Review: Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City

If you know me, then you know how much I love Resident Evil. Ever since I stepped up to the position of Editor-in-Chief, I’ve been steering all of our Resident Evil coverage, from news to original content. Having said that, I’m sure all of you have noticed the positive reviews I usually give the series.

I gave Resident Evil 4 HD a 10 out of 10, despite all the issues fans had with the game’s visuals, because quite frankly, it’s still Resident Evil 4. It’s still the same masterpiece it was all those years ago. I also gave Revelations a perfect 10– though I did acknowledge some of the game’s aspects which may be seen as flaws by others. So that brings us to Operation Raccoon City, developed by Slant Six.

Is this another amazing, or even great, entry in the series? Far from it. Unfortunately, the game didn’t live up to my initial expectations, but that doesn’t mean it’s a horrible, or even mediocre, title. Read on to see why despite some glaring flaws, Operation Raccoon City is still a solid entry in the series.

The story here provides an alternate take of the T-Virus outbreak in Raccoon City, set during the events of Resident Evils 2 and 3. This time we’re seeing things through the eyes of Umbrella as players take on the role of one of six operatives representing the USS squad code-named Wolfpack. These soldiers– Lupo, Vector, Spectre, Beltway, Four Eyes, Bertha– each have their own unique abilities (like Vector’s invisibility and Four Eyes’ awesome ability to control BOWs) complemented by some enhancements in passive abilities (like an increase in speed) which can all be exploited by the player.  Your mission seems simple at first: go into the city, rendezvous with HUNK and aid him in relieving William Birkin of the G-Virus. But, as anyone who played Resident Evil 2 could tell you, things go bad.

William ends up injecting himself with the virus and thus commences one very intense and memorable intro sequence as players have to run away from the classic baddie, all while dodging environmental hazards, too. But this moment might end up only being special to those who already have knowledge of the character, and who have experienced Resident Evil 2. Longtime fans will totally love this sequence (if they haven’t decided to completely ignore this game), while newcomers to the series, or, rather, the “Call of Duty” crowd that Capcom is seemingly aiming to attract with this game, may not feel like it’s anything special at all. But, it’s William Birkin, one of the best baddies in the series’ history! So, yeah, things get off to a very, very good start. But then things get…bland.

The game’s seven missions will have you taking a tour of the city as you aim to rid any evidence that could link the outbreak back to Umbrella, with the Wolfpack crossing paths with some classic characters along the way. But that doesn’t mean that the city’s iconic locales that you’ll traverse are exactly as you remember them from the games they were introduced in.

Unfortunately, the game lacks in atmosphere and the locales we get to explore all have a very generic feel to them. Yes, this unfortunate design drawback even applies itself to the beloved RPD station! If only there was a camera recording my reaction when I reached the station, only to find out that…well, you’ll see for yourself when you get there late in the game! I’ll just say that I’m truly disappointed with the lack of attention it received, and how the interior design has been altered dramatically. Upon experiencing this part of the game, I turned into one of Capcom’s newest family members, the uber-friendly Asura. Yeah, I was pissed to have what could have been one hell of a nostalgic moment ruined by some questionable design choices. And then you have other inconsistencies like the area outside the Kendo Gun Shop being totally altered, and no, you can’t go into that memorable store.

But the game does end up picking up steam in the last half of its 4-6 hour duration, and it ends on a high note with an ending that’s achieved depending on a moral choice you have to make before the final battle. A battle that for me was extremely surprising to say the least. If only the entire game was as exciting as these final missions. Instead, we get a very intense first level, followed by a couple of dull missions, finally ending up with the type of missions I was expecting for the entirety of the game.

A lot of the player’s time in Operation Raccoon City will be spent indoors, which came as quite a bummer for me. I wanted to be out there in the mean streets, with all the zombies feasting on corpses, waiting for me pass by with my squad, with the Spec-Ops soldiers trying to take down my squad, and with BOWs like Hunters coming at me relentlessly. So out of all my time spent with the single-player campaign, the most enjoyable parts were those spent outdoors. And that’s where a lot of the noteworthy elements come into play– though one indoor moment in Resident Evil 3’s clock tower did bring forth a downright epic and orgasmic moment, with a zombie horde coming through while Moonlight Sonata played in the background.

