(Xbox 360 Review) Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City

Developer: Slant Six Games
Publisher: Capcom
Genre: Action
Players: 1-8
ESRB: Mature
Reviewer: George Damidas

Overall: 5 = Average

Capcom and developer Slant Six Games didn’t have to go for the hard sell when it came to me and Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. A chance to relive some of the more memorable events from Resident Evil 2 and 3 as a member of the elite Umbrella Security Service sounded awesome on paper. Being able to revisit old haunts from RE2 was one of the things I enjoyed most about Cavia’s Wii rail shooter Darkside Chronicles, and now I was going to be able to go in as a member of a hardened squad of soldiers in a cover-based shooter? Sign me up.

It didn’t take long for me to lower my expectations. From the outset, it’s obvious that something isn’t quite right with the team. As a member of Delta team, referred to by the badass callsign Wolfpack, you are sent in to assist Alpha team leader HULK in securing the G-virus from biologist William Birkin. The G-virus is even more potent than the T-virus that is continuing to turn the citizens of Raccoon City into ravenous zombies. At the start of the mission, Birkin is locked away in his lab with the remaining samples waiting for an armed escort from his newest customer, the U.S. government.

En route to Birkin, I noticed some odd behavior from my fellow squadmates. As Wolfpack neared his office, they came into contact with squads of U.S. Special Forces soldiers who were armed to the teeth with assault rifles, grenades, and shotguns. It’s at this point that the cover system and its mechanics were introduced, of the few there are, and when the two sides began a running battle as Delta fought their way through Umbrella’s facilities. It was these early encounters that highlighted the unreliability of my squadmates. At times, they seemed only vaguely aware of the gravity of our situation, firing wildly (and missing) in the enemy’s general direction and haphazardly using cover. It was just enough for them to put on a good show at a glance, with a lot of movement and suppressive fire, but closer inspection revealed troops desperately in need of more training. They weren’t the only ones showing signs of incompetence, though. The Special Ops forces also exhibited questionable behavior, throwing grenades and blindfiring but not reacting to my flanking maneuvers or subsequent attacks after I had closed within a few feet.

At around five hours long, the main campaign can be plowed through in a few sessions. I first completed the game on Normal in single player, and then went back and replayed the various levels on Veteran and in co-op multiplayer. Playing alongside bots is hit and miss throughout, with them using their abilities to heal and camouflage themselves one minute and walking directly in front of my line of fire the next. The moments when they actually chew through a horde of zombies—guys, please, aim for the head—and outmaneuver Special Ops squads offer a glimpse at what could be but frequently isn’t.

Throughout the course of the game, there is a constant feeling that the dots are all in place but that they were never fully connected. For all of the tango-tango-bravo lingo, cool costumes, and special abilities, the characters cannot perform many basic actions. For instance, there are no actual defensive moves, only an inadequate forward dive and side dives that are more like straight drops. The cover system itself is also very limited, with characters able to duck behind objects but not able to vault over or seamlessly transition between them. All of this has been done before in numerous cover-based shooters, from James Bond: Quantum of Solace to the Gears of War series, and most recently—and splendidly—in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, so why not here? Then there are the omissions of commonplace abilities, such as being able to prime grenades, switch firing position (sorely missed when that well-aimed shot hits the wall in front of you), or aim down iron sites. And if the soldiers can hold several grenades, why can’t they hold more than one can of first-aid spray? They could at least make room for more than a single can of antiviral spray—not turning into a zombie and eating your squadmates’ brains would seem to be high up on the list of priorities.

As tedious as it might be at times, I recommend going through the main campaign at least once by yourself. Not only will that provide enough experience to level up a few characters’ abilities and unlock some better weapons, but the run-through will also keep you from holding up the game at those moments when it isn’t entirely clear how to proceed. The game’s heavy use of scripted sequences can cause some confusion initially as encounters shift between requiring an all-clear to having to book it from never-ending waves of enemies. With certain checkpoints requiring all players to be present to proceed, it’s best to know when it’s time give up and make a run for it, so teammates don’t get torn to pieces while trying to resuscitate you after a futile, if brave, stand against the unending hordes. Plus, it will also help you to appreciate even the less-skilled players because, after playing with the bots, you’ll be thrilled to work with squadmates who don’t trip clearly visible wall-mounted mines, ignore objectives they are two feet from, and mill about waiting for you to do all the reviving.

It’s also important to become acquainted with the controls because they are, like the covering system, rudimentary to the point of being rough. One of the trickiest elements about the controls is that it can be difficult to initiate an action. Say there is a group of zombies approaching and, spotting that gap between cars, you decide an incendiary grenade would do a nice job of filling that chokepoint with fire, so you press the button to select it … and then toss a stun grenade. Even though the grenade icon blinked to indicate a change of grenade type, there was no switch. Now this isn’t too serious a problem, given that grenades go quickly in general, but it is a frequent one that also illustrates the game’s general clumsy nature.

Another persistent issue is accidentally initiating actions. Because the A button is used to frequently—swapping weapons, picking items up, interacting with items, diving, and reviving squadmates—several problems arise out of it pulling such a heavy workload. One of the more frequent of which was running to resuscitate a downed teammate, only to leap forward for an ignominious belly flop on the floor. This actually goes in hand with the fact that item selection can be cumbersome due to very particular interactive zones. Sometimes the zone is located where it should be—e.g., in front of a button—but its location often doesn’t make sense, requiring you to do a weird sort of jig as your character backs up at odd angles until the desired option pops up; it’s the modern equivalent of pixel hunting. Or you might actually grab your downed teammate’s weapon instead, which will now have to be swapped back out after dressing their wounds. This unnecessary wrangling speaks to a lack of foresight and polish that is noticeable throughout the game, whether it’s the controls having to be plied to work properly, vocals lowering during cutscenes, or the steady coaxing of weapons to hit the intended target.

