Friday, 30 March 2012

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City

At first thought stepping back onto the streets of Raccoon City and exploring nostalgic, zombie-infested locations seems like one of the best experiences any fan of the Resident Evil series could have. After some game time with Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, you quickly begin to realise that this spin off doesn’t warrant the iconic Resident Evil stamp anywhere near it. Operation Raccoon City is a sluggish, uninspiring and downright clumsy third-person shooter, which serves little nostalgia fodder and plenty of frustrating elements that make it a mockery to the Resident Evil series and a distinctly average game.

Let’s start from the beginning – Operation Raccoon City is a squad based third-person shooter from SOCOM developers Slant Six Games. You play as one of six characters from Delta Team Wolfpack with each character assigned their own class ranging from recon, demolition, medic, marksman, scientist and team leader. Each character has their own tiny back-story during the character selection segment in an attempt to invest you into a very unlikable group of mercenaries. You also get class-specific abilities, for example Vector the recon expert has a stealth camouflage – all pretty standard so far.

Once the game begins you are briefed that your squad’s mission is to get into Raccoon City and recover William Birkin’s G-Virus samples before he has a chance to sell them (all sounds pretty cool so far right?). The moment you step out of the very first lift into Birkin’s lab and raise your weapon, problems ensue. Operation Raccoon City handles poorly, which is a huge shame. The problems grind all the way down to the core – first of all the movement mechanics are sluggish, in particular the ‘simplified’ (I use this word very loosely) cover system. Players automatically stick to cover when you go near objects, this is a ridiculous system because you’ll find your character springing in, out and around of cover at inconvenient times. When the first batch of US Mercenaries attempt to take you down you’ll notice that enemies feel like bullet sponges and the weapons just don’t have any real impact. That’s certainly not the biggest woe because before you know it a mutated William Birkin acts as a prologue boss battle where you’re required to slow him down with bullets while trying to escape, only when you turn around, your team mates are no where to be seen. The AI is very poor across the board with teammates and enemies getting stuck in environments, going on excursions and doing everything other than helping you out. It also doesn’t help that the environments themselves are poorly constructed and serve no purpose other than to remind us of classic Resident Evil 2 scenarios.

You will find yourself across a variety of familiar locations including Umbrella laboratories, the Raccoon City police station and of course the streets themselves, all of which become slightly more entertaining to traverse when the zombies come out and play. Operation Raccoon City is certainly most fun when you scrap the AI teammates and get some friends involved in the action. This combined with the zombie horde does make this third-person shooter at times, fairly enjoyable. There’s just something about shooting the undead and other iconic Resident Evil monsters like Lickers and Hunters that can make any experience better. Although the campaign is fairly short, at the very least you could have a fun run-through with a buddy or two. Indeed at times it’s almost essential to play with human friends thanks in part to the absolute stupidity of the AI teammates. Operation Raccoon City has a very nifty infected mechanic where if you contract the T-Virus and can’t heal yourself in time, the AI takes over and forces you to attack your friends, resulting in you getting taken down. If this happens, a buddy can revive you and things continue as normal, but your AI teammates can’t even accomplish this simple task. So playing with human friends is absolutely essential to get any value or enjoyment out of Operation Raccoon City.

Operation Raccoon City’s campaign is faulted on numerous levels, but it’s pretty obvious from the design that this should be a tactical and competitive shooter right, so I bet the multiplayer must be terrific!? Hmm. Operation Raccoon City offers four game modes Team Deathmatch, Heroes, Biohazard, Survivor and an exclusive fifth mode for Xbox 360 owners called Nemesis mode. While the first is self-explanatory, Heroes mode allows you to play as classic Resident Evil characters like Leon Kennedy and Ada Wong, which again is served as a delicious side of nostalgia. Biohazard is probably the best mode on offer where two teams must find G-Virus samples on the map and bring them back to their base. Survivor is also quite a lot of fun as teams battle it out while waiting for a rescue helicopter to arrive and pick up the team left standing. The last game mode for 360 only allows a player to control the Nemesis prototype and go on a rampage of Raccoon City, which is pretty cool.

So there’s quite a bit to do in Operation Raccoon City’s multiplayer and a persistent level up system helps you unlock weapons and upgrades too. All of this is reasonably enjoyable actually but the same problems you encounter in the campaign i.e. frustrating cover mechanics, poorly designed maps, lighting issues and so forth, all translate all too smoothly over here. When AI teammates are out of the way however, Operation Raccoon City does pick up significantly so the multiplayer while not terrific is certainly fun.

Bar the poor technical level and game design, Operation Raccoon City isn’t the most visually appealing game either and sound quality is rather poor. A simple comparison to make here is this and Left 4 Dead. The gap in quality is actually astonishing considering other than the difference in perspective; both games are trying to achieve the exact same thing. Ultimately I’d find it very difficult to recommend Operation Raccoon City over either Left 4 Dead titles but for those die hard fans who must see Raccoon City again and experience the alternate ending with Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield, perhaps visiting this zombie infestation is a good idea, if you can handle a fairly long string of shortcomings.

5.0 | Gameplay |
There is absolutely nothing original or innovative to write home about here. Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is a distinctly average third-person shooter that really does more things wrong than right, which thinking about it, is quite difficult to do. The gunplay, melee combat, poorly constructed environments and horrific AI make this a very difficult game to enjoy by yourself. When you take a few friends along for the ride however, you can definitely bleed some fun out of the zombie horde.

5.0 | Presentation |
Operation Raccoon City really shows what an impressive IP and title can do to an average game. Without the name Resident Evil, this game would be worthless, but being set in Raccoon City and populated by iconic monsters and key characters like Leon Kennedy makes it difficult for Resident Evil fans to stay away and not experience Resident Evil 2’s story from a different perspective. Technically the game’s visuals are lackluster and fail to live up to modern gems while sound design is also poor.

6.0 | Replay Value |
There’s absolutely no reason to go back to the campaign, in fact there’s no reason to play the campaign in the first place. The multiplayer however offers some interesting game modes that can be enjoyable if played with a group of friends. Heated battles against enemy players and the zombie horde can be fun and frantic, momentarily making you forget about all of Operation Raccoon City’s shortcomings.

5.0 | Final Thoughts |
It was only in my last review of Street Fighter x Tekken that I stated Capcom deserve praise for another fantastic title. Well here I’m afraid the same cannot be said. Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City taints the franchise name with average gameplay, horrific AI and ultimately providing a disservice to what was one of the best games on the PlayStation 1 – Resident 2 shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath as this. If you want a mindless third-person shooter to smash through with a couple of mates, Operation Raccoon City will serve that purpose adequately for the time being.

Igor Kharin.

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