It’s easy to see what Capcom was thinking when creating Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. While the series is somewhat seminal to the zombie phenomenon, tastes have moved beyond just the simple survival horror format to the more action oriented shooters like Left 4 Dead and Dead Island. Meanwhile 3rd person cover shooters like Gears of War have also become all the rage. So why not combine the trends, and even tackle the story from another angle to boot? Spinoffs are always a fun gamble and sometimes they even pay off with something bigger than the original. Unfortunately this roll of the dice comes up snake eyes for both the publisher and gamers.
Operation Raccoon City has an extremely promising story proposal from a first glance. It involves a return to the titular town where Resident Evil 2 and 3 took place. This time however it is presented from the perspective of Umbrella’s Security Service team, which is sent in to recover the G-virus and eliminate all evidence of the Umbrella Corporation’s involvement. There’s some intertwining of events with the original games and some betrayal along the way, but with almost no back story on the USS crew outside of blurbs on the character selection screens, it doesn’t feel as deep as the rest of the franchise. You really don’t get a sense of the inner workings of Umbrella since all you do is get ordered around and everyone is business like and methodical about it. It just feels like it could have answered a lot more questions and leaves fans wanting more.
The gameplay leaves a lot to be desired, too. In a sense, it is very much a Gears of War clone with all the typical cover shooter conventions, only with a bunch of flaws tossed in for good measure. Campaign starts off by choosing a character among the USS crew, the main differences being their special abilities (unlocked with XP as you level up) and their starting weapons. Once you’re in the controls are fairly familiar and straightforward, with a few changes like hitting the left bumper to change weapons and A to pick up stuff. While I’m on it, picking up stuff in this game can be a pain in the ass. If you’re not standing right on something and facing it, you’ll have to maneuver around. This is especially annoying in the heat of battle when you’re trying to pick up a green herb to heal yourself or pick up ammo to reload. Since the A button is already taken up, cover is acquired by walking up to it, which as you can gather is pretty hit or miss in critical situations. There’s three kinds of grenades that can be thrown with the right shoulder, all of them utterly useless in my experience as they take too long to explode and you are given no aiming assistance. You can also use first aid and anti viral sprays with the D-pad to heal or ward off the effects of the G-virus should you be infected.
The shooting in the game feels kind of awkward, the plodding movement of your character (who often times can’t even make a half foot drop) doesn’t make for smooth aiming, and enemies don’t really give you a lot of feedback and are often bullet sponges, even on the easiest setting. More than once I’ve unloaded a handful of bullets into a special ops soldier’s head, only for them to not even blink. Zombies put you into awkward QTEs where you have to roll the left analog back and forth. The single player campaign also puts you in a lot of ridiculous situations, for instance sniping a boss who is tossing grenades from one of 4 windows, except like all bosses he takes an ungodly amount of damage before giving in. Your AI buddies are completely idiotic as well, running headlong into traps and proximity mines and otherwise getting themselves killed. You could play co-op but don’t expect to find many willing to join a public game with you, I sure didn’t. Oh and I forgot to mention my favorite thing about this game. Once you die, you lose everything you picked up, so if you were carefully hoarding your first aid, anti virals, and grenades, say goodbye to all of them and say hello to your default weapon, too!
Versus mode isn’t a whole lot better, though at least you don’t have to contend with bad AI. You’ve got your typical Team Deathmatch mode for one. Then there’s a Heroes mode where you play 4 on 4 as famous characters from previous RE games like Claire Redfield and Leon Kennedy. Biohazard is their play on CTF using samples of G-virus, and finally you have survival which is every man for himself deathmatch as you also fight against zombies – until the end of the round where you all rush to a helicopter with a few limited spots in order to be extracted for extra points. It’s all fun at first especially once you unlock some special abilities, but in the end it’s still all too clunky to really enjoy full replay value. Survival mode is especially annoying when you line someone up only to have a zombie grab you from behind for a cheap kill.
Obviously in a Resident Evil game, dark foreboding environments are to be expected, but in Operation Raccoon City they are extra bland. I didn’t find any of the locations to be particularly memorable. The main characters are fairly well detailed, as well as the heroes in multiplayer, but the enemies are very cookie cutter and generic and in the end it doesn’t measure up to the games it aspires to be like Gears of War.
The voice work was fine for the most part, but there were very few signature sounds outside of the recognizable effects of the RE franchise like that of healing. I can’t remember anything about the soundtrack so that’s another notch in the generic column. At least it wasn’t anything terrible or embarrassing like the gameplay or controls.
Speaking as someone who was never a huge fan of the survival horror gameplay of the main franchise, I was really hoping that Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City would bring me into the popular universe and lore and give me a new appreciation for it with an action oriented twist. Ultimately it had me lamenting the time I spent playing it, and wondering what could have been if they had just focused on the details a bit more, because it was a great concept.