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When news of Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City trickled out, gamers were justifiably excited. After all, who wouldn't want to play a four player, class-based co-op shooter set in the much-beloved Resident Evil universe? The potential for something special was present from the start, and many figured it would be akin to Left 4 Dead for the BioHazard set. Sadly, this isn’t the case. Not only is Raccoon City not in the same league as Left 4 Dead, it’s not even a decent Resident Evil game.
Both the single- and multiplayer elements of Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City takes place in (you guessed it) Raccoon City, the burg in which the series' famed virus was first unleashed on the world all those years ago. Mirroring many of the events in Resident Evil 2, the campaign follows the exploits of the nefarious Umbrella Corporation's special ops team, sent in to clean up the mess created by the company's scientists by whatever means necessary (hint: it involves lots of guns). While the game includes plenty of knowing nods to Resident Evil fans and a number of cameos by some familiar faces, the narrative ultimately falls flat due to some confusing "twists" and one of the most absurdly unexplained endings in recent memory. If you don't end up asking yourself what just happened at the end of the campaign's seventh and final mission, it might be because you're too busy asking why it happened at all.
Raccoon City’s narrative misses the mark on a number of levels, not the least of which is the fact that it never gives the player any reason to become even remotely invested emotionally. Your character and your squad are downright unlikeable, especially when trying to kill the heroes that we all know and love. It’s odd that the developers didn’t include an alternate campaign in which players could control the survivors, as a four-player co-op “remake” of Resident Evil 2 would have been a lot more enjoyable than the game’s core campaign.
Rather than put the player in the boots of a single character throughout the story, the developers decided to embrace the co-op aspect right off the bat, encouraging experimentation by allowing players to switch between character classes before each mission. Most of the classes you've come to expect in a modern-day shooter are represented here, including Assault, Medic, and Recon, each with his or her own uniques skills and weapons. Some of these (like improved body armor and faster reload speed) are passive, while abilities like flaming bullets and temporarily unlimited ammo can be activated after a particular amount of time passes.
It’s a solid enough system, keeping the action as interesting as you’d like, though we found ourselves focusing mainly on upgrading our Assault and Medic classes out of personal preference. However, Raccoon City’s hop-in/hop-out cooperative play penalizes those players that don’t create a well-rounded group of soldiers, as it’s not uncommon to jump into a game only to find that the class you spent all that time maxing out has already been taken by another player. Yes, your team is limited to one of each character class, so all the XP you spent creating a powerful Assault character means nothing if another player picked that class first.The game was presumably designed this way to encourage players not to rely on a single class, but it ultimately feels like a penalty.
Unfortunately, there are also number of gameplay elements that feel like they’ve been designed to penalize the player, simply because they were poorly implemented. Nearly all of these fall under the same “unfulfilled potential” umbrella that’s covering the entire game, as some of them could have been quite good with more capable execution. For instance, the game sports a cover system that barely works and ends up being more of a hindrance than anything. Taking cover behind objects is easy enough, but moving to an edge doesn’t allow the player to peek around as in genres standard-setting games like Gears of War. Instead, you’ll simply pop out of cover entirely or shift around to the side, leaving you wide open to enemy attacks. Frankly, it’s among the worst cover systems we’ve played in a video game.
While Raccoon City actually includes two mechanics we've never seen before, neither of them works as well as one would hope. Getting infected by a zombie and needing to use antiviral spray to cure yourself could have made for some intense sequences, but this isn't the case. The fact that zombies virtually ignore you once you're infected means you can basically sprint through the majority of the level until you hit a cutscene, which somehow magically cures what ails you. Then there's the bleeding mechanic. Getting shot by an enemy soldier randomly (We think? Maybe?) causes you to bleed, attracting the nearest horde of zombies. Given the overabundance of green herbs and healing sprays, however, you won't need to take more than a few steps before you're as good as new. Both of these systems could have added some sorely-needed tension and excitement, yet they end up feeling tacked-on. Instead, all of the drama comes from everything else the game gets wrong.
There are also myriad technical missteps. Your AI-controlled teammates are downright idiotic, frequently committing suicide when they should be focusing on staying alive. If we had a dollar for every time a squadmate ran through a corridor full of easily-spotted laser tripwires, we’d be rich. Hit detection is a major issue too, especially when dealing with the aforementioned cover system. Frankly, the hunting and pecking to activate objects on the ground is arguably the only thing more frustrating than seeing your bullets hit an imaginary barrier instead of that peek-a-boo enemy who's out of cover. During one co-op session, we died while trying to heal a fallen squadmate. Instead of pressing the button to heal, we found ourselves repeatedly dropping and picking up weapons laying on the ground nearby. This is one of the rare co-op games that actually doesn’t get better when playing with friends, as even your best buddies can’t fix the technical problems and design flaws.
All of these issues are amplified in the multiplayer modes. Again, playing against other people while simultaneously dealing with hordes of AI-controlled zombies should be fun, but it just ends up feeling more frustrating than anything. Although there are a number of takes on standard multiplayer modes like Capture the Flag, it’s the new Survivors mode that anyone playing this game would probably be playing after launch. It’s a solid mode in theory, as two teams of four must duke it out while waiting for a chopper than can only hold a total of four players (yes, you’ve got to suspend your narrative disbelief for this one). However, when the chopper finally does arrive and players attempt to get on, they’ll find themselves being spammed by grenades while standing in line.
To make the multiplayer matters worse, Raccoon City commits the cardinal sin of poor map design. The most egregious example is the lack of dynamic spawn points. During several of the matches that we played, our team was pinned in our spawn (a small garage with a single exit) by the enemy team, wasting more than a few lives and generally ruining an already unpleasant experience. Even worse, this was during Survivor matches, in which every death adds precious seconds to your respawn time. Not being able to get to the chopper because you're unable to respawn flat out sucks. The game also doesn't allow for any multi-level traversal, so you'll undoubtedly find yourself unable to jump down even a few feet or navigate obstacles that even a toddler could climb over. We were hoping that multiplayer would help to wash the sour taste of the campaign out of our collective mouths, but this (sadly) wasn't the case.
To say that Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is a hugely missed opportunity is an equally huge understatement. In theory, it could have been a Resident Evil-themed, third-person Left 4 Dead, something that would make any zombie-shooter fan salivate with desire. Not only does Raccoon City not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Valve’s zombie-killing masterpiece, a number of poor design choices, narrative missteps, and technical issues combine to make this one of the worst Resident Evil games to date.
This game was reviewed on Xbox 360 as the lead platform. We also played through sections of the PS3 version to see if there were any distinct differences, and we found no technical shortcomings during our playtime.