Don’t let the title of the recently released Resident Evil 6 fool you. Taking into account the various spin-offs and remakes that have shambled forth since the series’ birth in 1996, there are now close to two-dozen Resident Evil games . As well as the main instalments, the series now encompasses light-gun shooters, online co-op survival, and the recent handheld Resident Evil: Mercenaries 3D. Yes, it’s safe to say that Capcom’s flagship horror action title has proven quite versatile over the years, although most gamers would say that few of the spin-offs have ever matched the quality of the main series.
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City sits alongside Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3: Nemesis in the series’ timeline but, other than its setting, shares little with the earlier games. Here the player takes control of a member of the Umbrella Security Service (USS) as they attempt to clean up the spectacular mess Umbrella – the evil corporation behind some, if not all, of Resident Evil’s zombie outbreaks – has made of Raccoon City. This involves seven missions, all of which weave around the story of Resident Evil 2 and Nemesis. Ever wonder what was going on outside the door of William Birkin’s lab when he was shot down in the second game? Or where the Nemesis got his bazooka? Well, now’s your chance to find out. In fact, the USS team’s ability to narrowly miss crucial moments of the main story is quite spectacular. It’s a little like watching a Star Wars film from the point of view of a particularly inept Stormtrooper. “What? You mean the rebels just left? Well, dang, I’m unlucky…”
At least you have a choice of Stormtrooper. At the beginning of each mission the player can select four of six commandos, each with different specialities. Vector is a reconnaissance expert, capable of turning himself invisible for short bursts of time; Spectre is the sniper; Bertha (yes, Bertha) the medic. Choosing the right team for each mission can greatly increase your chances of survival and, if you decide to play through the story online, with other players taking control of your squad mates, then choosing complementary skills is essential.
It’s worth noting here that Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is meant to be played co-operatively online. Playing with computer-controlled team-mates is a short road to frustration. It is not uncommon for your AI companions to make a mockery of the ‘I’ part of that abbreviation and stumble into your line of fire or into a horde of zombies. This issue disappears when playing with a competent set of human players, but online play does little to address some of the game’s more fundamental flaws.
Although the level design will elicit some nostalgia for long-term fans of the series (you will visit some familiar-looking Umbrella labs, as well as the police station from Resident Evil 2), the bland corridors and ruined streets across which most of the levels take place become samey very quickly. The enemies also lack variety, consisting mostly of identikit zombies and masked mercenaries. Occasional boss battles with assorted mutations break up the monotony, as do some of the other B.O.W (Bio-Organic Weapon, fact fans!) enemies, but overall the levels – each one of which takes around an hour to complete – are very repetitive.
A quicker, sharper blast of action can be found in the various survivor and deathmatch modes available. The usual options are included here, along with a ‘Heroes’ mode which is essentially the same as ‘Team Deathmatch’ but with the option to play as classic heroes and villains from the series. Each game mode is good fun, but – again – the arena design is bland. In addition, finding a game can be difficult, with the servers looking very empty right now.
Played with a group of like-minded individuals, there is some fun to be had with Operation Raccoon City, and there are a handful of nice ideas in there which suggest that, with a little more time and effort, this could have been a spin-off worthy of the Resident Evil name. Shooting human enemies in the legs and stepping back to watch them be overwhelmed by a group of zombies rarely loses its appeal, and can give rise to some neat tactical play. Similarly, the player themselves can become infected and turn into a zombie, which is fun for the short while it takes for your fellow players to waste you. But, ultimately, Operation Raccoon City never quite convinces as either a Resident Evil game or as a solid squad-based shooter. The occasional fun moments are obscured by the dull level design and merely average shooting mechanics. Worth a rental for the Resident Evil completist, perhaps, but no more than that.
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