Under my Umbrella…
2012 is a busy year for Capcom’s flagship survival horror series. Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is only one of a few Resident Evil games we’ll be ploughing through, all spearheaded by the hugely anticipated Resident Evil 6 arriving later this year. With some new ideas, some familiar surroundings and the usual plethora of undead ninnies to chew our faces off, does this latest spin on the franchise offer sustenance or leave us drooling in the corner with a pocket full of unused ink ribbons? Read on to find out.
Game: Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City
Developer: Slant Six Games
If you’re a series veteran you’ll feel right at home with Operation Raccoon City as it whisks you back to the year 1998, a plot point somewhere in between Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 that both saw the perilous aftermath of the T-Virus outbreak hitting Raccoon City. This time around you’ll be playing the ‘other’ side in the form of Umbrella’s rather adept USS unit in an attempt to cover up the outbreak and quell any survivors.
This spin on perspective will intrigue fans of the series enough with its adjusted insight into the aforementioned events, but newcomers not so familiar with the history of the series might fail to find significance in the unfolding plot. Fortunately, the nature of the game means you won’t be getting too bogged down in details. Shabby characterisation and thin dialogue becomes a moot point once you’ve started mowing down zombies, and they’ll only slightly detract from the experience unless you’re a hardened learner of the game’s lore. Operation Raccoon City also invites you to rewrite gaming history at one point in the game, somewhat plunging its narrative into irrelevance altogether, should you choose to do so.
Coming off the back of Resident Evil 5, anyone would be forgiven for thinking the graphical department hadn’t been given too much love in Slant Six/Capcom’s spin off. However, there is a return to the more dark ambiances of older titles that will please many who found Resident Evil 5’s daylight excursions negating the experience. Post-outbreak Raccoon City is also painted admirably; torn up streets full of burning vehicles and dead bodies along with the accustomed hi-tech lab areas all serve the Resident Evil brand well and offer enough detail and design prowess to not leave you feeling claustrophobic in and amongst the game’s linear progression.
There is plenty of visual tardiness that will have you foaming at the mouth throughout the game though. No more so than the constant reuse of the same zombie models that raises some eyebrows at Operation Raccoon City’s gene pool as you fend off the same men, women and policemen – all of which can appear 4-5 times in a single batch of zombies. Throw in some graphical glitching that includes protruding body parts through objects and enemies appearing from thin air and you’ll discover there’s a distinct layer of polish missing from this survival shooter.
Operation Raccoon City’s tenuous links to its previous titles in the gameplay department means that the essence of the series lies mainly in its audio. From the get go you’re greeted with the accustomed growling voice spitting out the game’s title, whilst all the dings and tones you associate with grabbing items and moving through menus are all there in force. Also, because of the game’s more action orientation there’s few moments, if any, that clammer for the tension or atmosphere building of older titles, so any familiarity you’ll manage to find in game will be largely thanks to its evocative sound design more than anything else.
SOCOM’s Slant Six Games were enlisted to provide their expertise in third-person squad based shooters. As an intended result, ORC is far more comparable to games such as Left 4 Dead, rather than the typical survival horror you might be expecting from the Resident Evil universe. Split into two modes: Campaign and Versus (that both gear themselves towards online play), Operation Raccoon City takes everything you do in the game and gives you XP that will go towards unlocking new characters and a variety of new weapons.
There’s also some changes to gameplay that sets Operation Raccoon City aside from most previous titles in the franchise, such as the ability to move while shooting and a slightly clumsy cover system. Taking cover is as simple as walking up to your chosen spot and the automatic transition is certainly fluid enough. Sadly, problems quickly become apparent, particularly in sticky situations that will see you involuntarily ducking into every wall, table and obstacle you stumble too close to. It won’t be long before you’ll be yearning for a system with a bit more certainty and control attached to it.
One place where you’ll be void of any doubt is the Campaign mode. The goal is simple – get to the next marked checkpoint or task whilst trying not to die. One of Operation Raccoon City’s main aspects is its ‘triple threat battle system’ which in itself insinuates that the zombies are demoted to being a mere annoyance rather than the focus of your attention. The undead still remain the most satisfying enemy to mow down though, instant kill headshots in particular will make you feel completely badass while reminding you of happier times. The U.S Special Ops and B.O.Ws such as Hunters, Tyrants and Lickers will do the polar opposite, forcing you do expend the little ammo you’ll find on single ememies because of the game’s failure to balance its co-operative play correctly.
