledge of the franchise’s history with little spent in explaining some of the finer points. This is a title where being a big fan of Resident Evil or of the movies actually matters in as much as the story goes because of who you might run into during the chase into Raccoon City.
If you don’t know who Umbrella is or how big a shadow they cast over the entire series, then you might not appreciate some of the surprises that Raccoon City delivers. On the other hand, the previous series aren’t absolutely required reading. If you don’t care that deeply about the story, it gives you enough to go on without feeling too left out. After all, you’re seeing this game from a side that has lurked in the shadows of the series from the start in a big “what-if” sequence of events.
You play as one of six members of the Wolfpack, a special USS troubleshooting group that the Umbrella Corporation calls on for when they have something that only their unique “talents” can solve – usually when every other official option fails. They’re sent into Raccoon City to seize a sample of a revolutionary virus from its chief researcher and players are given a guided tour of Umbrella’s intensely secret world of biologically engineered weapons along the way.
Of course, everything doesn’t go according to plan and Raccoon City is exposed to the virus which turns everyone into the walking dead. Wolfpack’s failure to get the virus, along with the ties that the disaster might have with the company, force Umbrella to tap them on the shoulder for a little penance with “clean up” duty. That doesn’t go according to plan, either.
Operation Raccoon City, or ORC, will catch a lot of longtime fans by surprise. This isn’t a game with a single chilling moment, unless you run out of ammo in the middle of a mob of hungry corpses. Capcom has tapped Slant Six Games who are best known for their work with the SOCOM shooter franchise to throw leaden magic at the undead instead of hiding them in dark corners to scare players. This is a third-person shooter from the ground up employing a cover system and the results are mixed.
The main campaign allows you to be one of six characters working for Umbrella and each have their own sets of skills that you can develop. Players earn experience while playing through the missions allowing them to rank up and use the points to purchase passive and usable skills for their chosen trooper, though if you die before making it to the end of an area, you get nothing.
The different characters add some nice depth. For example, Bertha is the “Medic” role and her skills revolve around passive abilities such as getting a percentage of more health from green herbs and sprays, to active ones such as dealing with infections among the group. Then there’s Vector, a guy that has his own limited cloaking field which also allows him to run past much of the danger and then seeing it disappear behind him by making it to the next checkpoint.
You can only have any one character carry one active skill into the fight, though they’ll always have two passive skills. The skills can also be upgraded up to three levels encouraging repeat plays of completed missions to grind up for experience.
In addition to the skill upgrades for each character, there’s also an arsenal of weapons to unlock. Players are only allowed to equip two different weapons – a pistol sidearm and a main which can be anything else such as an assault weapon type, shotgun, or even a sniper rifle. Choices are also limited at the start leaving players to scavenge from the living that they manage to kill such as the Spec-Ops soldiers that get in their way or the weapon lockers that they also run across. Just as the skills are unlocked and upgraded, players will also have to use experience points to unlock additional weapons though they can’t upgrade them.
All of this equals a lot of rewards for simply shooting up zombies and surviving through to the end of each mission. The problem is that the action isn’t really that exciting by yourself.
Raccoon City is a dark, grimy place though chunks of the the visuals also look heavily dated reminding me of some of what I had seen on the PS2. The zombies, on the other hand, fly apart like cherry pies hit with heavy firepower. Legs are blown off, heads pop, and arms join the mass of other limbs on the ground. Whatever Slant Six had left out of the environment was concentrated into making zombie slaying a dismembering paradise and there’s no shortage of shambling targets to focus on.
They even come in different types from the tougher, red skinned Crimson Heads, to brutal Hunters. Fans will also recognize Lickers crawling along the walls and ceilings along with brutal bosses such as the Nemesis which comes up as a mission objective later on. There’s plenty to shoot at for juicy experience. And on top of all of that, there are also data items that can be collected for extra points as well as unlocking concept art.
