Video Game Review: Non-Stop Action Can’t Hide Flaws of ‘Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City’

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CHICAGO – I adore the “Resident Evil” franchise to such extremes that I kept trying to find ways to overlook the notable flaws of the action spin-off “Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City” but they add up to the point that they can no longer be ignored. Game-damaging design mistakes, inconsistent A.I., and noticeable framerate issues eventually overwhelm the game like a horde of brain-eating zombies. The game could serve as an occasional diversion for fans of the undead but it’s nowhere near the game this franchise or even the potential of this concept deserves. Video Game Rating: 3.0/5.0
Video Game Rating: 3.0/5.0

On paper, “Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City” should RULE. Taking two of the best survival horror games of all time — “Resident Evil 2” and “Resident Evil 3” — and telling another angle of their stories from a more action-driven, “Left 4 Dead” perspective sounds like a blast. No one thought this would be “Resident Evil 6” but it should have been a clever, entertaining action orgy of blood, brains, guts, and gore. Instead, it’s a missed opportunity, a game that clutters itself with more action than the game can handle. And it’s ugly. Repetitive enemies, boring backgrounds, poorly-designed levels — it’s shocking how many basic development mistakes were made by SlantSix. There are times where the sheer pace of the game allows one to look past its errors, but those times are never long enough.

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City
Photo credit: Capcom

Most of the “Resident Evil” games have been models of atmosphere and level design. Of course, one immediately knows that “Raccoon City,” the tale of a group of elite agents sent in by the Umbrella Corporation to clean up the zombie outbreak, is not going to be an “atmospheric piece.” But does that mean that so many of the levels have to look so similar and so boring? I couldn’t get over the lack of variety in the design of “Raccoon City.” It’s not unlike a rail game except recent zombie rail games like the great “House of the Dead: Overkill” and even “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles” have featured more creative level design. This is stunningly lazy stuff with such direct, uninteresting environments that it might have just as well been a rail game. You won’t feel a need or desire to explore.

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City
Photo credit: Capcom

With the focus clearly not on atmosphere, how does the action play? The core of “RE: ORC” is 4-player co-op play, either with friends, strangers online, or with three computer-controlled players. There are different player types — Recon, Assault, Surveillance, etc. — that will be familiar to any multiplayer fan and your skills will earn points that unlock weapons and special skills. If you want to know how different “Raccoon City” is from an average “RE” game, look no further than an ability to include skills like “Super Soldier” in your loadout. This is a game about destruction and the teamwork required to destroy.

What are you destroying? A combination of SWAT team members and familiar enemies like zombies, Lickers, and even dogs. You’ll even cross paths with Hunters and the legendary Nemesis. The bulk of the game is constructed like standard “wave co-op.” Enter a room, survive the wave or clear it of enemies, and move on. Each level of the campaign includes a few notable set-pieces like a room filled with Lickers or a section that requires searching out a few hidden items and they typically end with a boss battle. I’m sorry to be blunt but these boss battles are horrendously designed. Whether it’s running backwards from an enemy or trying to kill one in an upstairs window or the Nemesis battle, they all annoy much more than entertain. The bulk of the combat — blowing off zombie heads, taking cover, flanking smarter enemies — can sometimes approach the visceral thrill one wants from a game like this but those moments only lead to battles that are either repetitively frustrating or awkwardly designed.

There are also too many elements to the combat in “ORC” that damage the basic core of the gameplay. The game often gets so weighed down with action that the framerate suffers notably, to the point where it impacts gameplay. To be blunt, the game often feels like it’s tripping over itself. Running into a crowded room of zombies, I often found like I moved more quickly than the game could handle and that’s disappointing. It doesn’t help that the game stupidly maps pick-ups and rolls to the same button. You want to run and grab that grenade? You have to stop and make sure the “A pick up” icon comes up or else you’ll just roll right by it. And God forbid you need to revive a teammate because…wait for it…it’s the same button. No, I’m not kidding. These button/design issues may sound small but it’s the little things like this that add up to big problems.

It’s also nearly impossible to complete the game with computer partners because, well, they’re morons. You could get wasted playing a drinking game of bad A.I. My favorite came when I was standing in front of a mine, about to destroy it with my partner, who looked like he stopped, paused, and then ran into it. My partners in offline play were often more troublesome and problematic than the zombies.

Is there anything about “Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City” that works? As I said, there’s something about the foundation of this game that’s impossible to completely screw up. And the variety of weapons, special skills, and character types allow for replay value. It’s just one of those games that should work so much better than it does. It feels more like fan fiction than an honest spin-off or addition to one of the most notable franchise’s of all time.

“Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City” was developed by SlantSix and released by Capcom on March 20th, 2012. It is rated M (Mature). The version reviewed was for the Xbox 360 but the game is also available for the PS3. content director Brian Tallerico

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