For all of the game’s shortcomings, there are some bright spots. Aside from the cathartic release of being able to mow down zombies with hundreds of rounds in the heart of Raccoon City—a dream since those early ammo-conserving days of the ’90s—the special abilities and more subtle design elements play out nicely in single and multiplayer. Not that the game goes out of its way to inform you of any of this.

Despite there being a brief tutorial period, there is a general information void across the board, from how to perform certain moves, to what a weapon’s “Bleeding” rating means, to just what Umbrella is and does. While fans of the franchise will know the whos, whats, and hows, and like me get a kick out of seeing memorable events from a new angle, newcomers will only get a hint as to what’s going on. Given that this is an entirely new spin-off with real potential, despite its problems, this would have been a great place to get people interested in the older titles; they might not follow the exact same storyline, but they are proper survival horror titles that have stood the test of time and are worth playing. Beyond that, not explaining moves and stats during the opening sequence limits the rest of the campaign—unless a load-screen hint tips you off. The fact that there are pop-ups indicating how to throw grenades, switch between primary and secondary weapons (a pistol), and how to engage in melee, it would stand to reason that other moves, such as bulldozing over enemies while running, would also be explained. And it’s unfortunate when something as cool as Bleeding isn’t, since the rating indicates how likely a weapon is to cause an enemy to bleed profusely and attract hordes of zombies, and there’s nothing like letting the undead do the work for you. Nor is melee covered beyond a mention that it’s possible. Sure, close combat is underwhelming and easily broken by enemies, who can then assail you with impunity, but the combo finishers do offer some interesting send-offs, from violently stomping on heads to using zombies as human—er … inhuman?—shields.

The special abilities aren’t treated quite so cavalierly, but the short text descriptions don’t go into too much detail either. The lack of an in-depth approach is more understandable here, though, given how many characters and abilities there are. Even though the squad is composed of four soldiers, there are actually six to choose from: Beltway, an explosives expert; Bertha, a medic; Four Eyes, a bio-organic weapons (B.O.W.) scientist; Lupo, the leader; Spectre, a marksman; and Vector, a recon scout. Each has a number of passive and active abilities that aid in tracking enemies, locating items (including data cassettes, which can be turned in for experience and gallery art), healing, laying traps, and bypassing tough chokepoints. In fact, many areas can be skipped by simply running through them, which is made all the more easier when Vector drops out of sight after donning his camouflage. Although I’m not confident that Sepctre’s ability to spot ammo, sprays, and data was intended to compensate for the game’s incredibly dark visuals, it certainly helps.

Abilities can be upgraded several times over, with each level increasing potency and duration but also requiring a larger amount of experience to unlock. Splitting out the cumulative experience earned on- and offline between weapons and skillsets adds a considerable incentive to replay levels in order to earn higher scores, ranked as they are against standards (enemies killed, completion time, etc.), for the bonus experience. It also helps to have a few high-grade characters in order to tackle versus and co-op—relying too much on one can lead to trouble when they aren’t available to select. Having a well-rounded team that’s consistently competent really adds a new dimension to play and reveals a much more engaging system, with Spectre scanning to reveal nearby enemies on everyone’s minimap, Lupo providing damage buffs, Beltway laying mines, and Four Eyes preparing to take control of the nearby B.O.W. when the action kicks off.

Given the lackluster AI, it won’t come as a surprise to learn that multiplayer is really where Operation Raccoon City shines. Unfortunately, there is no local co-op play, but the component is fairly robust otherwise. The campaign can be played in succession or per mission privately or with others, who can join in at any time, in online public or private matches. Versus play holds up its end well with several modes: Biohazard, Heroes, Survivor, and Team Attack. All pit the U.S.S. against a squad of Spec Ops soldiers, who share the same classes and unlocked skills as their Umbrella counterparts. The modes are pretty standard, with the teams trying to take out key characters (who respawn as regular characters), find and hold onto vials of the G-virus, battle for a seat on the last evacuation chopper, and engage in all-out war, but the inclusion of enemies adds a really nice twist.

Given the limited covering options and inability to bark commands, a pure squad-on-squad approach would’ve worn out fairly quickly, but having zombies, crimson heads (mutated zombies with claws and increased speed), and hunters milling about increases the danger and excitement. It’s also helpful to have others nearby to lend a hand when things turn south, such as when hunters perform their knockdown move over and over, which not only sends you bouncing across the screen but also makes for a disorienting encounter as the camera swivels and dips about. They even help to alleviate some of the more tedious encounters during the campaign, such as the overly long battle with two Tyrants that takes the game’s predisposition towards inflating challenges by making enemies animated bullet sponges to a ridiculous extreme—those extra guns can really go a long way in making the intolerable tolerable. Team play is also when bleeding and infection come into their own, which make for some hilarious and chaotic battles with bleeding enemies attracting frenzied hordes or seeing them turn into a computer-controlled zombie and tear their own teammates apart. Clearing the streets of Raccoon City with a good squad can be surprisingly enjoyable.

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City has the germ of a good game, but a lot of work remains if the design’s potential is to be realized. By no means a bad game, Operation Raccoon City is just a very unpolished one, with inconsistency being a persistent problem throughout all modes: AI squadmates will heal you one second, then ignore a nearby downed squadmate or trip a clearly visible mine the next. Fortunately, an interesting concept, some decent ideas, and above-average multiplayer help to salvage a disappointing outing, but not enough to warrant more than a rental.

(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)

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