Inside Pulse 12

Review: Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City Special Edition (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City Special Edition
Genre: Third Person Shooter
Developer: Slant Six/Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: 03/20/12

For Capcom, at least in the US, this is the year of Resident Evil: we’ve already looked at Resident Evil Revelations, Resident Evil 6 is coming to us at the end of the year, and the PS3 is getting a special re-release of Wii releases The Umbrella Chronicles and The Darkside Chronicles, dubbed Resident Evil: Chronicles HD Collection. The one game that’s been kind of hard to pin down, however, has been Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. Conceived during the development of Lost Planet 2 and developed between Slant Six, a company known for developing a few of the SOCOM games, and Capcom Japan, Operation Raccoon City looked to be Western take on the franchise, with a design and aesthetic that screamed Gears of War meets Modern Warfare in the Resident Evil universe. Further, the game takes place from the perspective of the bad guys, casting you as Umbrella operatives during the events of the Raccoon City Outbreak, covered in Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3, and it even gives you the opportunity to change history, in theory. However, Slant Six has a spotty development record, as their SOCOM games weren’t especially well received, and Capcom has a spotty record with third party developers; while Blue Castle did an amazing job with Dead Rising 2, games like Bionic Commando, Dark Void and Asura’s Wrath don’t inspire confidence. As such, Operation Raccoon City starts off on some potentially shaky ground, and while the final product isn’t bad, it’s not quite the game it could have been.

So the plot of the game is sort of a deviation from the canon events of Resident Evil 2, and is focused on Delta Team, a six person squad created by Umbrella to clean up messes, essentially. The storyline here starts off with Delta being sent in to assist series mainstay HUNK with retrieving a sample of the G-Virus from William Birkin, and as anyone who has played Resident Evil 2 knows, this goes to hell in a hurry. Delta is also tasked to clean up various pieces of information that may tie the organization to the events of Raccoon City, as well as exterminate any survivors they may encounter, which also goes to hell. You take the team through seven chapters, going through various events that are tied into the franchise in some form or fashion, as a sort of “What if?” scenario on how things could have gone down, and for the most part, the plot actually isn’t bad. The game lacks the cheesiness of its main franchise counterparts, but makes up for this by actually developing characters for the six protagonists of the game, and while said characters are largely amoral, they’re actually almost likable in some respects by the end of the game, if not completely so. As far as game modes go, you have available the Campaign, which can be played solo or with up to four players on four difficulty levels, as well as Versus Play, allowing for up to four on four team fights a fairly decent amount of modes. You can also review your play records, check the leaderboards, and review the gallery of concept art you locate through the campaign. There’s a solid amount of options to play with, and while there’s nothing out of the normal, there’s enough variety to be worthwhile.

Operation Raccoon City does a good job of recreating the feel of the Resident Evil series in a new visual engine, as it replicates the Raccoon City game world from Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 well, while adding in its own novel touches. Fans will appreciate the familiarity of locations like William Birkin’s under city lab, the Raccoon City Police Department, the Raccoon City Cemetery and more, and amusing touches, like “Raccoon City Corned Beef”, pop up amongst the familiar locales now and again for novelty purposes. The different characters and monsters you face are also all well rendered and animated, and while you’ll notice the differences in how the models are rendered between this engine and those of the Capcom developed titles, the differences certainly aren’t bad. Also, as a mild side note, it’s fantastic that, of the three female characters on Delta Team, only one of them is even vaguely sexualized, and that all of the team are wearing gas masks and heavy armor. While Capcom’s art style and designs are often pretty solid, the character designs in the game (for the original characters) are perfectly reasonable and sensible, especially when compared to, say, Jill’s tube top and mini-skirt ensemble. Delta Team looks like walking death, and are suitably imposing and “cool” looking, without being cheesy or hyper sexualized, and that’s awesome, to be honest. The lighting effects are occasionally awkward and the enemies occasionally have some weird death animations, but for the most part these are minor concerns that don’t detract from the experience too much. The audio is also quite good, starting with a solid soundtrack that blends older Resident Evil tracks with an equally ambient and action-oriented electronic style that, surprisingly, works very well. The voice acting is also excellent, as Delta Team has some great character interplay between one another and each member is generally well cast, as are the various other characters that pop up throughout the campaign. The sound effects are mostly quite effective, from the roars and groans of the enemies to the weapon effects and explosions, and for the most part, the game’s effect library is well assembled.

