Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City may go down as one of the most disappointing games of 2012, technical flaws and odd design choices marring what looked to be an interesting twist on the franchise. I’m happy to announce that I experienced quite the contrary, as while RE: ORC doesn’t exceed expectations and fails in the polish department, it is an exciting game that illustrates the range of possibilities for the Resident Evil franchise. Should you be the type of person that likes Resident Evil games and enjoys fun, Operation Raccoon City is an experience that you should not miss.
ORC, at its core, is built around a tactical multiplayer experience, which is where Slant Six’s design and development expertise lies. If you thought this was going to be a story driven Resident Evil prequel, you’re more than likely going to be confused and disappointed. It is also safe to temper your expectations to know that as of this writing the game does feel more like a work in progress than a finished product.
The dirty tactics of a clean up operation
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City places players at the helm of a squad of Umbrella soldiers called the USS who are doing their best to cover up the incidents that led to the untimely demise of the franchise’s titular town, which changes things up as players are no longer controlling RE’s traditional “right person in the wrong place protagonist.” The USS, or Wolf Pack as they’re called, are cold and calculated killing machines who’ll do what it takes to complete their mission. However, other than killing United States Military Special Ops teams, you’re not really tasked with anything real dirty (like setting orphanages on fire or murdering the elderly). I was pretty happy about this considering I like to be the good guy, so playing as ruthless killers didn’t hurt my soul too much. I can see how some may feel that the game played it too safe, but had I been forced to kill innocent people I would have probably struggled even more than I did with fighting our own military (stars and stripes forever, bros!).
Players have a choice between 6 classes, each with its own respective traits and passive abilities that range from setting trip mines and shooting incendiary bullets to invisibility cloaks and visual detection aides (journalistic integrity check: the only characters I didn’t try were Bertha and 4 Eyes, but they are support types and I’m not a very supportive person). Each character plays a bit differently, but switching between different builds is not super difficult since the basic combat system stays the same.You can select one of three active abilities, two passives, a primary weapon (SMG, assault rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle) and a handgun before each round or level. Both improved abilities and different weapons can be unlocked with experience earned in both the campaign and the multiplayer modes, which tend to give you a leg up on the competition while also keeping newer players from feeling like fish out of water. There’s plenty of experimentation in terms of trait and weapon combinations and the uniqueness of the skills makes ORC feel fresher than sticking to the standard medic, heavy, sniper and assault units seen in similar titles. It was tough to stick it out with only one character, but I felt Lupo’s traits were best suited for my style of play (flame bullets…yes please).
Even though you’re a very well-trained and powerful unit, you never feel too strong for the enemies you encounter, which helps retain the classic tension of the Resident Evil series without relying on an archaic control scheme. Your character is high on the food chain, but not the highest and this is something that works well for the game.
The controls are pretty standard and feel like an upgraded version of Resident Evil 5. You can shoot while moving, string together melee combos and finishing moves and toss grenades all via different buttons, which means combat flows much better. The cover system is interesting in that you need to only push against a wall or object to stick to cover as opposed to pushing a button. It works pretty well for the most part, but there are times that you won’t stick to objects you think you should be able to or struggle to stay in cover while shooting at the enemies. Staples of third person cover based shooters are present, such as blind firing, but it’s a system one shouldn’t always rely on since the non-human enemies you encounter don’t really adhere to the whole seeking cover thing (which I’ll get to later).
Green herbs and first aid sprays are still your go to means for healing, but an infection mechanic similar to that seen in the Outbreak games adds another danger to the mix of potential ends that players might meet at every turn. Once infected, monsters will stop paying attention to you, but should you fail to find an anti-viral spray, you’ll turn into a zombie and attack your enemies (or die if you’re playing solo). This tends to happen at the most inopportune times, but that’s the climate of Raccoon City, folks, no one said biological warfare was easy.
That’s why they invented duct tape
While I enjoyed the single player campaign, it suffers from some book-ended problems that include a broken first level boss encounter and an anti-climatic conclusion. The majority of ORC’s problems seem to be rushed technical issues, but should you be the type that gets dissuaded by bugs, those aforementioned hurdles are very apparent in the single player portion of the game.
The first level is pretty bland and the pace is quite jarring. While I understand it acted as a tutorial mission, it was just plain bad. Plus, the level’s ending (the now infamous William Birkin encounter) is a prime example of a scripted sequence that’s push for drama is hindered by some annoying restrictions. The ending, well it just kind of happens and completely negates the intensity teased from the chaotic battles leading up to it.
Other single player issues include some overly long boss battles, dumb AI in both the enemies and the computer controlled members of your squad (play it with friends to avoid one half of that equation) and a checkpoint system that, while well paced and helpful, sometimes fails to activate in a way you’d expect it too. I found myself dying while fighting enemies, then restarting past that battle since I’d hit a checkpoint along the way. My major gripe was an interaction button (X on the PS3) that wasn’t sensitive enough, meaning I’d have to look directly at an item to pick it up and should aforementioned item be near another item, my intended choice wasn’t always the one that I picked up. Not a problem until things got hectic, which, unfortunately happens quite a bit. The camera also needs some work and I happened to struggle with aiming while playing as the massive Beltway because I felt like he took up too much of the screen.
Despite all of that, the campaign is fun and really does fans a great service by including locations, enemies and other items from the earlier games in a respectful and true to form way. The levels are well detailed and, even though this is not technically the type of game that lends itself towards exploration, I found myself searching over every inch looking for collectibles and other touches that would satisfy my nostalgia. Enemies are always exciting to encounter and feel like just as much of a challenge as they were during the days of tank controls. Umbrella’s BOWs were built to either take massive amounts of punishment (Hunters/ Tyrants) or attack in numbers (lickers/ zombies). Not being able to kill an enemy with a few shots makes it more tense, though at time’s this is at odds with ORC’s more tactical aspects.
Best friends or perfect strangers
If you bought ORC solely for the single player, you’re kind of stupid (though I did buy Modern Warfare 3 for its campaign, but I never said I wasn’t a hypocrite). Multiplayer makes this game and erases any blemishes that the single player campaign has. ORC is a chaotic three way dance-off between the forces of good, the forces of evil and the horrific creatures that just want a bite to eat. The multiplayer modes included in ORC aren’t necessarily new or different on the surface from other games in the genre, but deathmatch has never felt like this before. You’re dealing with two very diverse opponents on the battlefield, which means maintaining defensive positions works only as long as it takes for blood thirsty crimson heads to rush your position.
Deciding which enemy is more dangerous is a constant but thrilling struggle and Slant Six takes this to a new level with the added mechanic of being able to draw blood from your human adversaries in order to attract monsters. It’s a genius addition and a great way to push people from cover outside tossing grenades. There is always a lot different ways to turn the table on your opposition and ORC doesn’t really mind that the best team isn’t always the one that stays on top. Sometimes, chaos is the greatest equalizer of all.
Before you begin
Overall, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City does have some humps for players to overcome in the form of bugs, questionable mechanical choices and graphical shortcuts but none of these detract from what is hands down one of the more original and exciting multiplayer experiences I’ve encountered as of late. I’m curious to see how the community evolves in lieu of the rocky launch of the game and to see if it gets the support in the future that I feel it deserves. While I think there are patches that could help the experience, I am more than pleased with the overall package and am excited for what’s in store for the future. I’m no fan of bugs, but I can excuse problems and turn off my nit pick switch when a game rises above those glitches to give me a unique and genuinely fun combination of tactics and action. I hope Raccoon City is never safe again.
Giant Bomb (images)