Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City first caught my eye at last year’s E3. A third-person squad shooter based on the events of Resident Evil 2 and 3? Sign me up! I enjoyed my brief experience with the game, even though it felt like an unpolished, unfinished demo -- which in all fairness, was exactly what it was supposed to be. That’s fine. I knew that the developer, Slant Six Games, had almost six months (at the time) to further improve the game. Then REORC was delayed, adding a few more months to the development cycle. Some fine-tuning, perhaps? Imagine my surprise when I fired up my copy of REORC and found the exact same clunky, unresponsive, unfinished game from almost a year ago.
REORC has a four player online only co-op campaign (no local co-op), as well as several four-versus-four multiplayer modes. I can’t figure out if REORC is a sub-par co-op game with tacked-on versus modes, or a lousy versus game with a four to six hour co-op campaign added as an afterthought. What I do know is that you don’t want to touch this game for a single player experience. There’s nothing for solo players here but grief and AI agony.
Going against my own advice, I started a private solo campaign. I selected Lupo, the commander of the Umbrella Security Service, from one of six playable characters. She's classified as the “Assault” class, possessing passive abilities that allow for quicker reloads and resistance to bullet damage. This was good for me, because I like to spray and pray and tend to get shot a lot. Her active abilities include incendiary rounds, an ammo buff, and an pseudo-invulnerability mode. These skills, along with new weapons, can be purchased and upgraded using the XP gained at the end of each level.
Somebody cue up "Little Green Bag."
Lupo is also the only character that begins the game equipped with a run-of-the-mill assault rifle. If video games have taught me anything, it’s that an assault rifle can usually get the job done. (I would find out later that any class can be equipped with any unlocked weapon.) I then chose the rest of my team. The characters themselves are devoid of personality. Each one wears a mask that covers most, if not all, of their facial features. I know the USS are the “bad guys,” but the decision to make each one a faceless goon negatively impacts any relatability a player may have had with the characters.
To complete my party I chose a medic and two more classes based solely on their appearances. I’m pretty shallow when it comes to making an AI party. I began the first mission in solo mode, as I often do before I venture online, because no one likes to be the guy that shows up with his gun pointed at the ground while he figures out how to invert his y-axis, spiking grenades at his teammate’s feet while trying to reload. I also wanted to test the AI... for science!
After a lackluster cut scene, my USS team met up with none other than Resident Evil’s resident badass, HUNK. We had been dispatched to an Umbrella lab to obtain the G-Virus from Dr. Birkin. We're quickly engaged in a firefight with some mercenaries of questionable loyalty, and that’s when things got ugly: The combat system itself is just plain sloppy.
Targeting is questionable. You know the drill. Pull the left trigger to aim, or just pull the right trigger without aiming and harmlessly empty your gun without hitting anything. Occasionally, the sight reticle and the laser sight from my weapon didn't seem to be on the same page, let alone the same target. Bullet hit detection appeared to be random, and this was when I was using short, controlled bursts. I would line up a shot with my assault rifle and actually shoot my own cover. I could clearly see an enemy’s arm, leg, or head sticking out from behind an object. When I would fire most of my shots would be magically deflected by whatever table, railing, or crate they were hiding behind. Enemy soldiers took several direct hits before dying, unless the game decided to register a headshot. Even then it would take two or three hits to put them down, depending on the weapon I was using.
Maybe you can hit those guys behind the bench, maybe you can't.
The cover system is awkward at best, infuriating at worst. I automatically clung to cover when I approached it, whether I wanted to or not. You can’t vault over cover, so I would be stuck behind waist-high barriers for much of the battle (and the entire game, for that matter). Don’t even get me started on the dodge mechanic. Too late, I mentioned it -- dodging is a catastrophe. You need to push the left stick in the direction you wish to dodge, then click the stick while simultaneously hitting the “action button,” and even then my character didn’t really dodge. She kind of just fell over with a grunt. You can fire your weapon while dodging, which looks kind of cool, but in battle it’s totally useless.
Close quarters combat is incredibly brutal and satisfying, when I could land my strikes. Animations seem to be missing, making transition from gunplay to hand-to-hand fighting a jarring experience. More often than not I’d miss part of my combo because my character had overstepped the target (after successfully landing the first two strikes), leaving me open to counter attacks.
Keep in mind, I experienced all of this in the first firefight. The combat, the gameplay itself, just isn’t good. It’s not awful, but it’s not good. Here’s an example of one of the headaches you’ll have to deal with: The generic “action button” (A or X) is responsible for dodging, curb stomping, melee combo finishers, picking up items and ammo, as well as using green herbs. You will stomp the ground when you’re trying to quickly heal yourself with an herb while getting mauled by something nasty.
Lickers make a few annoying appearances.
