On paper, the idea of a squad-based shooter drawing from Resident Evil canon with loose narrative ties to the earlier games in the series seems like a solid idea. Slant Six Games' Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City executes on the concept with varying degrees of success, but much of the experience is undermined by a number of basic game mechanics that, at best, just aren't particularly fun. On the contrary, annoyance and frustration were much more prevalent emotions throughout my experience.
Operation Raccoon City (ORC) tells the story of the Umbrella Security Service--that's you, and up to three other players or AI--which has been deployed to Raccoon City during the same time as the events of Resident Evil 2 and 3. The team has been assigned to eliminate any evidence (and witnesses) tying Umbrella to the T-Virus outbreak. The government sends in Spec Ops as well, meaning some of your opponents will have guns. Like I said, it's a solid premise for a shooter; one that sounds a bit like Left 4 Dead with some Resident Evil seasoning. If only it turned out that way.
Squad composition is a mixed bag. There are a number of different characters to choose from, each with their own starting weapons-kit and special abilities and more weapons can be purchased with XP earned by completing missions. The new weapons were nice, but I didn't find the abilities for some of the characters particularly useful. Take my Spectre's radar enhancement; not too hard to identify the horde of zombies rushing my way as the enemy. And weapons are plentiful enough in the field that my starting loadout never felt that important.
I'm sure that part of my reaction to ORC has to do with generally negative feelings about things like scripted boss fights, endlessly respawning enemies, and keycard collecting. The game utilizes all of these tired tropes at multiple points throughout the campaign, sometimes in tandem. The very first mission, in fact, ends with a corridor-based boss-fight of sorts in which the game told me when I should run and when I should attack. Subsequent boss-battles aren't quite as scripted, but are multi-stage affairs that are often taxing. AI companions won't revive you either, making a single-player approach even more difficult.
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Speaking of running, I was able to sprint straight to the exit of a number of stages. It's not a tactic I was particularly proud of, but in some areas, the game's combat can be pretty punishing. An overwhelming and sometimes unending number of enemies and scarcity of ammo, coupled with a non-regenerating health system and a one first-aid spray allowance made fleeing a tactic, rather than a last-resort.
The actual gunplay against zombies, mutants, and Spec Ops troops is relatively mediocre. Grenades feel under-powered, and the assortment of machine guns feels overly-similar. It's also possible to get infected by zombies, at which point an anti-viral spray must be used or it's a zombiefied game over. The dynamic it adds to multiplayer is kind of interesting, but AI-controlled squad members seem reluctant to pick up and use sprays themselves.
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City isn't exactly a presentational powerhouse, either. The game is incredibly dark overall, textures and lighting are flat, making its ragged visual issues even more pronounced. Outdoor environments looked a little better. There's not nearly enough variety to the look of enemies, either; particularly the undead. I killed the same zombies and mutants over and over, which further diminished what little atmosphere the game's environments provided.
In addition to the co-operative multiplayer offered by the relatively short campaign, four other multiplayer modes are included. Team Attack, Biohazard, and Heroes are basically deathmatch variations. I thought the most interesting mode was one called Survival, which is like a Horde mode with a chopper rescue. Competing for limited seating makes things pretty humorous at the end of each round. It's refreshing to have multiplayer modes that aren't locked behind an online pass these days, but--like the main campaign--ORC's multiplayer modes are average at best.
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is disappointing for a number of reasons, ranging from its rather flat presentation to its reliance on some older gameplay conventions that just aren't very fun. Huge fans of Resident Evil lore might get a kick out of crossing paths with a few events and characters from previous games, but when judged as an overall gameplay experience, Valve's Left 4 Dead series' crown is still safe by a mile.
[This Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City review is based on a copy of the Xbox 360 version provided by the publisher.]