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Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is not so much of a spin-off from the long running horror series, as something that has been brutally hacked off and thrown aside. Fans of the franchise will be pleased to learn that the storyline for Raccoon City is set at a similar time to the events of Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3: Nemesis which are considered some of the strongest entries in the series. This is where the similarities to a typical Resi game ends however, as Raccoon City is a fast-paced action game, worlds away from the suspense-filled horror games that have made the brand famous.
The third-person shooter’s single-player campaign kicks things off by asking players to choose a character from a cast of six. These six faceless and hollow members of the Umbrella Security Service supposedly have different roles and abilities, from the old favourites such as a Medic, through to a Field Scientist. In reality, these roles make no difference to the solo game and are more viable to the multiplayer; however this isn’t explained at any point. Once you’ve chosen your character, three more join you for the experience either from online players, or AI-controlled. Ideally, co-op is the preferred way forward. You’ll see why.
The opening level has to be one of the most shambolic experiences I’ve ever experienced on a PC game and pushed me to the point of almost throwing in the towel out of sheer frustration with the design choices. Fortunately, grinding through this revealed a slightly more engaging experience – but here is what I had to deal with in the first 20 minutes or so of play.
- The first character chosen had an assault rifle. The game introduces you to cover and your first group of enemies. Blind-firing from cover is so ineffective (and the game doesn’t tell you to iron-sight from cover, which in retrospect is all it needed to do) that I burned through my initial allocation of ammo without killing every enemy. Restart the campaign.
- Let’s try again, I chose a character whose primary weapon is a shotgun. The very first group of enemies are distanced by the cover mechanics. This distance makes the shotgun ineffective to the point where the player can easily use up the initial allowance of ammo in an attempt to damage the bad guys. Restart the campaign.
- After choosing the right character and using iron-sights, the first group of enemies are finally downed. I move forward only to be stopped at the next set of cover, unable to progess without dispatching the next group of enemy soldiers. Why can’t I progress? Because of a small impassable wall at the top of each staircase that magically drops into the floor once you’ve killed enough people. That right there is what we call crap level design – and this happens another two or three times immediately after this point.
- Less than 10 minutes in and the terrible mouse aiming and generally poor control from the keyboard and mouse means I down tools to switch to the 360 joypad. The game feels different almost immediately and the poor control mapping as a result of being ported from its console counterpart is clear. It’s also worth mentioning that regardless of the presence of a controller, the HUD displays an XBOX controller D-pad to select grenades etc. however keyboard users will be using numerical keys for these selections. Visibly shoddy.
- Sound glitched during the first level and I lost weapon and other audio elements. Regardless of restarting the game, rebooting and updating audio drivers, this problem remained for the duration of the game.
- The AI really pushes the definition of ‘Intelligence’ element of the acronym. Your CPU-controller team members will slowly walk in front of you, clip against walls and scenery, run off in the wrong direction, repeatedly walk into the LEAST SUBTLE TRIP-MINES ever to feature in a game and react to enemy grenades as if they are trying to catch them. My favourite part was when two of the team members just stopped walking right before a doorway (and progression through the level) which couldn’t be opened until all the team had arrived. I literally had to walk my character behind the lazy bastards to slowly and tediously push their inanimate-but-standing bodies across the level in order to progress.
Now at this point, ready to rage and expecting a troll-face to pop up on the screen, I took a breather and completed the first level. I even emailed the Editor at this point to stress how arduous the experience was. The game looks fairly decent and runs smoothly but that is about the only thing it does with any level of competency. I was feeling a little worse about life as a result of playing Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City.
Now, it would be wrong to say that the game utterly transforms from this point. It is true however, that once this trying first section is out of the way, the action flows better and the arrival of zombies on the scene starts to make it feel a touch more.. Resident Evil-y. The combat, whilst rather unsatisfying with the lack of most weapon sound effects (a common bug apparently) and most enemies being bullet-sponges, is passable once you pick up a controller. Zombie headshots are as squelchy as ever thankfully
The AI remains plain stupid throughout and my character disappeared altogether in the final levels leaving just a gun floating in the air, but bugs are generally less intense and gameplay starts to feel a little tighter. The design is very basic in places still, with any tension being removed by the game throwing ammo and health at you in huge quantities shortly before any difficult or sudden encounters – quite the opposite from the traditional Resi titles where each bullet counts and tension is key to the experience.
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City becomes more playable the longer you stick with it. If you get through these initial issues there is an enjoyable concept there, but one that is marred by unusually poor production values and all elements of execution suffer as a result. If you are a die-hard Resident Evil fan, then this is likely to tick some boxes for you as a result of the time-period of the setting. If this wasn’t Resi-branded however, it would likely be a very cheap and generic action title.
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