Once bitten, twice shot in Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City

Nowadays, most multiplayer experiences are fairly uniform: two groups try to shoot each other in the face, and maybe steal a flag or plant a bomb in the process. These concepts have become the norm, and while most of Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City's varying multiplayer modes feel like they're trying to offer something that caters to the typical multiplayer crowd, I found myself constantly surprised and excited by an element completely out of my control: the NPCs.

In each of Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City's game modes, players have to deal with a cadre of AI-controlled enemies as well as a team of opposing players. Generally, standard zombies aren't a threat to the leather-fetish Umbrella troops or their camo-loving Spec Ops counterpart; however, a stable of familiar Resident Evil enemies increase the lethality of each match. The agile and sharp-clawed Hunters gleefully rip everything apart; Lickers stalk their prey, striking ferociously from the darkness; and powerful Tyrants can emerge at any time, and I suggest you run when you see them.

Entering these enemies into the equation and priorities rapidly change on the fly, offering an experience unlike most team-based competitive multiplayer modes out there. "Should I keep shooting the enemy in front of me or should we jointly focus on the lumbering Tyrant who just dropped down into the middle of our firefight?" It's was the constant quick survey of options that led to a number of memorable moments during my time with the upcoming shooter from developer Slant Six.%Gallery-141888% Moments like these came frequently over the next few hours, like when I was running with a 'G Virus' sample back to my base camp for a point score in the game's Biohazard mode, only to have a Licker ensnare me. A Licker's tongue alone isn't too dangerous, but an opponent with a clear shot and the foresight to use my bad luck against me can be devastating. In that situation, the opposition easily took the virus back to score, leaving me dumbstruck.

Biohazard Mode in Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City elicited the most positive emotion throughout my play session because of how tense the struggles were. Each team of four is dropped into an environment and tasked with acquiring randomly-placed vials. A simple premise is made much more difficult due to constant zombie attacks and the progressive inclusion of higher-level enemies like Hunters, Lickers, and Tyrants. The tension of trying to wade through enemies to score along with the constant tug-of-war nature of the mode provided a refreshing take on the standard capture mode.

Heroes mode -- barely more than a glorified team deathmatch clone -- pits iconic series characters against each other. Once your particular hero is killed, you can respawn as another character. My guess is that Capcom is hopes diehard fans will find it exciting to play as Ada Wong or any other number of familiar faces, but even a longtime series fan such as myself couldn't muster much interest.

Survivor mode offered some thrills. It drops eight players into a map where they must survive progressively tougher NPCs until a chopper, which can only hold four survivors, lands. It's an interesting concept and executed pretty well here, as the mad dash for the chopper and chaos at the end of each match I played could attest to. And there's plenty here to distract, so if you don't make it to the chopper and spend most of the match busting heads for XP, you won't have much to regret in the end.

XP fuels all progression in the multiplayer. It's a currency system used to unlock passive and active abilities, as well as weapons for each individual character. The amount of unlockables were, quite frankly, daunting. Each ability can be upgraded several times, with each upgrade demanding more money than the last. I suspect it's going to take a great deal of time to unlock everything in Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City.

During my brief time with Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, the unlock system supported spontaneously diverse play styles. If you want to play the medic, you can. One of the players at the event liked playing as an invisible sniper, for example. Users are really empowered here, giving me hope for the game's multiplayer as a sustainable experience.
In a lot of ways, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City's multiplayer feels very safe. The modes aren't revolutionary, and the gameplay itself is as accessible as a third-person shooter can be. The game doesn't necessarily leverage what could be considered strengths for the franchise, but delivers an exciting and action-packed setting unlike we've seen in the series. Players are thrust between the chaos of war against an opposing force and an attack from murderous bio-organic weapons, and I'm totally fine with that.

The NPCs add a random element of unpredictability. When hordes of the game's undead army were at their most merciless, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City was at its best. It may not be your typical Resident Evil game, but it has the potential to deliver something that isn't your typical multiplayer experience either.

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City launches on the PS3, Xbox 360 and Windows PC on March 20.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.