Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City (360[reviewed]/PS3)
Developer: Slant Six Games
Release date: March 20, 2012
There's something unbelievably satisfying about a really good action game. Explosions near and far, the battlecries of friends and enemies, the sounds of bullets ripping cloth and flesh and bone—it's something that Call of Duty does particularly well, which may account for some of the series' success. Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City doesn't get it down perfectly, but it's close enough for me.
ORC tells the unnecessary (though not unwelcome) tale of Raccoon City's zombie virus outbreak. Yes, this event has already been covered, originally in Resident Evil 2, and then again in Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles. Should Capcom be coming up with original stories instead of continuing to give us alternate versions of stuff we already know about? Probably. But then again, Capcom's last attempt at an original RE story was the unimaginative turd known as Resident Evil 5. And let's be clear: I'll take ORC over that any day.
You play as the Umbrella Security Service's (USS) Delta Team, tasked with infiltrating the city, retrieving samples, eliminating survivors, and covering up the corporation's presence there. You're the unapologetic bad guys, clad in black, there to do a job for money because you really don't give a fuck. Anyone standing in your way is an obstacle to be overcome, and anyone who doesn't share your ideology is a liability.
Characters and enemies from past games make regular appearances, like gun-toting olive branches for classic RE fans willing to try out something more action-oriented. Capcom doesn't want you to be left in the dust. Like the series' G- and T- and every-letter-of-the-alphabet-virus-infected monsters, you've just got to adapt.
Were it not for a few glaring flaws, the game's combat—its only real element, lacking exploration, puzzles or dialogue—would be perfect. As it is, it's visceral, loud, crunchy, exciting, and thoroughly enjoyable. There's a large selection of weaponry, from lowly pistols to tommy guns, sniper rifles, heavy machine guns and grenade launchers. They all feel sufficiently unique, with detailed stats granting each specific strengths and weaknesses. It's often difficult to decide which to purchase next with the experience you gain after campaign and versus matches.
Melee combat allows you to pull off some brutal up-close kills, while holding the melee button takes a zombie as a meat shield. The "quick draw" action pulls out your sidearm and lets the game aim for you. It's faster than reloading your primary weapon, and it's a valuable ability in lieu of a quick-turn function. Sprinkle in some extremely liberal auto-aim—which many will no doubt count as a flaw—and you often don't have to aim at all.
But the real flavor of this experience—the 21 seasoning salute to its action-packed flank steak, you might say—is the class system.
Each character belongs to one of six occupations, each of which comes with its own set of upgradeable perks. You pick one of three action abilities to compliment your chosen character's passive abilities (more explosive damage, better healing, etc.), and his or her specialty becomes a serious advantage. For example, the Surveillance character can sense enemies from far away, while Recon has temporary invisibility and Demolition can set trip mines and sticky bombs.
The distinctions between each build make it all the more important to play with human teammates, especially on higher difficulties. Valuable health and anti-viral sprays will be especially hard to find, but Medics and Field Scientists spawn with them. Yes, it can be a little unbalanced in versus mode—direct perks like limited-time infinite ammo always trump indirect ones, like the ability to turn zombies into temporary allies. But the breadth of differentiation they introduce to this arena is worth a little lopsidedness.
That does bring up one of those glaring faults, though: the A.I. is shamelessly, no-holds-barred dumb as rocks. Your allies will stroll through tripwires like it's their mission to get smeared on the walls, and they'll certainly never be there when you actually need some backup. They're not helped by the game's slew of technical bugs; at one point an AI teammate glitched himself off a descending elevator platform, and it was several minutes before I saw him again. Another bizarre bug (in versus, this time) formed a mirror image of my character that circled around me as I ran, firing its own gun when I shot mine. I had to quit the match for the mimic to disappear.
Snapping into cover works well, but some actions standard to cover-based shooters are absent. I understand dropping the roadie run of games like Gears of War and Mass Effect 3 (ORC's less janky sprint is better anyway), but the ability to vault over cover (or jump at all, or even drop short distances to the ground) is sorely missed at times. For some reason you don't accrue ammunition automatically, though you'll constantly be prompted with the option to pick up fallen weapons that may or may not have more ammo than what you're currently carrying. There's no way to know. Worse yet is the game's refusal to prioritize your action button commands; nothing's more frustrating than juggling weapons instead of reviving a fallen teammate.
The game's dark environments (turn that gamma up, up, up) and breach-and-clear shootouts beg for a flashlight. And unless Raccoon City's maternity wards are constantly filled with entire human litters of identical babies, there are way too few zombie character models. And—oh god, I'm a broken record—why oh why do developers continue to snub splitscreen multiplayer?
THE ACTION GAME THIS CITY NEEDS
Some of these issues are minor, others pop up frustratingly often. In all, though, they still pale in comparison with what the game offers. The campaign spans seven lengthy levels of Left 4 Dead-style, pop-in/pop-out co-op action, with items and easter eggs strewn about wonderfully detailed environments. You'll recognize some from RE 2, while others are brand new.
Versus mode's three-way battles offer an even more unique experience than Left 4 Dead's monsters-against-survivors schtick. One team plays the USS (bad guys), while the other plays the government Spec Ops team (good guys?). Both sides are under constant attack from the dozens of zombies, hunters, lickers, and crimson-heads thronging each locale.
Whether you're hunting for virus samples (a randomized capture-the-flag), targeting the opposite team's "heroes" (characters like Leon Kennedy and Ada Wong) or simply surviving until the extraction helicopter touches down, the threat of infection and zombie-induced death is omnipresent. It gets a little too chaotic at times, but elements like the highly disparate character classes—which you can choose between deaths, along with your weapon loadout—keep it interesting regardless.
Operation Raccoon City is the whip crack quick, cucumber-cool Resident Evil action game that Capcom has been wanting to make for years. When you consider it in the context of Revelations, the recent 3DS title that leaned more on classic RE games for inspiration, it becomes clear that Capcom's apparently decided to please both sides of their divided fanbase by creating two kinds of Resident Evil. The results so far are brilliant. There's enough meat to ORC to keep us playing for months, and if Capcom can take care of the more glaring issues, we may do just that.