Mechanically, Operation Raccoon City tends to have more in common with something like Gears of War than prior Resident Evil games, but anyone with some third person shooter experience should be able to adjust to most of it fine. By default, the left stick moves, the right stick looks around, the left trigger allows you to aim shots and the right trigger fires your weapon. A is your context sensitive action button, X reloads, B performs melee attacks, the left bumper switches between your main and secondary weapons, and the right bumper tosses grenades. Characters can also perform special actions by pressing either Y or the right stick in, while pressing in the left stick allows you to run or ready a dodge, which you can activate by pressing A while holding the stick in. Finally, the D-Pad is mapped to allow the use of first aid sprays, antiviral sprays, different grenade types and different vision modes. The game also uses a cover mechanic, similar to that of a Gears of War or Mass Effect 3, but unlike those games, you can move into cover by simply walking into it and move out of it by simply stepping back from it, allowing you to get into and out of cover in a snap. Some of the mechanics will require a little adjusting for players who are more used to similar games in the genre, but for the most part, the mechanics are simple to learn whether you’re a genre fan or not, and the tutorial gives a good idea of how the mechanics work overall, so adjusting shouldn’t be hard.

Each member of Delta Team is similar in how they play on a base level, but their differences are what make them interesting, and is a big part of what makes the game unique. You’re given six members to choose from, of which four can be in battle at any time, and you can swap between them between missions as needed, depending on what you need in battle at the moment. Lupo is the squad leader and is listed as the Assault class character; she gains body armor, faster reload speeds, and special abilities that allow her to use incendiary rounds, use infinite ammo temporarily, or ignore damage briefly. Spectre is the Surveillance class character; he gains proximity sense and item detection, and special abilities that allow him to scan for enemies, as well as scan for thermal and sonar signatures in the area. Vector is the Reconnaissance class character; he gains silent movement and the ability to avoid detection, and special abilities that allow him to toss out motion detectors, pretend to be enemies, and use active camouflage to hide himself. Bertha is the Medic class character; she gains improved first aid spray performance and the ability to spawn with and carry more first aid sprays, and abilities that allow her to improve accuracy and movement speed, cure infection at a distance, or reduce damage received from a target. Four Eyes is the Field Scientist class character; she gains the ability to spawn with and carry more antiviral sprays and see infected enemies as well as track their damage, and abilities that allow her to infect enemies or enrage zombies, attract zombies to a location or enemies, and take control of infected enemies for a period of time. Finally, Beltway is the Demolitions class character; he gains added defense against explosives, reduced cooldown on abilities and the ability to disarm enemy mines, as well as abilities that allow him to plant frag mines, timed explosives and laser trip mines. As such, while all of the characters may play similarly, they have their own unique abilities that make them stand out, and each character brings a lot to the table that makes them interesting to use in different situations.

When you start off the game, your characters will all basically be at the same level, bereft of any of their capabilities, but as you complete missions you earn experience you can use to beef up your squad. Experience points are doled out based on mission performance, online and offline, relative to set goals; in essence, if you kill a bunch of dudes, don’t die, collect needed collectibles, make it through in good times, and so on, you’ll get more points than if you don’t. When playing the Campaign you also gain added experience points based on the difficulty level, so the higher the level, the more bonus points you get. Experience can be spent in two ways: to beef up characters in your team, or to unlock guns to start off missions with. While you can pick up any gun dropped by enemies or allies, you can only start with whatever you have available to equip, which can be problematic, as your available guns may not have the stopping power you need, or you may not find what you want in the level. By spending experience points to unlock new guns, you can purchase new weaponry, both across primary weapons (including assault rifles, submachine guns, sniper rifles, shotguns, machine guns and more) and secondary weapons (pistols and magnums), expanding your arsenal across your roster. You can instead opt to upgrade your characters by buying levels in their above noted abilities with your experience points, giving them an edge in battle. Each character has two passive abilities and three active abilities, where the former are always on, while the latter requires you to choose one to use in battle at the start. Each ability has three levels to it that can improve its performance, so you can choose to spread the love across your team or beef up one character at a time as your interest merits. As you earn experience, you also go up levels, though this is largely cosmetic; going up levels doesn’t indicate anything except how much overall experience you’ve earned, so at, say, level thirty you could potentially max out a character, buff every party member a little bit, or buy a bunch of guns, depending on your play style.

