Another in a long line of disappointing Resident Evil offshoots.
The Resident Evil series still comes with a lot of weight. While it wasn’t the first entry in the survival horror genre – you can get your heady mix of puzzles, slow burning pace and awkward controls as far back as Alone in the Dark in 1992 – it is one of the most popular. Survival horror became the “it” genre, often imitated, but rarely achieving the suspense, the scares, or the absurd baroque camp of the original. In 2005, when the series had been iterated to death, Resident Evil 4 was released. The Aliens to to the original’s Alien, it turned the series into a fast paced shooter, borrowing the greatest hits of horror (Zombies attack a cabin! A sea monster! An enemy straight out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre!) and maintaining a strong sense of tension throughout. Cliff Bleszinski said that Resident Evil 4 was the main inspiration for Gears of War, the popular series that launched a thousand cover shooters. There is a painful irony here: Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, the latest game in the franchise, tries to return the favor, borrowing from Gears of War and its many offspring. It aims to create a co-op friendly cover shooter, but misses the point.
The game tasks you with working for the evil Umbrella Corporation to cover up a zombie outbreak in Raccoon City, the main setting for the first few games in the series. You and a squad of three others (either friends or randoms online) team up on a variety of adventures that find you either killing enemies or running from them, and very little else.
The game takes place during the events of Resident Evil 2, which will mean something to fans, but will confuse new players. The game makes no concession to the latter group: you are meant to be submerged in the kudzu-dense lore that informs your surroundings and actions. No context is really needed though because all you do is shoot shoot shoot. Even long time fans will find this lacking. The game puts a great emphasis on meeting old characters and “rewriting history”, but all that amounts to is shooting at our old favorites. The developers would do well to take their own advice and put an end to these characters.
The selling point is supposed to be the co-op, the ability to battle along with your friends through the game, but instead we have half-sketched ideas. The ideal is a perfect military outfit coordinating together to execute the mission with maximum efficiency, but it ends up feeling like I’m playing with the Bad News Bears. The game doesn’t facilitate teamwork, so everybody ends up doing their own thing. Your partners only come into play when asking a teammate to revive you after you get knocked out, itself a tedious game of find-the-body. You’re not evaluated on how your team does at the end of a stage, but how you do, lessening your ties to your comrades. More often than not, you’re competing for finite resources. Enemies (the very limited variety that exist in the game) shrug off clips of bullets – an attribute that turns the shooting into a slog and frequently made my teammates and I say some unchristian things about our lack of ammo, and hoarding it as much as possible. Consider how better games have gotten around this: Left 4 Dead made sharing supplies and sticking close to each other essential to survival, a sort of “live together, die alone” approach. Gears of War constructed large set pieces for firefights to revolve around, allowing a player to intimately know a space and opening up tactical play.
The multiplayer comes with the standard assortment of us versus them games, but, again, passes on any meaningful team building exercises. There are the standard team death match and capture the flag varieties, the only variations being the copious amounts of zombies and other enemies on the map to interfere and distract. The survivor mode is a favourite: two teams are pitted against each other with the promise of a helicopter with limited space arriving in five minutes. This is the only time the co-op’s “me first” attitude works, forcing players to work together until that last mad dash to the finish line. That there is nothing resembling a horde mode in a game teeming with zombies seems like a missed opportunity, especially for a game with an emphasis on the multiplayer. If you’re going to crib design, why stop at the good bits?
In Operation Raccoon City we are left with a list of good intentions with nothing to back them up. The game we’re left with is charmless and, at its worst, tedious. So, we relegate Operation Raccoon City to the heap with all the other Resident Evil spin-offs: The light gun shooters, the remakes, the prequels, the top-down Gameboy shooter, and the score attack third person zombie rush game and, yes, even, a director’s cut. To that list we now add a failed co-op shooter.
Filipe Salgado works at a bank, but he’s not all bad. Sometime he writes for Kill Screen or writes stories about the deserts of the American Southwest on his blog Big Talk, Real Slow. You can also follow him on Twitter.