Operation Raccoon City may be the second Resident Evil game to find its way into eager fans’ hands this year, but unlike Revelations, ORC is not a spiritual successor to the main series. Instead, the concept entails rewriting the history of Raccoon City’s outbreak, or so the developers would have you believe. Players gun their ways through seven scenarios while visiting many of the city’s infamous, uninspired locales. This being a Slant Six title, the similarities to SOCOM are immediately apparent, too. The combat feels tactical in nature (when it works), but issues abound destroy notable premises at every turn.
The setting and appearance of main characters is where the relevance to past releases ends. For instance, during the first mission briefing, four members of Wolfpack (or Delta Team) party up with the mysterious mercenary HUNK – essentially the Boba Fett of the Resident Evil series. Fans that played Resident Evil 2 might remember the Umbrella rookies that gunned down William Birkin, stole the G-virus, and proceeded to get slaughtered by the scientist turned abomination. Instead, Operation Raccoon City tasks your squad with recovering the sample during the transformed doctor’s rampage.
Before launch, the eliminating of indestructible protagonists like Leon or Claire became the leading bullet point of many press interviews. If only Slant Six made good on those promises. Sure, these heroes appear eventually, but I lost interest before the storyline eclipsed the halfway mark. The narrative is a letdown thanks to the emotionally dry specialists of Delta Team. No visual backstory and questionable dedication to the mission after being left for dead make for hardly compelling characters. The plot isn't a re-imagining so much as it is a retelling of some zealot's online fan fiction.
Awww, zombie dogs just want some affection too... And maybe to eat your face.
Now, whereas the series’ zombies originally posed a challenge to ammo conservationists, Slant Six clearly built Operation's gameplay around an action-oriented approach. The camera sits behind players in the popular third-person perspective, and the automatic cover system shields the fragile soldiers from the expendable Special Ops greenhorns populating Raccoon City. However, the multitude of burning cars, chest-high walls, and various other objects prove little use against the numerous zombies, Lickers, Hunters, and Crimson Heads. Unfortunately, Slant Six opted to glue characters to walls without a button press. On paper, this design choice sounds ideal during the more heated shootouts, but on more than a handful of occasions, my character decided to pop off cover if I decided to turn too quickly or chance a blindfire. No need to worry, though, seeing as the dodgy AI executes the most questionable of tactics on the battlefield. Within the first two missions alone, gunmen ran straight into the open arms of the undead, jogged in a place against the nearest solid surface, strolled into burning flames, and positioned themselves behind concrete barriers no longer there.
That’s not to say the AI is completely devoid of intelligence. The remaining members of Wolfpack prove capable of holding off the tougher bosses or prioritizing threats, but the computer-controlled bots pale in comparison to inviting three reasonably smart gamers into your session. Several times I was forced to play the roles of boss bait and crowd controller as my AI squad simply focused on their nearest targets, but any prior frustrations were instantly alleviated when my friends and I split the jobs of suppressing the shambling undead and toppling the imposing Tyrants/BOWs.
Yet even the friendly AI reveals its shortcomings. Teammates absolutely refuse to steal health herbs – a weird thing to check off in the cons column I know, but allow me to clarify. Although this development prevents the bots from consuming the only herb available when you’re seconds from sucking soup through a straw, this means they cannot heal themselves no matter how far in the red their own health lies. This maddening strategy forced me to expend my precious first aid sprays to ensure we would survive the current firefight.
Taking zombies hostage preserves your intact health.
Should your character block too many bullets with his/her face, the bleeding mechanic takes effect. Players bleeding out will attract ravenous zombified civilians for a brief period of time. Additionally, accumulating too many zombie bites results in certain infection. Only an Antiviral Spray can halt the disease’s spreading. Once a character’s health counter reaches zero, he or she will join the zombie ranks. A nice shotgun slug through the brain will provide the cure, then, allowing teammates to resuscitate your mangled corpse.