Each mission you take on in the Campaign has various objectives, and forces you to battle against a fairly wide variety of enemies, including Resident Evil staples like zombies, Lickers, Tyrants and Hunters, as well as new enemies like SPEC-OPS forces and headcrab-like Parasites that latch onto zombies or attack on their own. There are also some fairly challenging boss fights against notable characters in the series, including Nemesis, William Birkin, Nicholai and, as has been hyped up quite a bit in the pre-release materials, Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield, among others. If you’re looking to take on other human players, you can also jump online and play four on four Versus battles across several different modes. You can either play on the Delta Team or on the SPEC-OPS team, which also consists of six characters of similar capability, and your upgrades to Delta Team apply to the same characters on the SPEC-OPS team, so you won’t have to spend hours leveling both sides or in different modes. The game offers some standard modes, like Team Attack, a Team Deathmatch mode, and Biohazard, which requires you to claim key items around the battlefield. There’s also Heroes Mode, which gives each team four “Hero” characters, like HUNK, Jill Valentine, Claire Redfield, and so on, as their first spawn (respawns put you back into the shoes of the regular characters) and tasks you to keep the heroes alive, and Survivor, where you have a set amount of time to survive until a helicopter arrives, at which point you have to be one of the people who boards it, though there are only a certain number of slots. Xbox 360 owners can also download the console exclusive Nemesis mode, which is similar to Team Attack, but allows the teams to try and recruit Nemesis as an asset, giving them the advantage in battle. All of the different Versus mode pit you not only against the other players, but also against various Umbrella beasties, so you’ll have multiple challenges, and multiple ways to earn points, when playing. Either way, there are different options to play with, online and off, with friends or otherwise, so you’ve got some choices.

You can get through the campaign in roughly around six to eight hours, depending on difficulty level and how good your team is, if you have one set up for online play, but beyond the main Campaign there are other things to consider. Aside from the ability to play with up to four players online or on your own, there are also multiple difficulty levels to take on, each with greater challenge and greater rewards than the last. There are also various collectibles scattered around the levels, including data packages that can give bonus experience and gallery items, security cameras, Raccoon City raccoon mascots, and typewriters, which reward the completionist with more experience. You can also bring the game online with Versus play, either publicly or privately, to challenge friends and strangers in armed combat if you’re interested, as there are more than a few modes of play available to fool around with. Both modes impart experience points which you can use to unlock new abilities and weapons for your squad, allowing you to build Delta Team into a wicked fighting force as you play, should you wish. There is also the promise of DLC, including a free DLC mission that’s set to arrive sometime in April, and the potential for more, both free and paid, somewhere down the line, and of course, the game offers plenty of Achievements to dig into, so you’ll have options if you find yourself itching to come back.

Also, let’s take a look at the Special Edition for a second:

For the extra ten dollars, you get a fairly sweet deal: a hard shell case, two patches, and the Weapon Stash DLC, which costs about six hundred and forty points, or eight dollars, on its own. The case is fairly nice looking, certainly moreso than the normal soft plastic DVD case, and the patches are pretty neat, even if you’re not the sort of person who puts patches on your clothes. The Weapon Stash pack, however, is excellent; it gives you a new costume (or, more accurately, a new color palette) for each of the Delta Team characters, as well as eight new weapons to play with. You get three shotguns (the Perforator, the Cowboy Shotgun and the Combat Shotgun), two submachine guns (the Machine Pistol and the Combat SMG), a grenade launcher (the Classic Launcher), a sniper rifle (the Anti-Material Rifle) and a pistol (the Matilda) in the pack, all of which are fairly useful in different ways. There ARE guns that are better than these that you can unlock with your experience points, mind you, so they’re not grossly overpowered, but they give you a good boost in the earlier parts of the game, and are generally functional enough to be worth the download. As such, their inclusion in the Special Edition more or less justifies the asking price from the start, and the added novelties make it worth picking up, given the choice.

