The Resident Evil franchise is in desperate need of a change. The once revolutionary series was a license to print money as every gamer and his dog wanted a piece of the Umbrella Corporation. Over the past few years and iterations the formula has stagnated and reverted to a cut and paste property with little innovation and the bare minimum of tweaks.
The release of the 3DS only version of Resident Evil Revelations (you can read my review here) was a definitive step in the right direction with great strides forward made on the diminutive handheld and the future started looking a little brighter. So too was Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City for a number of reasons.
Capcomís baby was handed over to a non-Japanese developer to try and infuse some invigorating new blood into the ailing series. Slant Six Games, primarily known for its work on various SOCOM titles, looked like it was bringing some run and gun squad based sensibilities to Resident Evil and adopting a four player co-op model. The other departure was getting the chance to play as a part of the evil multi-national corporation, Umbrellaís, security force neatly flipping the script.
The plot itself was decent enough, lending itself to natural fetch quest missions and boss battles and survival/horde modes. The beloved T-virus, Umbrellaís nasty little flu inoculation with slight side effects (like mutation and what not), has gotten out and the selfish little residents of Raccoon City have gone and gotten themselves infected. What a bunch of selfish bastards!
Quicker than you can say plausible deniability Umbrella dispatches Team Awesome (not real name) to neutralise any threat to the corporationís bottom line as well as suppressing the truth in a hail of blood and bullets. This offers an opportunity for all manner of collateral damage missions as well as the necessity for destroying any evidence of Umbrellaís hand in the transformation of most of Raccoon Cityís population into a snarling lumbering horde. So far so good, right?
If that wasnít enough there is also an internal threat to deal with, with a newer G-virus missing, a rogue element within Umbrella itself with its own leader and nefarious designs and the US Special Forces (with a few familiar faces) throwing themselves into the mix to really rock the boat. This could have been a recipe for all manner of crazy gunplay, four-player co-op sexiness and lay a solid foundation for a splinter spin-off series. The operative words are could have been, as the initial exaltation turns to frustration and disappointment with its flaws becoming more and more apparent the deeper you go down Umbrellaís rabbit hole.
Initially the problems donít seem so obvious as youíre wowed by the crazy new innovation of walking and shooting at the same time and itís gratifying to see that the series has finally leaped that hurdle, and itís about bloody time too. Delving a little deeper and the shortfalls become all too obvious with the real letdown the unrealised and untapped potential.
Co-op is definitely the way to go here, partly because your squad mates are dumb as dogshit and partly because any game where you shoot stuff it ridiculously more fun via group assault with some buddies. Slant Six Games runs an impressive sleight of hand illusion where the flaws donít seem so obvious as youíre all distracted slaughtering infected by the hundred. Once you attempt to play on your own they become glaring and are hard to overlook.
Visually this is a very ordinary looking game with little wow factor and extremely samey enemy types. There is occasional screen tearing, plus teleporting enemies but these are the least of your worries. Your squad mates (who you can pick for each episodic mission) seem to lean towards the other definition of ďSpecialĒ Forces doing very little damage to the infected, shooting in almost every direction other than where you want them to and constantly running into your line of fire, both getting in your way, saving your adversaries from death and helping you waste your ammunition.
While Iím on the topic of ammunition, Iíve never seen enemies soak up so much of it. Every Hunter, Licker, infected or boss was a massive bullet sponge and even with resupply caches around every corner I still found myself doubling back for more ammo. Melee really wasnít an option with well over three or four strikes a minimum requirement to get the job done on the most pedestrian of foes.
Your squad also take up a hell of a lot of room and tend to be more of a hindrance/nuisance than life saving back-up as well as their uncanny ability to trip mines and claymores at the most inopportune moments. Several early boss battles were made significantly harder by their very presence and I tended to give then a wide berth to get the job at hand done.
Enemy AI didnít fare all that much better with it often ignoring the entire squad (much as my squad did them) and focusing solely on my character, which almost defeats the purpose of having a squad in the first place. It was one of many moments that had me wondering what the hell the developers were thinking and if the final product had been rushed out without the necessary playtesting.
The use of cover also became problematic. Rather than adhere to the industry standard of a snap to cover button, it has a contextual sticky cover system that is completely counter-intuitive. You stick when you try to walk past, adhere when you try to slip away from cover and it rarely works as smoothly as you want it to. This was just another instance of a solid concept that just didnít seem to pan out.
Thatís pretty much my main gripe with Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. Itís chock full of great ideas that are only partly fleshed out. I keep seeing the game the developers were trying to make as opposed to the final product and I can only breathe a disconcerted sigh for what could have been. Itís like I Am Alive all over again.
The XP based system with upgradable weapons was solid, the specialised abilities for each member (like stealth cloak, incendiary bullets), playing as the franchisesí primary antagonists and four player co-op were all positive steps forward however the execution was shoddy at best. This could have been a benchmark moment leading other primarily Japanese developed IPs to be outsourced and infused with Western gaming values, but I doubt Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City will serve as a ringing endorsement for that argument.
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City gets fifty percent of the way there. It has some really cool ideas and core concepts that deserve acknowledgement and recognition counterbalanced by almost half-cocked development choices. I hoped that this would set a new benchmark for the series and usher in a new direction, but this isnít the title to do it. Maybe Slant Six will be lucky enough to get a second bite of the apple and deliver on the promise hinted at in Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. Hereís hopingÖ