You’ll want to play Operation Raccoon City online to get the most out of it. There’s no local multiplayer and with such a thin story and an atmosphere that’s neither here nor there, playing alone can be quite tedious and frustrating. One of the reasons for this is the awful AI implemented into not just the enemy, but also into your own teammates. You’ll often catch them motionless in a world of their own, staring blankly at you whilst you fend off enemies from every direction. If you can’t get a full party online you’ll have no choice but to be stuck with an AI teammate who’ll not only seem to have their own agenda, but also bafflingly lacks the ability to revive you. Leaving them to get infected and die so you can revive them for nothing is often preferable to wasting reserves keeping them alive, such is their uselessness. During one co-op session, Bertha (one of the AI characters) became the centre of attention on several occasions as we endeavoured to find out if she was alive/dead/infected after running off on a tangent – the type of endearment usually reserved for a helpless three-legged puppy, not a highly trained USS soldier.
Strangely, death also seems to be the best fix for human teammates. Scattered around the levels you’ll find green herbs, first aid sprays and other typical Resi knick-knacks. There’s also the antiviral spray which offers one of the more interesting ideas the game brings to the table; get bitten and there’s a chance you’ll be infected which in turn drains your health until you eventually become a uncontrolable zombie. The antiviral spray will cancel this effect if caught in time, but zombification is so short lived you’ll often just wait it out until you can resurrect them with fresh health and ammo, which incidentally is as simple as holding a button for a few seconds – hardly a fitting punishment for death.
In fact, nearly every good idea Operation Raccoon City has seems to fall short of being realised because of some quirky implementation. On top of the infection/antiviral spray idea, you can run forward and belly flop to the ground – an amusing but ultimately useless addition, especially when it uses the same button you’ll be using to pick objects up. Then there’s the ability to use the left trigger in conjunction with the right stick that allows you to play the game like a twin stick shooter, automatically shooting when you laser sight crosses a target. Why someone would want to use it though, is another question entirely.
There are some nice touches that add something to the experience despite the negatives. For instance, the first aid spray allows your team to huddle up into a kind of communal shower in an effort to grab healing from a single spray, which is not only cosy but adds another element by making you pick the right moment to use your resources carefully. Occasionally you might also start ‘bleeding’ after taking damage causing zombies to swarm towards you, as a result you’re forced to make decisions which makes life a little more interesting – something that’s far too scarce throughout the game.
Once you’ve grown tired of playing-ball with friends in the campaign, you can jump into the competitive side of Operation Raccoon City with the Versus mode. This mode gives the player a glimpse at what Slant Six were really getting at with the triple threat system as the game essentially becomes a human vs human vs zombies affair and as a result, it becomes far more interesting. There’s four modes with the Versus playlist: Team Attack, Heroes, Biohazard and Survivor. The first two are basically death matches with the later allowing you to take the reins of old favourites such as Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield. Biohazard has you collecting G-Virus’ that pop up randomly around the map ala capture the flag. Finally, there’s the Survivor mode which offers a 4v4 with lots of zombies and B.O.Ws thrown into the mix – the twist is you’ll be competing for one of the limited number of places on a helipcopter that lands near the end of the game and its by far the most engaging of the modes.
Operation Raccoon City’s leveling system gives players the opportunity to unlock plenty of different weapons, most of which will be familiar to players of the Resident Evil series. There’s also some passive and active abilities to grab that’ll aid you and your teammates throughout all the different modes such as ammo enhancements, body armour and healing bonuses. Not having the top end weapons won’t hamper your progression though, so desire to acquire them all might not be that appealing. Same goes for the ‘data’ collectables during the campaign mode that offers little in the way of reward to be worth the trouble during the 5-6 hours the campaign offers.
As a single player title Operation Raccoon City is a hollow, completely frustrating experience. For that reason, it’s a relief that playing alone was never the developer’s real intention. Even with that in mind though, a game with such a highly regarded brand behind it is expected to reach a certain level of quality and depth – Operation Raccoon City sadly misses that mark by some distance.
There are some good ideas and the co-op provides a decent platform to get together with friends, but unlike recent co-op counterparts such as Left 4 Dead or Syndicate, Operation Raccoon City is largely dependant on you being able to make it fun, rather than it actually being fun. Horrible AI, a hit-and-miss cover system and the complete absence of the tense trademark Resident Evil atmosphere means that like Umbrella’s infamous T-Virus, Operation Raccoon City is a title that you (unless you’re a hardcore fan of the series) might want to steer clear of come the day of release.