One of the finest survival horror franchises has been dumped on from a great height, at least until Resident Evil 6 comes along, we hope. While you can’t really blame Capcom for taking its popular franchise and trying to widen its appeal among Western gamers, spin-offs rarely work and the experiment certainly hasn’t paid off with Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City.
In fact, this new cover-based shooter spin-off is a bit of a mess if truth be told. Fans expecting a game with a storyline that cleverly ties-in with past games, has decent production values, or keeps you on the edge of your seat with zombie-killing thrills, will no doubt be disappointed as Operation Raccoon City fails to capture the drama that we’re used to from the core Resi experience.
That’s not to say Operation Raccoon City is a complete disaster. If you’re a fan of the shooter genre and don’t mind too much about grubby graphics, dull environments, numerous glitches, combat-wrecking camera work and waves of brainless enemies, then you might get a few thrills with its arcade-style team-based combat and have a few giggles with three mates in tow blasting through the moronic masses.
Set between events in Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3, the lack of cut-scenes and meaningful dialogue makes the storyline too flimsy to be enjoyed, and only serves to give some sort of meaning to the subsequent firefights between the USS and U.S. military. The action revolves around the Umbrella Security Service (USS) Delta team who are tasked with preventing Dr. Birkin from handing over his T-Virus to the military, while also retrieving the G-Virus, said to be the ultimate biological weapon.
As fans will know, the T-Virus was made by the Umbrella Corporation to create biological weapons but was leaked into the sewers of Raccoon City causing its inhabitants to turn into zombies. Essentially, Umbrella is trying to destroy all traces of their involvement in the experiments and to do this they need to kill countless enemies to reach their goal.
Rather than fighting against hundreds of zombies though, the battle is largely against the U.S. military with both sides equipped with a variety of familiar weapons, such as a shotguns, carbines, sub-machine guns and pistols. Aside from the shotgun being able to blast human enemies off their feet, the weapons lack impact and the stop-and-start, room-clearing gameplay rarely excites.
That’s largely because most of your time is spent popping up and down from cover to shoot at enemies who are doing exactly the same thing. Play alone with three A.I. teammates following you around, and it couldn’t be duller or more frustrating. Gameplay rarely flows and the A.I. squad often gets in the way and does little to help out; even failing to heal themselves, causing you to waste your medical supplies on them instead of yourself.
In four-player co-op mode, however, there are a few laughs to be had out of clearing waves of enemies and causing as much carnage as possible. If you approach Operation Raccoon City as an arcade-blaster rather than expecting a strategic shooter then there are definitely some fun times to be had from ploughing through areas with three other like-minded gamers in your team.
With four players blasting their way through Raccoon City, however, you’d expect there to be some level of tactical play involved; and that was obviously the idea when Capcom first conjured up the idea. Characters earn XP which can be used to upgrade passive and active perks and six available classes in the campaign offer different abilities. Bertha is the medic and Lupo is the assault class, while Vector is the recon expert and Beltway specialises in explosives. There’s also Four Eyes who can program the bio-organic weapons and Spectre the marksman.
There’s definitely some variety and entertainment to be had in checking out what each class offers, which includes a unique takedown per class. Beltway, for example, can stick a grenade in an enemy’s mouth, kick them and break up a group of enemies spectacularly. Perks also help to improve your chances of beating a group of enemies. Vector, for example, can increase his active abilities through XP to turn himself completely invisible. Despite this apparent abundance of options, Operation Raccoon City lets itself down with the linear level design, poor enemy A.I. and overall lack of thrills. Generally, it all feels like you’re just going through the motions.
Fighting against the zombies and bosses provides some respite from the generic fire-fighting action, but rarely do you really feel like the undead are a threat. Unlike other Resident Evil games they’re just not scary in the slightest. Capcom does try to instil panic by constantly ensuring you run out of bullets and need to pick up ammo supplies, and making the likes of Lickers, Hunters and Tyrants seem almost impenetrable to your gun-fire for long periods, but in the end it rarely feels like a satisfying challenge – more like a monotonous slog.
At its best fighting is fun in a group, providing everyone has chosen different classes and you’re all bringing something different to the battle, with mines exploding and enemies on fire; at least then you’re working together to create something more interesting to look at than the dull scenery. At its worst, however, combat is a shambles with an erratic cover system, guns that feel like your firing kid’s toys and monotonous bouts of room clearing.
The multiplayer mode at least offers something a little different. Here, two teams of four – the USS and the U.S. military – get to battle it out in Heroes mode (team deathmatch.) There’s also a Capture The Flag-type mode in which teams have to grab G-Virus samples and bring them back to base and an eight player Survivor mode where you all team together to fight a range of enemies. There’s definitely some added value in playing these game modes online, but it still suffers with the same problems from the campaign, most notably drab visuals, weapons that don’t pack a punch and shoddy level design.
Overall, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City feels like it needed another couple of years in development to flesh out the story, improve the production, slicken-up the gameplay, iron out the glitches and inject it with some much-needed pizazz. Four-player co-op and the multiplayer modes may give shooter fans some fun along the way, but we suspect that it may well be some time before we see Resident Evil in this particular guise again.