I must admit, I was cautiously optimistic about Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. As a concept, it’s undeniably fascinating. You play as a member of a squad sent in to clean up the mess in the aftermath of the viral outbreak in Raccoon City. Zombies, co-op and an imminent apocalypse. The game practically sells itself. And the last two Resident Evil spin offs I had played on the Wii were absolutely sublime. It was hard not to approach Raccoon City with some anticipation. Bad idea.
It certainly carries the Resident Evil style. Your health is replenished by herbs; shoot someone and their bodies boil into a black liquid and disappear; there are familiar enemies such as lickers and infected dogs. You can even get infected yourself and become a zombie if you don’t use an anti-viral spray. And keeping in track with the Resident Evil theme, it also borrows the series’ long standing tradition of unintentionally funny writing and storytelling. But for all its Resident Evil style, it has none of the substance.
For starters, it’s the shortest game I have played this year. Raccoon City has about half a dozen different levels, and each of them will take you somewhere around 30 minutes to run through. All in all, a complete run of the game will last you three hours at the most. I imagine the idea that the developers had was that the game would have infinite replay value akin to something like Left 4 Dead, but unfortunately, that just doesn’t work. All the levels look alike and without Left 4 Dead’s AI director changing things up, the game becomes incredibly repetitive even on its first run. It certainly doesn’t help that the core mechanics of the gameplay feel unpolished and almost broken at times.
Like every third-person shooter made this generation, the game features a cover mechanic. However, unlike every third-person shooter, Raccoon City manages to find a way to completely botch something so basic as hiding behind a wall. There is no cover button, so you end up sliding in and out of cover automatically. Trying to get to the edge of cover to peek out and shoot often just throws you out of cover. Trying to shoot over cover works about half the time. There is no evade or dodge button either, so trying to get clear of a zombie horde becomes an absolute chore. There are perks and unlocks for the character you chose to play with and every character on the squad has his (or her) own special abilities. It’s a nice idea that throws in some variety in an otherwise repetitive game, but it’s never really utilized to its full potential.
The friendly AI seems to be on a pacifist mission. A lot of the time, they will stand around enemies, not really shooting at them. Or deliberately missing. When they see you mowing down the undead, they will do anything they can to try and stop you. Mostly, this consists of running right in front of where you are aiming and stepping squarely between you and your undead victim. In fact, they are so eager to run ahead of you that they will trip mines and blow themselves up at times just to do so. There are moments when you will line up a perfect headshot and then curse as a teammate runs right into it. For payback though, I recommend standing in a tiny doorway so that it blocks their path and watching them freak out and run in circles because they can not get ahead of you.
The enemies aren’t much better either. There is a sad lack of variety and smarts amongst them. And with the exception of the common infected, almost every other enemy is a bullet sponge. You will burn through half your ammo stash just to put one enemy down, while the same enemy will just run up to you and knock you down in one hit. You often end up in a situation where someone will knock you down in a corner and keep knocking you down while you try to get up until they kill you, and there isn’t anything you could do to avoid it. Combine that with the friendly AI who are content to just sit back and watch you suffer, it becomes absurdly frustrating to fight anything that isn’t a common infected zombie.
The boss battles (I don’t think you can even call them that) are even worse. Every other level, you run into some big creature that would ideally be considered a boss in most games. The only problem is that sometimes, you are supposed to run away and not fight them. Of course, the game gleefully forgets to inform you of that. So you will stand there like an idiot pumping clip after clip into them till you run out of ammo. They will react as if they are getting hit, you will get hitmarkers on your aiming reticule but you just won’t be able to kill them. At least that’s what I think; for all you know, if you stick around for another 25 minutes and shoot at them, maybe it does work. At other points in the game, you will run into the same enemy, think you are supposed to escape again, but only this time, you are supposed to kill them. Oh, and they still take about a billion rounds to go down.
A lot of those complaints would probably be remedied if you could actually play the campaign with friends. It would definitely solve the friendly AI problem and I am sure with multiple people actually shooting at the enemies even the ones that take a thousand rounds to go down would die faster. But it still wouldn’t make the game any more fun. The levels still would be dull corridors indistinguishable from one another. The cover mechanics would still be broken. And playing with actual people would end up making the game even shorter. But underneath all that, there is still enjoyment to be had if only because you are playing with a friend. Co-op can make anything bearable and this is no exception.
There is always competitive multiplayer to fall back upon, and compared to the exceedingly dull single player, the multiplayer is actually somewhat decent. It would be your run of the mill standard third-person shooter, but the introduction of non-player controlled infected zombies running around on the maps gives it a unique little twist. It also adds a decent layer of unpredictability to the gameplay. It might not be the most fair or balanced shooter out there, but it’s very chaotic and quite fun. Don’t expect it to replace your regular multiplayer game of choice, but it’s still worth dipping into every now and then.
Despite the (somewhat) fun multiplayer, there is so little to recommend in Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City that it’s almost depressing. The ingredients were all there to make a great game. Zombies, co-op, characters with special abilities, and a destroyed city. As a concept, it seemed downright immune to being bad. Yet, Slant Six somehow managed to make a mess of it all. Avoid it like a bad virus.