Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City
By rights this should have been good.
Even with the acknowledgement that past partnerships between east and west have led to mudded affairs, both Dark Void and Bionic Commando doing little to usher in fresh new franchise or reinvigorate a licence, Resident Evil, more so than Street Fighter, is Capcom's defining brand.
It's the name that's survived the choppy waters of generational crosses and the tricky task of reinvention to fit the changing tides. The reason ultimately that faith, born of respect for a series rarely putting a foot wrong since inception, was instilled on this project: a gun-heavy multiplayer set in the time of Resident Evil 2 and 3, and farmed out to Slant Six Games, a developer known not for triple-A scores, but for solid creations and years of experience in the field.
Results are poor. The premise fumbled.
Following a Black Ops-style Umbrella Security Service squad as it sweeps through a zombie-filled Raccoon City destroying assets to remove any culpability on behalf of its employer is an exciting and simple setup for those not weighed down by the franchise's story baggage. For those that are, it should be a rare chance to re-explore the series' finest hour from a parallel viewpoint, much like the duel campaigns of RE2, and see the iconic city-wide apocalypse through this generation's visual filters.
Maybe we expect too much. Resident Evil has always been a slick affair, merging short but dynamic cutscenes, beautifully rendered environments, assured pacing, horror mingled with a fear of survival or dose of action and genetic-inspired menu screens linked the concept together.
It's only the very last of those that survives the journey between Japan and Canada. We've still no idea what a next-gen version of Raccoon City looks like, because this isn't it. Visually this sways more towards XBLA than retail release, and while you travel through a tick box of apocalyptic locations - underground lab, cemetery, hospital, destroyed streets - aside from a few street signs and one police zombie who looks lifted direct from Resident Evil 2's artwork (one of only a handful of stock character models reused over and over), you never feel you're in Raccoon City.
There's continued shocking attempts to mimic the franchise's tactile play with light and shadow. There's little gradient between illumination and dark. It only adds to the atmosphere by way of forcing you to stumble around in the blackness at times in the hope of finding a doorway.
But we're not here to look right? We're here to shoot. To chew through flesh, Undead or otherwise in a hail of bullets. If the combat system was engaging, we might have forgiven or ignored the decor.
Here too, there's little satisfaction. The cover system swops iron-tight button press with a push forward of the stick against any coverable object. It's too easy therefore to accidentally leave cover, and the game doesn't keep you concealed come corners - letting shootable body parts jut out.
As for gunplay, you could be throwing satsumas at enemies for all the power you feel behind each gunshot, and for all the damage ammo barrages do. Pistol, rifle or shotgun; feedback is visually accredited only. You don't get a real feel of any weapon, and with the audio oddly mixed and muffled throughout the game, there's no pleasing sound effects. Raccoon City was supposed to die screaming. This is little more than a meek mewl - never have the roars of apocalypse been so muted.
It also doesn't help that weapon selection makes no discernible difference on foes. Mutated monster, Spec Ops soldier or zombie - all are bullet sponges. Kills from head-shots are haphazardly handed out. Helpfully, every one's brain dead.
AI is horrendous - be it your own crew or enemies, both Undead or otherwise. Play alone, or even have a rogue AI in your team, and watch as they blunder repeatedly into fire, through mines and generally have the life expectancy of a petrol-covered elephant at a Wicker Man reenactment.
Other squads will repeatedly rotate through a limited routine of crouching frozen were they are, standing still and shooting, or - upon you entering certain areas - staring the other way until enough flesh has been torn from their backsides to pay notice.
Even the returning highlights of RE2 and 3 are castrated of inducing any fear, though its more design decision than anything. The debut of the Lickers has them swamping you in droves like locust, annoying rather than terrifying. The opening boss fight against a mutated William Birkin is perfect example: backtracking along two long corridors as he charges you, an invisible wall around him stopping you from circling behind or rescuing downed comrades. We understand the idea is to herd you towards the exit rather than engage a prolonged firefight - yet Resident Evil 2 did the same thing far more elegantly. And that was fourteen years ago.
Perhaps better is the Versus modes, because they at least toss in human opponents into the mix. While it doesn't conceal the still-poor combat system, at least the maelstrom of the three-way pitched battles, players versus players versus zombies, can lead to the tactics you'd often deliberated on in Left 4 Dead but ultimately got booted out of the game for.
But it's the campaign that should be the highlight. Yet there's few scenarios that we'd want to regroup to play through again and again. Getting the gang back together may be a problem.
Maybe there's a pre-launch patch to come but we did see some odd issues in our time online - half the team not on-screen for the other, yet damage delt to the static avatars that were on their screen eating at our health bars, no matter where in the level we actually were.
To harsh? It's likely because we expect better, expect more, from this franchise. But ORC joins the light-gun Survivor off-shoot as the weakest title this series has produced. And we're mindful that Resident Evil online's been done before, and better. 2004's Outbreak pitched the idea of a ragtag group of survivors rather than soldiers, escape rather than extraction of files the focus.
There's potential in the idea. But while Capcom has shown us it can cocktail action and horror as well as horror and survival, this one's definitely too sour for our tastes.
- System:PC, PS3, Xbox 360
- Developer:Slant Six Games
- Offline players:1
- Online players:1-8
- Age limit:From 18 years
- Release date:23 March 2012
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