Some thing are similar. Infected chasing us along hallways. Healing sprays, Umbrella logos. Pots of super-powerful basil around every bend. Yet Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is apart from the slower horror experiences of games past.
In the aftermath of Resident Evil: Revelations for the Nintendo 3DS, and pending the release of Resident Evil 6 come winter, this Canadian-built co-op title will fill the void. In the Slant Six-developed Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, you play an the Umbrella Corporation agent with three comrades, and there's a hefty whiff of
Left 4 Dead and Gears of War in the air.
Anyone who knows their franchise history can tell you events take place between Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, as Racoon City goes zombie apocalypse due to a T-Virus outbreak. The challenge then for USS (Umbrella Security Service) is to cover their employer's connection.
And for those long-term fans, being plugged into the iconic city of the franchise's finest moment strengthens the conceit here. As much as it's unnatural gunning down burning streets and infiltrating labs without fear as your constant companion, there's an unexpected enjoyment in reprising familiar haunts and characters.
Yet these initial impressions flounder in the face of the controls, and your first few enemy engagements. There's little weight to the characters, while hitting cover is an imprecise art, and the guns lack impact. For the first few engagements at least, enemies are human, and behave as expected from any generic action game.
But of course zombies are the main course, and soon enough we're treated to a fight with a charging mini-boss in a scene reminiscent of those in Resident Evil 4 and 5. We're forced to back-pedal through a hallway in which cylinders spurt roaring flames, and the boss's weak point is the tiny shifting spot that's its head. There's a lot of restarts before we make it to the next area.
Things are addressed a little when you start playing with the customisation options available for weapons and abilities: each team member accrues experience points which can traded against new talents, split between active and passive abilities.
While you've got the option to play as recognisable "Heroes" from both 2 and 3, you'll spend more time with the USS, in which its clear there's been a collaboration of character design: Capcom proves the master of variety when it comes to organisational leather outfits, and so even default mercenary creations are imbued with the studio's usual flair.
There's pairings of specialist classes. The Medic, the Scout, Demolition, with weapons reflecting each's strengths. Upgrades are highly useful - from personnel abilities such as infection neutralisations and damage increases as well as weapon improvements like increased accuracy and larger ammo clips.
Experience points can be exchanged for these upgrades and unlocking new weapons, and load-outs can be changed between missions.
We run through a handful of missions in co-op campaign. First we break into - then back out of - Umbrella labs run by William Burkin, one of the more famous scientists-turned-tyrants. Openers that do a poor job in showcasing the current generation's capabilities: sterile underground laboratories with grey-scale paint are never anything other than bland.
Better are the latter areas and their objectives: a breakout from a hospital crawling with infected towards the roof for extraction via helicopter, tracking down a dead Tyrant to source cells in order to repair the downed Nemesis elsewhere in the city, and a cemetery shootout. Sadly that ends with another rapidly-weakening boss fight.
Conceptually its decent, having to tackle undead hordes while dodging a sniper in nearby window, arcing the odd grenade inside when you can. But the explosions are less than impressive, and you're not sure if you're doing any damage until, because of story reasons, you're called off the attack via radio command rather than cut-scene and so the section ends unglamorously.
As such, the game's lacking the slick production values we've used to seeing with the Resident Evil series, problems that ease when we're stuck enjoying the various Versus modes, when acting the bastard aids in your survival.
Successful attacks can draw blood from the opposing team and thus light them up as appetisers for the zombie hordes. Distractions techniques that are all important if you want to clear a path to say, a G-Virus container in the CTF variant, or to the roof of the hospital once the helicopter transport countdown has been reached. Having each other's back only to ram a knife in is a selling point of any online title.
But we're still not sure. If what we'd gotten hands-on with had the slickness and confidence of the brand title we'd have been more reassured as to the execution of the concept.
Despite the oddity, Resident Evil doing Left 4 Dead is an incredibly attractive proposition - and there's once more a gap in the market for a challenger to take a hefty bite out of online. As it is Operation Raccoon City needs to show the goods between this build and review in a few weeks if wants an online audience to turn short siege into prolonged conflict.