But when the weapons come off like underpowered clones of each other or the living run around with harder heads than zombies, such as when I’ve emptied clips into the noggins of Spec Ops soldiers only to see them run away, it can make the gunplay feel a bit less exciting than it should be. Melee attacks with the knife are pretty worthless aside from keeping zombies off of you, and most enemies feel like bags of hit points making it feel all too routine.
The cover system, on the other hand, isn’t too bad. It’s completely transparent meaning you don’t need to hit any kind of button to get behind something. Simply slipping behind a wall, corner, or crate automatically puts your chosen fighter into a cover stance allowing you to lean out to shoot or blind fire at whatever is beyond. It’s a simple system that actually works reasonably well.
The gameplay also has a few more clever ideas to throw at players such as bleeding which can draw the attention of zombies and can be useful if you can get one of the living bad guys to start leaking like a sieve. Another is getting infected requiring you to find anti-viral spray before you zombify. Co-op also makes the game more fun, though the gunplay still seems pretty routine even when other players jump into the heads of the other three AI drive party members.
It’s really a better idea to find someone to co-op through the main campaign with if only to avoid some of the dumb things that the AI often does, such as try to walk through fire or set off trip mines to get to you. Or leave companions unconscious on the ground for you to revive them since it just won’t try to bring them back to their feet. It can also tend to walk out of cover into enemy fire just because.
Yet having other players in your four person squad can also make the game much more survival oriented. Health restoring green herbs and sprays, especially anti-viral shots, aren’t all that common unless you’re playing by yourself. The AI always ignores most of that leaving it for you. But get a few other players in the game with you, some of whom might be a lot more concerned with their survival than yours, and it can make things very interesting when someone keeps hogging the healing. Or when one of them accidentally shoots you dead thanks to friendly fire. On an odd note, infected players that zombify can also be blown away…and then revived.
Different difficulty levels can also lower or raise the challenge that you want, even going so far as to turn on friendly fire at the higher settings so your AI friends can accidentally be capped by your careless fire. You can also search for games based on difficulty level, though not pick what mission you want to hop in on which is a strange omission to make.
There’s also multiplayer for up to eight which has all of the old staples with a few twists. Any of the upgrades that you’ve given the characters in single-player can also be carried over. There’s Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch with sides divided between Umbrella and Spec Ops, a form of capture the flag in which you need to collect viral samples, and Hero which turns each team of four into heroes characters from the game (like Leon) with both sides gunning for each other. There’s also another mode which has both sides surviving long enough for a chopper to come in and pick up only four of the eight that can fight their way to a seat when it arrives.
Multiplayer’s action is nothing that really stands out, but like the single player, has a few neat facets such as throwing players in with zombies at the same time that they’re worrying about each other, similar to what F.E.A.R. 3 had done in its own way with multiplayer. Infection and bleeding are also in play to help complicating things and make teamwork a much more important part of the chaos.
All of this makes Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City a confusing series of highs and lows. It’s also definitely more fun in co-op, though many of the areas can almost take up to half an hour to get through requiring players to put aside a chunk of time if they want to make it out with all of that juicy experience at the end. At the same time, it’s not a very long game. It took me only a little over six hours to finish the main campaign on the Normal setting, though I didn’t have to worry about everyone making it to the next checkpoint as much as I would have if there were other players with me. It would probably take a bit less in co-op.
It’s also not the worst third-person shooter I’ve played and the way that it ends the main campaign, especially if you’re playing it with friends over four way co-op, make the journey almost worth it just to see what it does. Though if action is all that you’re looking for, especially against zombies, there are certainly better options available.
At the same time, longtime fans will also find this to be a nostalgia filled trip, especially with other players, though whether they can stomach the flat firepower that can also make it feel a dull exercise without any of the scares might make even the most devoted rethink their 401K plans with Umbrella.
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City
Capcom / Slant Six Games
Microsoft Windows / Xbox 360 / PS3 (reviewed for Xbox 360)
Rated: M for Mature