But players must adapt based on their character choice. Wolfpack is occupied by six distinct trainees each with their own unique abilities. Beltway claims the title of explosives expert, Bertha nurses the ramshackle squad, Spectre fills the role of sharpshooter, Vector’s cloaking technology aids his recon skills, Four Eyes controls select BOWs, and Lupo occupies the standard team leader/assault class.
Characters can be further customized with a wide selection of pistols, assault rifles, and submachine guns. Each kill rewards you with experience to upgrade their passive and active perks. Players intimidated by unlock overload should steer clear. The expensive armaments require dozens of playthroughs to purchase, and that’s not even touching the multitude of tiered abilities.
Remember when Birkin chased four of Umbrella's top agents while wielding a large metal pipe? No, because it didn't happen.
A cooperative campaign isn’t the only feature. Multiplayer adds more depth to your Raccoon City adventure but has no bearing on story progress. Two of the modes are your typical arrays of Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag with an infected twist, but I found more fun squaring off in the new Survival mode. While wave-based gameplay no longer remains a foreign concept to the industry, this mode puts an added spin on the formula. Instead of slaughtering hordes of zombies and military grunts, the escapees must also fend off the opposing team of players. Knowing that at any moment a well-placed sniper round could end my killing spree only increased the tension.
Heroes Mode is not radically different. Ada, Leon, Claire, Hunk, and several others are the stars of this rodeo. The characters are little more than separate skins, but it’s a nice inclusion to play what feels like competitive Mercenaries. Heroes come equipped with larger health bars, but their deaths are only the beginning. Players still have a chance to execute their adversaries once they respawn as one of Wolfpack/Echo Six.
That’s how I felt when not muttering curses under my breath. At the time of this writing, the multiplayer is plagued with inconsistencies and imbalances. Lag spikes brought about my death more than I care to admit, and sniper rifles prove to be all but useless while shotguns appear to be the go-to solution to raising one’s kill-death ratio. Suffering damage from invisible Lickers and zombies becomes a grave issue too, as the health meter slowly ticks away with no directional indication toward your attacker.
Not even the encounter with Mr. X will assuage your buyer's remorse.
Generally I would now comment on the superb visual qualities commonly associated with Capcom’s titles, but in the hands of a different developer, Operation Raccoon City looks jagged and muddied. The frame rate dips into the single digits frequently once a dozen or so zombies limp onscreen, every level feels genuinely uninteresting – even iconic locations such as the Raccoon City Cemetery and Police Department, and none of the locales contain the ambient atmosphere that makes Resident Evil special. The tension is further ruined by the lack of any memorable scores. Too often the only sounds ringing out mid-combat are the rounds fired by your weapon. These settings then equate to nothing beyond enclosed arenas in which to battle near-endless waves of mutated civilians.
And yet there’s an ever grander problem at work here. Operation Raccoon City isn’t fun to play. I always imagined the outcome if Leon or Chris were accompanied by similarly skilled soldiers, dropping zombie and BOW threats with ease and coordinating cooperative efforts. Operation Raccoon City squanders all its potential in tedious firefights. The firearms lack any sort of punch. Their stopping power compares to mere Nerf rifles, as rival soldiers chew on clip after clip of ammunition. The movement feels clunky as well. Mapping the revive function, weapon switch, and interact key to one button never proves faultless, indicated by the inability to resuscitate a downed squad member lying beneath a pile of machine guns, too.
Operation Raccoon City’s outstanding lack of polish does detriment to what should have been an otherwise refreshing experience. As a series fan, I would love to say Slant Six’s latest delivers on all its promises, but I would be outright lying. Dicey combat, a lack of established atmosphere, and a sincerely boring cast of characters shatter that illusion. Co-op could be worse, but a shoddy multiplayer component fails to up the replay value. For me, a good Resident Evil experience encourages plentiful playthroughs and extensive weapon experimentation. Not in this case. The absence of any redeeming qualities sullies a recommendation, leaving Operation Raccoon City to join the ranks of Gaiden and Survivor, unequivocally the poorest entries in the franchise’s history.
Developer: Slant Six Games
Release Date: March 21, 2012
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign), 2-4 (Cooperative), 2-8 (Multiplayer)
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3