I’ve been a fan of Capcom’s Resident Evil series of video games ever since the first game was released in 1996. In the following years as the game series gained popularity and multiple sequels and offshoots were released, I was there to gobble them all up like one of the Romero-inspired flesh-eaters that the franchise was known for. In 2002 I even purchased a Nintendo Game Cube system, solely because of an exclusivity deal signed between Capcom and Nintendo that stated all Resident Evil games for the foreseeable future would be released for that system alone.
So, naturally, when I first heard of Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City a few months ago, I was excited. With a March 20, 2012 release date, it would be the first Resident Evil game in just about three years (Resident Evil 5 was released in March 2009). It was rumored to be a departure for the series; players would be part of an elite squad of private soldiers working on behalf of the Umbrella Corporation, the franchise’s villainous company responsible for developing the deadly T-virus and releasing it on the unsuspecting citizens of Raccoon City. The game would take place during the timeline established in the first three Resident Evil games (yes! Actual zombies in Resident Evil!
These have been gone from the franchise since Resident Evil 4 released in 2002) and the series’ heroes such as Chris and Claire Redfield, Jill Valentine, and Leon Kennedy would be targets marked for elimination by the players! Playing Resident Evil as the bad guys! What more could a fanboy ask for?
But does it live up to the hype?
The answer to that question, sadly, is both yes and no. Operation Raccoon City does offer up a heap of Resident Evil memories for longtime fans of the series. Familiar locations such as the Raccoon City police station (featured prominently in Resident Evil 2) are presented in ways that recall the original titles they appeared in and are recreated with attention to the smallest details (fans will instantly recognize and remember the stuffed tiger outside Chief Irons’ office, for example) and remain true to our memories of those games so long ago. Early missions will have you facing Resident Evil 2’s mutated version of Dr. William Berkin, Resident Evil 3’s “Nemesis” creature (“STARS!”), and hordes of “lickers” (creatures best described as a vile cross of Spider-Man villains Carnage and Venom who wear their brains proudly on the outside of their multi-toothed, long-tongued craniums). Despite all the fan service paid by the locations and enemies, however, the game just doesn’t feel like a proper Resident Evil title.
The base gameplay is what will make most fans cry foul, as this title tosses aside the careful exploration and investigation features the series is best known for in favor of Call of Duty-esque gunplay and firefights. The best way I can describe the experience is to say it combines equal parts Left 4 Dead and Call of Duty and mashes them together in a third-person perspective shooter with sub-par aiming and movement. Imagine playing Left 4 Dead, only while you’re shooting at the zombies there are other guys shooting at you and you’ll have a pretty good idea what Operation Raccoon City is all about. The one game is doesn’t play much like is, unfortunately, Resident Evil.
The biggest complaint I have with the game, however, is not in the actual gameplay, but in its presentation. The “campaign” (if it can really be called that) is a series of missions tied together by the flimsiest storyline imaginable. It seems that the developers looked at Left 4 Dead’s strong multiplayer features and attempted to mimic them, then realized that they needed a single player mode. If you’ve ever played a multiplayer shooter like Left 4 Dead, Call of Duty, or Gears of War with AI “bots” for teammates, you understand just how frustrating it can be. Your AI teammates will often walk into your line of fire and seem to prefer walking right up to zombies, Hunters, and even the dreaded Tyrants in an attempt to use a melee attack as opposed to shooting them from afar. Conversely I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to locate enemies who didn’t exist because I had a teammate who was firing clip after clip at the night air and I assumed she saw something I didn’t. Nope, seems she just liked to waste ammo. When the zombies did show up she started flailing away with her knife – probably because she was out of ammunition.
As a longtime fan of the series I find I am able to enjoy Operation Raccoon City despite its flaws, but I can’t recommend it to everyone – especially at the sixty dollar price tag. If you’re a die-hard fan like me you may get some kicks out of it, but others will do better to wait until the price drops a bit or they can pick up a used copy. The game is a nice diversion for the time being, but there’s not likely to be any Resident Evil related “wow” moments until the highly anticipated Resident Evil 6 releases this November.