That all said, if you’re going to play Operation Raccoon City, it’s best done with friends, as the CPU characters are bone stupid. Now, it stands to reason that a CPU character may not have the most tactical sense about them; no one expects Beltway to plant a trip mine in the doorway to ambush oncoming enemies because that’s a bit more complex than the CPU can be expected to work with. What one DOES expect, however, is that the CPU will behave with the most vague sense of self preservation or, failing that, that the player can direct the CPU to pretend it has this, neither of which are an option here. Support characters, like Four Eyes and Bertha, will heal and us antiviral doses on you when needed, at least, but they’ll often charge through massive amounts of enemies to do so if they’re far away from you, meaning that they’ll end up dying in the process as often as they succeed. You also can’t round up the CPU for group healing, since healing sprays can affect anyone around you; at best they’ll stay in place and let you heal them, but the CPU will often run away from you, meaning you’ll have to ambush them for healing, which is just stupid. Your allies will mindlessly bumble into trip mines and enemy attacks, attack enemies that the game makes clear CANNOT be killed and must be run from, and will walk into fire and environmental hazards with alarming regularity, and while on Casual this isn’t terrible, if you’re looking to get into the harder difficulties, draft a team for your sanity.

The game also makes things way more difficult than they should be in a few respects. It makes sense that enemies should take lots of damage to kill on higher difficulties, especially the mutated Umbrella experiments, but even on Casual human opponents, like SPEC-OPS, take multiple headshots to down, while zombies can be blown apart easily even on Veteran with a shotgun blast. Some of the boss fights also become more annoying than challenging on any difficulty, bordering on absurd on the higher ones, which mars the experience even with friends. Finally, while the game mechanics generally work well, the cover system can be awkward, and you might find yourself detaching from cover accidentally while aiming or sticking to things you didn’t want to stick to, though this can be adjusted to given enough time. Slant Six is looking to put together a patch to address the more problematic concerns, most obviously with the AI, but is waiting for assistance from Capcom by all indications; regardless of what the actual issues are, a patch would dramatically improve the experience and make the game a lot better on the overall, but at this time, there’s no word on one.

As such, in the end, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is left a game that is great fun to play with others and annoying to play alone, as most of the issues in the game evaporate the moment you plug a couple of other actual humans onto a team. The plot is generally solid and actually manages to make a team of amoral mercenaries working for one of the worst companies in video gaming into fairly acceptable characters, and there are a decent amount of play modes, alone or with others, to jump into. The game generally looks good and sounds fantastic, the gameplay should be familiar to anyone who has played a third person shooter in the past few years, and the game adds in its own mechanical changes and complexities that vary and improve the experience to a level that make it interesting. The Campaign offers a solid amount of variety on its own, between the multiple difficulties available and the collectibles one can find in each stage, but even beyond that, the Versus mode multiplayer options are also rather fun, as is leveling up your team and buying up every gun you can get your hands on, giving the player plenty of reason to come back for more. Playing on your own can be problematic, however, as the AI is generally stupid at the BEST of times, to be polite, and you have no way to influence or dictate their actions, meaning they’ll often make life difficult. The enemy difficulty can also be problematic depending on who and what you’re fighting, some of the boss battles can be annoying at times, and the cover system requires some adjusting to regardless of how much experience you have with the genre. Assuming you have friends playing the game, can round some up or don’t mind playing with strangers, Operation Raccoon City really can be a great time and really does justify the purchase, but those looking to play alone exclusively won’t take much away from it for numerous reasons, and unless a patch is forthcoming, probably never will.

The Scores:
Story/Game Modes: GOOD
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: CLASSIC
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: ABOVE AVERAGE
Originality: GOOD
Addictiveness: GREAT
Appeal: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: MEDIOCRE

FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City does a solid job of taking the franchise in a different direction, mechanically, from the norm, and while it’s not the best game for those who want to play it solo, it’s an absolute blast with friends. The plot is generally solid and gives Delta Team enough of a personality to make them interesting, and there are a good amount of modes to play with online and off. The game looks good for the most part, sounds excellent, and generally plays in a fashion that third person shooter fans should appreciate while adding in new mechanics and changes that make the game more than just another shooter. There’s a good amount of depth to the product as well, between the Campaign and its multiple difficulties and hidden collectibles, the competitive Versus modes available, the upgradable options for your squad and so on as well, which makes the game enjoyable to play for a good while, and the promise of DLC down the road helps with that. However, as much fun as the game is, it’s really only fun playing with others, as the CPU AI is rather dumb and lacks any sense of self preservation or any way to dictate their actions. Further, the enemy difficulty can be awkward, as human enemies are more bullet resilient than seems reasonable, some of the boss battles can be frustrating, and the cover system can take some getting used to and can be spotty at first. For all of its flaws, however, Operation Raccoon City does what it does well, and if you can play the game online with others it really shines… but until the day when a patch comes along, if ever, those looking for a good solo experience won’t find one here.