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Monday, April 16, 2012

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City (5.7/10)

Regular readers know I'm a fan of all things zombie! However, it seems to me that one of the most venerated franchises in not only video games but also a cornerstone in the modern zombie resurgence, Resident Evil, has really been dropping the ball as of late. Sure, Resident Evil 4 was a true classic. However, I wasn't overly impressed with Resident Evil 5, and a lot of the more peripheral titles were disappointing. This year we are treated to a total of three new Resident Evil games to wet our appetites for more braaaaaaaains...  first up is Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. And let me tell you, it's bloody terrible!

Where to begin with this mess? First of all, there is no story to speak of. I had been looking forward to unlocking the secrets of the evil Umbrella Corporation from another point of view as it were, but literally nothing is answered. There are a few moments where you see an important conversation taking place from a different perspective or catch a glimpse of someone or something important to the canon, but I never felt like I was affecting the outcome in any way... until the very end, which was so out of the blue and stupid that I literally threw my hands up in frustration.

You play as one of a slew of different Umbrella hit squad members, but as far as I could tell, they have virtually no impact on the story. There is no emotional connection to the characters whatsoever. I hate Chris Redfield with a fiery passion, but at least he is mildly relate-able. Here's an example of the last of interest displayed even by the characters themselves: right in the middle of the game, there is a moment where you're stuck on a rather long elevator ride waiting for the next segment to load and no one says anything. If I was giving the benefit of the doubt (which I'm not), I'd say that sociopathic hit men don't need to have much interaction beyond being pointed at who to kill next, but that doesn't really stand up in an interactive medium! It feels like a lack of effort on the part of the developers.

Operation Raccoon City is a third person shooter, just like the other recent Resident Evil titles. Now class, what is the biggest issue in most third person games? That's right, all together now, the camera! Very good, I'm glad to see you've been paying attention. The camera works fairly well, except when the environments aren't cutting it off or you aren't completely surrounded by zombies... which is, of course, happening constantly. The zombies can be very quick, and the camera can't seem to catch up which ultimately leads to some cheap deaths. The cover mechanic also fails. For some reason, your playable character seems to have a hard time responding to the cues, as if they are somewhat reluctant to find cover, ultimately leaving you exposed. Another problem is the melee attack, which is often used because ammo is at a premium. It's pretty ineffectual against single foes and even less so against mobs.

I think a big problem with Operation Raccoon City is the fact that the control scheme is poorly designed, thereby exacerbating other flaws in the structure. To sprint you need to click the analog stick. To dive you press 'A.' But take cover, you also need to press 'A.' Do you see the problem? Trying to get in cover while sprinting usually results in your character diving forward... then standing up, then taking cover. Oh, and if you're around any ammo or items, the same button controls that interaction as well. All the while you're getting peppered with bullets. It's insanely frustrating. A proper dodge or roll function would have been greatly appreciated and its absence is all the more noticeable.

From a technical standpoint, Operation Raccoon City fails to impress. To be honest, the graphics on Resident Evil: Revelations are better (review coming soon)... and that's a 3DS title! There are some texture loading issues, and backgrounds aren't nearly as sharp as they could be. The character models don't look terribly impressive either, something I found surprising since so much effort was put into Resident Evil 5. Even Leon's trademark hairdo looks awful. For some reason the developers decided to make the game very dark. Seriously, it's almost to the point that you can't see anything at all. One wonders if they are trying to hide something? Normally, good lighting goes a long way to creating a scary atmosphere (see Dead Space), but if things are too dark it becomes an exercise in frustration as you stumble about blindly.

The soundtrack is decent although repetitive, but that's nothing compared to the scant voice-acting. Remember how I said how the characters made little or no difference to the story? Well, that's thanks mostly to the fact that they hardly ever talk, and when they do, the one-liners they spout can barely be called drivel.

So what does Operation Raccoon City do right? Well, I like the fact that you can become infected. If you get bitten, you have a brief time to find some anti-viral spray otherwise you'll turn into one of the walking undead. It's fun in multiplayer because you can stick it to your teammates. Having said that though, it's a novelty that wears thin quickly.

Then there is the ally AI which, you'll be surprised to hear, is passable. Your squad mates don't run in your line of fire all of the time, which is a good thing. The other thing they manage to do well is die... a lot. But what really bothers me is that you can heal them but they can't heal you. There were levels where I literally ran in circles, a mob of angry zombies chasing me, so that I could build up just enough distance to heal someone before they caught up with me. All that was needed was Benny Hill music. They naturally have no interest in healing each other. Of course, if you go down at all it's Game Over.

However, running around to save my AI cohorts did yield positive results. It was during one of these noble crusades that I made a wrong turn and ended up warping my entire squad, including the dead ones, forward past some imaginary check point line. From then on I deduced that I could simply run on ahead if things got too hairy and hope to reach a new checkpoint while my comrades were slowly being digested. It's astonishing how cheap this is... if I found myself in a really sticky situation I can just dash past the bad guys who are either shooting at me or trying to eat me and essentially skip that section. If the game wasn't so terrible I'd actually be curious to try a speed run trying to skip everything, just to see how long it would take.

Of course, this squad based shooter was designed to be played online with a full contingent of human squad mates. Playing with friends does ease the pain somewhat, but what kind of friends do you have that enjoy inflicting pain upon each other? At least playing together together means that you can heal one another. There are some other interesting online options, but to be honest I couldn't be bothered to try them out.

My fiance watched me play Operation Raccoon City for five minutes, glanced at me, and literally said "This looks generic." She's right (she usually is). This game fails on pretty much every level for me. It's a spin-off hoping to cash in on a venerated franchise. My biggest issue with this game is this: releasing a sub par product banking on sales numbers due solely to name recognition is just plain wrong. The fact that they're trying to pass off this joke as Resident Evil is all the more insulting to a fiercely loyal fanbase... making it all the more unbearable, and ultimately all the more disappointing. I only hope Resident Evil 6 manages to live up to the standard of the franchise and we can relegate Operation Raccoon City to a failed experiment, dusty and forgotten, where it belongs.


Score = 5.7 / 10

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