Friendly AI is the same AI we’ve all come to know and detest in squad shooters: Quick to heal minor injuries, slow to do everything else. You know what’s worse than Resident Evil 5’s Sheeva? Three Sheevas. I tried my best to use them as moving shields. To be fair, this game is meant to be played with three other people. I moved onto the co-op mode of the campaign.
After blasting through the first level I purchased some upgrades for Lupo and jumped into an online campaign Quick Match. I entered a match in progress and went to select my assault class only to find her locked, because someone else was playing as the character. Yeah, REORC is one of those. Only one of each character can be used in a mission. I don’t care if it wouldn’t make sense to have two Lupos, the fact that they use the same five zombie models throughout the whole damn game kind of makes it irrelevant. I know this is done for balancing issues (a team of four Field Scientists would be godly) but it kind of sucks if you’ve been focusing on one class and then get stuck with another character for which you haven’t unlocked any abilities.
The game becomes bearable when you’re playing with friends. Actually, it’s pretty enjoyable. I had a good time with several different people, even *gasp* randoms. REORC does allow drop-in and drop-out play, so it's easy to join your friends mid-game. All of the faults in the combat system become annoying, almost comical, quirks. Players can easily revive each other, and four well-coordinated players will shred this game on the "Normal" difficulty setting. When I increased the difficulty to the "Veteran," the game almost became unplayable because friendly fire is activated. My co-op teammates were far more dangerous than any denizen of Raccoon City.
Okay, Mr. X is still a formidable foe.
At the end of each level players are awarded a letter grade and experience points, which they can use to buy weapons and upgrades. Upgrades are class-specific, but weapons can be used by any character. All the XP and stage progress stays with your profile. One nice thing about REORC’s XP system is that you can spend your valuable points on any character you choose. So you may earn 10000 XP in a mission using Lupo, but you may use them to buy abilities for the other characters like Beltway or Vector.
You may have noticed that I haven’t really mentioned zombies, or Lickers, or Hunters, or other types of enemies. They’re in there, but they’re more of a distraction than a threat. Since there’s an ample supply of ammo, zombies are something to be toyed with, not feared. The occasional group of Lickers or pack of Hunters will get your attention, but four human players will simply cut through these minor, albeit irritating, foes. Your main opponents throughout the game are faceless Spec Ops soldiers. Each of these encounters plays out with all of the faults I’ve already described above. Most levels are rather easygoing and then finish with an incredibly frustrating boss battle which preys on the combat system’s shortcomings. Sniper fight with questionable headshot detection? Not fun.
Raccoon City itself is an empty shell of a wasteland. Levels come in two flavors: indoor corridors or outdoor corridors. Everything is a muted dark blue and the character models are uninspired. Stages blend together, leaving each level distinguishable only by its unbalanced boss fight. An occasional landmark from previous Resident Evil games will make an appearance from time to time, but these just made me yearn for the old games. You’ll spend about five minutes in the Raccoon City Police Department, wondering if the stuffed tiger looked that bad in Resident Evil 2.
If you can see someone's face, there's a good chance they're not in the campaign.
The overall game presentation itself feels unfinished. There’s little story or direction other than “Umbrella says” missions -- secure this item, destroy that evidence, or stop this intruder. You’re briefed as if in a Call of Duty game, where a meaningless digitized map of Raccoon City appears while a menacing voice tells you what to do. A floating checkpoint will guide your movement through the already linear stages. The cut scenes are woefully inadequate. Remember those cool videos showing the USS tracking down cops and battling the badass Spec Ops team? Yeah, that doesn’t happen in campaign mode. You won’t be battling any civilian survivors, or members of the RPD, or STARS, aside from one (hopefully obvious) exception. It’s just the same cookie cutter Spec Ops soldiers over and over again.
You will see the Spec Ops team from the videos in the versus modes. They’re the "good" doppelgangers of the USS. There are four versus game types in total, not counting the paid exclusive Xbox 360 "Nemesis Mode." I played each mode a handful of times. Players are beastly bullet sponges. Matches are four versus four in a battle to get the most kills (Team Attack), capture the most G-Virus (BioHazard), kill the enemy leaders (Heroes), or survive until helicopter arrives (Survival). None of these modes support bots or any other type of co-op friendly modes. Even in “Survival” mode, scoring is based on killing members of the opposing team. There are only four seats available on that helicopter.
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is a huge disappointment. Most of the gameplay is flawed, and what does work is of little consequence. I’m a huge fan of Resident Evil, but only the most devoted fans will find more than few hours of enjoyment here. I suggest saving your hard-earned money for Resident Evil 6, or wait until REORC hits the bargain bin. I don’t think you’ll have to wait long.
The Co-Optimus review of Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.