Capcom’s willingness to experiment with Resident Evil franchise might be the only scary thing left about the survival horror great. One day it’s a gun totting’ point-chaser in which you slaughter the locals in the hopes of topping your last score, another day it’s an on-rails light gun shooter. Occasionally it’s a blockbuster movie in which Milla Jovovich kicks zombie butt in slow motion, guts and brains flying out of the silver screen in overly generous uses of 3D. Today it’s a squad-based shooter, hardly a daring departure from the existing formula or for its developer Slant Six Games who have cut their teeth on Sony’s SOCOM series but one that proves to be yet another of the franchise’s hazardous missteps.
It should work though; on paper at least, Operation Raccoon City is a promising idea. Co-op play has become as synonymous with the Resident Evil as shuffling corpse and poorly executed lines of dialogue so the opportunity to revisit the iconic Raccoon City amidst the bedlam and chaos of the original T-virus outbreak should get any fan’s blood racing. You play Umbrella’s Security Services sent into events that spanned Resident Evil second and third instalments to clean up any lingering traces of the pharmaceutical company’s involvement. Yes, you are indeed the baddies – a squad of four selected from a total of six playable operatives each a unique asset to your team rather than the usual assortment of light, heavy, and all-rounders.
Take Vector, a specialist in recon and infiltration that can use active camouflage and enjoy short bursts of invisibility and even disguise himself as an opposing team member, or Bertha, a medic who carries stimpacks to dish out regular boosts of health to teammates and enough antivirus to deal with any number of zombie bites the others pick up along the way. You can only take one of each character’s abilities into the fray at a time unlocking more as you being to amass XP from the game’s campaign and multiplayer modes. The campaign isn’t a great showcase for these abilities instead falling to the online Team vs. Team multiplayer modes to pick up the slack.
“Its best ideas aren’t fleshed out to the extent where they become solid mechanics and what remains is dated third-person shooter fodder.”
Experimenting and testing your newly purchased abilities on human-controlled targets feels far more satisfying as you forage for G-virus samples, survive hordes of enemies to be aboard the last chopper out of Raccoon City or take on government ops or a group of iconic heroes in basic team deathmatch affairs. Like I said, the concept of Operation Raccoon City is intriguing. But over the span of the game’s four hour campaign, it becomes very clear that a solid understanding of what makes a good third-person shooter and more importantly what constitutes good use of the Resident Evil licence come in mixed measures.
Back in 2004, Resident Evil 4 counted for something for than a series resurgence. Director Shinji Mikami’s attention to detail ensured that every aspect of its combat felt responsive. Squeeze the trigger on a pistol and you saw its impact; fire a shotgun and you felt the kickback from each round. Aim any weapon in Operation Raccoon City and squeeze a few rounds into one of the government Special Forces that regularly interrupt your fun or try to head shot that female zombie you’ll recognise from the back of the Resident Evil 2 box (and by the end of the game have seen 100 times over). To miss the satisfaction of pulling a trigger in a game where your targets are many and your ammunition is bountiful is to cripple your combat system altogether. Even your melee moves feel as ineffective as the knife did the original survival horror entries.
There are little sound effects here and there that will resonate with fans whenever they pick up a green herb, but for the most part the soundtrack goes almost unrecognised under the growl of bullets and groaning enemies.
Among a few popular locations such as Raccoon City Police Departments, the game’s dark setting fits Resident Evil’s tone but fails to impress visually. Before long you’ll begin to spot zombies you’ve already killed countless times and despite their variety, your USS troops are hard to differentiate by uniform alone.
In the end you’ll push through, destroying evidence, and dealing with the B.O.W.s you once feared when they creeped onto your screens in their 32-bit debuts that are now thrown at you by the bucket load. For fans, it’s a journey that’s made essential only for its nostalgic ties. Across seven missions you’ll take your squad to the depths of Umbrella’s secret labs where you’ll prize scientist William Birkin’s work from his cold dead hands. You’ll invade a lab to awaken the almighty G-Man and later on visit Nemesis, Resident Evil 3’s tyrant hell-bent on killing the remaining S.T.A.R.S. force and you’ll be the one to send both these monsters on their merry way. There’s sights such as Raccoon City’s Police Department and General Hospital fitted in between lengthy darkly lit environments, street shootouts, and generic labs but there’s a surprisingly lack of sentimental value.
It all comes to a head in the game’s conclusion when you’re presented with the money shot – a moral choice in which you decide the fate of Resident Evil 2’s Leon Kennedy. It should be, to its fans at least, a moment of great repercussion to watch the Resident Evil canon rewritten but the opportunity to really explore this never happens. And that kind of sums up Operation Raccoon City nicely.
Its best ideas aren’t fleshed out to the extent where they become solid mechanics and what remains is dated third-person shooter fodder. Fans might be able to squeeze some nods out of Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City if they band together and see it through but otherwise, this is another mutation of Capcom’s money-making monster that’s best avoided.