Don’t get me wrong, Resident Evil is all about confined areas and being faced with the infected while trying to conserve ammunition and health supplies as best you can, but this isn’t exactly traditional Resident Evil– though there are some heart-pounding segments like tense elevator rides, the aforementioned intro with a raging Birkin, encounters with Crimson Heads and occasional cheap scare moments with zombies bursting through doors. The game’s main gameplay premise is that you’re pit in the middle of a three-way war between the USS and Spec-Ops, with zombies and other BOWs running amok in between the two factions. This triple threat conflict lends itself nicely to open areas, making for some very intense moments as you run from cover to cover trying to shoot down not only monsters, but other human soldiers as well.

Being a squad-based third person shooter, that’s even more enjoyable when tackled cooperatively with three other buddies, the gameplay brings forth an even stronger sense of action than Resident Evil 5 did, while still maintaining the now standard over-the-shoulder view when taking aim. There’s actually a cover system in place now, though it’s not as robust as, say, Gears of War’s. But it is efficient enough, though sometimes I found myself being shot even when behind cover, and one particular “boss battle” of sorts late in the game that involved moving from cover to cover in a long corridor did end up being quite annoying. And you can pretty much take cover behind anything that looks like it could protect you from bullets as well, which is also another neat thing. But, sadly, the game’s controls aren’t exactly all that fluid.

It took me some time to get a good handle on the game’s controls. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not horrid, they’re just not as refined as they should be– especially for a game heavily focused on squad-based action. Aiming is a bit odd at times since you have to line up the laser sight with the reticule– and this is more noticeable when using the handgun. But before I knew it, I was pulling off nothing but headshots with the assault rifle and handgun. Movement was also a bit clunky at first, so one of the first upgrades I opted to max out was Vector’s (always my character of choice in the game) speed. This made moving around much better, and of course you can always sprint to retreat from hordes of enemies (which can then be followed up by a satisfying tackle when pressing the melee button).

Melee is another strong focus in the game’s combat. Now you can get up close and personal with zombies, Spec-Ops soldiers and even BOWs like the Hunters and Lickers (which isn’t recommended!) in way that’s more effective than melee attacks in previous entries. But again, as with the overall controls, the melee is sometimes a bit iffy. But it is quite effective and a good last resort once you’re out of ammunition, and honestly, I find myself using melee attacks a lot, even when I’m completely surrounded by enemies! Another odd thing is when one of the human soldiers perform melee attacks on you. When this happens it pretty much sets off what seems like an endless string of strikes and blows that’s sort of annoying to escape. Oh, and it’s always satisfying to kick the life out of Lickers while they’re on the floor. Good times.

But let’s back-track to the fact that you’ll actually be facing off against actual human soldiers, that, you know, actually shoot back at you (yeah, not exactly traditional Resident Evil). But don’t fret, the amount of soldiers you’ll face pales in comparison to all the zombies you’ll encounter. There’s countless hordes of zombies in the game, which is actually one of the highlights of the experience, and one of the initial promises that was actually fulfilled. But we’ll talk about the zombies and other classic BOWs in a bit, for now let’s focus on the Spec-Ops and the way their inclusion mixes things up, gameplay-wise.

Fighting Spec-Ops soldiers may seem generic, but it actually brings forth another layer of tension to the overall experience. When you get shot by one of them, sometimes you’ll find yourself constantly bleeding (mostly from shots to the chest). Once this happens, you best pray there’s no zombies around. The undead will relentlessly come at you in hordes once they see you bleeding out, and this makes for some truly intense moments as you try to flee from them. The same also applies to the opposition. Shoot a Spec-Ops soldier enough times in the chest (I just go for headshots ’cause I’m nice like that) and sit back and enjoy seeing them get devoured by the undead. Tip: This is a very good strategy to use when playing the game’s multiplayer offering. And downing these soldiers will also let you pick up their weapons, which is always a good thing.

