It’s no secret that Capcom wants Resident Evil to be Call of Duty. So, while some took the announcement of the squad-based third-person shooter Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City as a return to the Outbreak experiment, many others saw hiring SOCOM developers Slant Six as an obvious step in the process of turning the once reigning horror franchise into a military shooter. Once people got a look at the four-player cooperative campaign though, Left 4 Dead became the obvious reference point. It turns out that RE:ORC borrows liberally from all of these things, but it’s also its own strange beast.
The premise is an alternate timeline, non-canonical take on Resident Evil 2‘s iconic Raccoon City outbreak, with the main campaign following the exploits of the Umbrella Security Service that has been sent in to cover up the evil corporation’s biological research. Of course, things go wrong, and a zombie outbreak erupts. It’s up to you and your ragtag team to destroy incriminating evidence, kill invading U.S. Spec Ops soldiers, and to avoid joining the ranks of the undead yourself. The big draw for fans is clearly the privilege of experiencing the series’ high point from the viewpoint of the bad guys, with cameos from everyone from Leon to Nemesis.
In practice, the game plays a lot like a third-person Left 4 Dead, albeit it with the more tactical approach you’d expect from Slant Six. Specifically, the playable characters each represent a certain class, i.e. “Medic” or “Sniper,” and you need to coordinate your abilities to survive. In fact, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say the game more or less utilizes Team Fortress 2‘s class framework, simply just giving names to “Heavy” and “Scout.” The Valve comparisons don’t stop there though, as an enemy type is introduced that looks like an Alien facehugger, but quickly shows itself to be more like Half-Life‘s headcrab, latching onto scientists and causing them to attack you.
As long as you aren’t bothered by all of the similarities to other properties, there is fun to be had with Operation Raccoon City. The story takes you from the labs of Dr. Birkin through the streets of one of horror’s most beloved towns, stopping to at least nod at most plot points from Resident Evil 2 and 3. The campaign is pretty short, at just about 6 hours across seven missions, but downloadable content coming in the near future promises to add another storyline from the Spec Ops perspective. Ultimately, the single-player is interesting, but unremarkable in the current TPS climate… as long as you play online.
As previously stated, the game is squad-based, which means that any of the four slots not filled by an online player will be controlled by a bot. There is no other way to say this: teammate A.I. is laughably atrocious. Your squad-mates will do everything in their power to halt your progress through the game, including (but not limited to), standing impassably in doorways, relentlessly blocking your line of fire, refusing to heal you and themselves, and getting stuck in the environment, thus forcing you to go ahead alone in a game balanced for cooperation. Do not buy this game if you do not have the ability to play online.
In its defense, Operation Raccoon City does have quite a bit of value for those that put time into its multiplayer components. You gain experience and unlock new weapons and abilities for your characters, which you can then take online in a variety of modes. The modes are pretty self-explanatory, including Team Attack, Survival, and Deathmatch, but “Heroes Mode” is particularly interesting, allowing you to take control of the protagonists from Resident Evilhistory like Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine. The DLC “Nemesis Mode” is exclusive to the Xbox 360, and combines deathmatch with the ability to control the titular hulking monster.
The great thing about the multiplayer is that it allows the unique features of the game to really shine. For example, being shot will make your character bleed, attracting zombies to your position. This makes wounding foes just as important as killing them, as you can use the impartial zombies as a tool against the opposing team. Furthermore, zombies can infect players, turning them into zombies if they aren’t treated with an item unique to one class and occasional drops. This adds an element to the title that sets it apart from Left 4 Dead and other online shooters.
Unfortunately, there are a few wrinkles that temper the positives. Even without the dead-weight computer allies, there are a number of glaring technical issues with the game that aren’t going away any time soon. First and foremost is the embarrassing amount of bugs that need to patched as soon as possible. As of the time of this writing, there are 16 pages of reported bugs in Capcom-Unity’s official thread, which is apparently meant to act as a majority of the game’s testing. The fact is that Capcom released an unfinished game, and is now using early adopters as testers.
You can always go to the above link to read the entire litany of issues, but for completion’s sake I will go over the ones I personally encountered in my time with the game. The most common was glitched animations, as characters skipped frames and occasionally teleported into position. Similarly, there were multiple occasions in which character models clipped through the environment, or just plain got stuck in a wall. Event flag activation is also strangely spotty, with doors that sometimes don’t open, events that don’t trigger, and elevators that refuse to leave. I also encountered occasional lag when online, but, as always, that could just as easily be beyond anyone’s control.
Some of the apparently cut corners are visible in other areas as well. The game is never downright ugly, but there are a noticeable lack of details in many areas other than the main characters. The blood effects for defeated enemies are a strange case, as there is entirely too much of it when most foes drop, and it boils away in a strange animation that doesn’t have any canonical precedent. Melee animations are awkward and stiff as well, although some of the instant kill animations are cool. Ultimately, there are just a lot of areas–from the grenade effects to the voice acting–that just cry out for a bigger budget and more development time.
I think it’s clear by now that Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City has a lot of problems. From the glitches to the content that is still in development, it’s easy to see that Slant Six just wasn’t done with the game when it was forced out the door. But for what it’s worth, the retail product is fun when it works, and offers a lot for fans of the series willing to accept another non-horror entry in the decreasingly scary world Capcom has built. Given a best-case scenario, the developers will be able to iron out the worst of the bugs still infesting the game and deliver enough DLC to justify the price of entry to a mostly online experience.