And here’s a revelation for you: you will die, many times. I played through the game in its normal difficulty setting and I still found myself dying many times, at the hands of both the creatures (damn you Hunters!) and soldiers. Like I said before, sometimes it was because of the at-times faulty cover mechanics, and at others because of the overwhelming amount of enemies you’ll be faced with. But I also occasionally found myself running low on ammo and unable to find any green herbs or first aid sprays when I needed them as I was completely surrounded by the undead– which is a feeling all us long time Resident Evil fans love by now. You are also prone to actually get infected and turn into a zombie yourself, and could be let loose on your team until one of your comrades opts to take you down. When this happens things get out of control, and you’ll find yourself constantly running around looking for an anti-viral spray if you don’t have one already (be sure to always carry one around).

I would love to say that the game’s boss battles also lead to many deaths, but the fact of the matter is…there really aren’t many bosses to speak of– a shame since the series is known for some memorable boss encounters. Here lies another disappointment. There truly was room to allow for some satisfying and nostalgic boss encounters with monsters we fought in Resident Evil 2 and 3. Granted, you do square off against Birkin, in a very limited sense since you just run from him, occasionally stopping to shoot him in his bulging eyeball, and you also face Nemesis, albeit in one very underwhelming battle. The thing is, I was just expecting…more. Though I must say that the battles you have with the T-103 Tyrants throughout the game are pretty cool, especially the last one, which is set to a music track from Resident Evil 2. Epic stuff.

In the end, it’s the game’s difficulty and tendency to pit you against hordes of enemies that makes it an intense and satisfying experience. Survival horror this is not, but this is the very definition of survival action, and one very fun game to play both online and off. There aren’t any truly scary moments here at all, but there are many, many instances where things will get chaotic, with enemies approaching you from every side. And even with the return of the undead, the game still manages to lack any authentic scare factors, coupled with a weak atmosphere with only a handful of instances where you’ll truly get an eerie vibe from your surroundings (like the foggy cemetery).

Bringing back terrifying enemies like the Crimson heads also wasn’t enough to inject the game with a dose of horror. And it’s sad because Crimson Heads coming at you used to be unsettling back in the REmake, but here it’s just another horde to take care of. But really, one shouldn’t have gone into this game expecting a survival horror experience to begin with. But the presence of the Lickers, Hunters, and the less as frequent appearance of the infected dogs also serve as awesome throwbacks to fans who’ve taken down an obscene amount of these BOWs over the years– this is Raccoon City after all. And again, they only make things more intense and blood-pumping, not necessarily scary. The T-103 Tyrants, as aforementioned, pose a serious threat, and definitely make things even crazier once they show up. One stand-out moment is an instance where you actually have to fight two of these brutes at the same time. Then we have brand new evils to face with the appearance of hosts controlled by NE-Beta parasites.

Like I mentioned in the beginning of this review, Operation Raccoon City introduces a new set of characters. Sadly, they’re all pretty forgettable, with the only aspects worth writing home about being that they’re serving Umbrella and are friends with HUNK. But what they lack in importance is more than made up for with their special abilities. Vector can turn invisible, enabling you to maneuver through areas undetected, being able to flank Spec-Ops soldiers with stealth (a first for the series, of course). Beltway is your demolitions expert and is aptly able to set down mines. Lupo is the squad’s leader and is able to enjoy a burst of unlimited ammo for a limited period of time, as well as incendiary ammo. Spectre is the team’s go-to surveillance operative and rightfully so is able to use sonar and other abilities that allows him to scan his surroundings. Four-Eyes is the team’s field scientist and has what’s probably one of the most appealing abilities in the game: control over BOWs. Lastly we have Berth who is the team medic, so you can probably guess what she’s able to do for you and your comrades.

We were always under the impression that the game’s supporting cast would be comprised of almost all the main players from Resident Evils 2 and 3. This isn’t entirely the case, unfortunately. Leon and Claire are the central returning characters here, with Leon of course playing the more prominent role– you do have the choice to kill him or let him live after all. But then you also have the ever so shady Nicholai, who seems to always be one step ahead of your squad whenever you encounter him. I was really expecting to see more of those two classic games’ characters show up, but something tells me we’ll see the others throughout the Spec Ops DLC campaign.

Tying in with the lack of a few memorable faces is the fact that Slant Six didn’t really give us a game that would let us alter the series’ canon all that much. Yeah, we all know we could kill Leon, but it would’ve been nice to see more canon-shattering events like this, where players can choose to kill or aid other characters. But hey, we always have the Spec Ops campaign to look forward, which I truly believe is the second half of the game. But still, DLC shouldn’t be needed to make a game live up to the developer’s initial promises and implications. But hey, it’s business as usual! (I’m definitely going to be buying all the single-player DLC as soon as they release.)

This review may seem like it’s filled to the brim with negativity (a first for me when it comes to reviewing Resident Evil games, I know) but in all honesty, I truly did enjoy my time with the game’s campaign. It started off in an epic fashion, slowed down, and then finished off strong. And it’s definitely an experience I’ll revisit multiple times, aiming to beat every difficulty, collect each level’s secret item, every last bit of data, and ultimately having every character’s set of abilities upgraded fully (which is done by collecting XP awarded at the end of every mission and online as well).

Operation Raccoon City is really is a solid, fun game that’s unfortunately held back from greatness thanks to some questionable flaws, from the ones noted throughout this review to technical issues I encountered in the PS3 version like screen-tearing and unpolished graphics that came as a big surprise since each main console entry in the series has always upped the ante when it comes to visuals and presentation. Though I must say I do love the soundtrack, which has a small but very appropriate selection of tracks that go along with all the action nicely, with the main menu theme being my favorite (despite it sounding like it could fit nicely in one of Paul W.S. Anderson’s film “adaptations”).

Lastly, you have the game’s multiplayer offering, spread across a healthy selection of maps taken from the single-player campaign. You have four modes to choose from: Team Attack, Biohazard, Heroes mode, and Survival. Each one is just as fun as the next, and they all will definitely keep you hooked for a good while.

Team Attack is your standard team deathmatch mode, with all the enjoyment the game’s triple-threat war (the USS vs. Spec-Ops vs. BOWs) brings. Survival is just how it sounds as players have to hold off hordes of enemies until an evac chopper arrives (don’t be left behind like I did the first time I played!). Biohazard mode lets players scout the available maps for scattered G-Virus samples, which need to be taken back to the team’s base after being obtained. Then you have Heroes Mode which is all about fan-service…until you die. Yes, this lets you play as classic heroes and villains taken from Resident Evils 2 and 3, but after you die you’re then only able to respawn as one of the standard USS and Spec-Ops characters. Regardless of which mode you dive into, it’s in the game’s multiplayer suite where you’ll be able to put your accumulated XP to good use, trying to max out everything to gain an upper hand over your adversaries in the war zone that is Raccoon City.

But if competitive multiplayer isn’t your cup of tea, you can always opt to play the campaign online with 3 others, which adds even more to the game’s replay value. But here’s the catch, which is another thing to add to the list of the game’s cons. not for me personally but for others: there’s no local co-op. This is truly a surprising omissions since Resident Evil 5 offered one hell of a co-op experience both online and off. So, why not Operation Raccoon City? Like I said, this doesn’t really affect me since I rather play my Resident Evils on my lonesome, but I know people who would much rather have the ability to play co-op offline, because of being able to pause the game without having random strangers screaming at you for remaining idle for too long.

As opposed to what the majority of publications are saying, I’ll admit that Operation Raccoon City is a good game. “Good” not “great”. I was honestly really close to giving the game a lower score, but the final half of its campaign, and its incredibly fun multiplayer suite made me bump it up to the score you see below. It’s nowhere near any of the finest titles in the series, due to some frustrating flaws, but it’s also not the worst.

Yeah, Outbreak, in my eyes, still offers a much better tour through the city, in a much more traditional style of course, but Operation Raccoon City is still a satisfying trip back to the city we all love nonetheless. All roads lead to hell, and I can safely say that it’s a trip down memory lane worth taking, if you’re willing to give the game a chance, that is.

6 out of 10 stars (6 / 10)

Above Average

Rely on Horror Review Score Guide


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