Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City review: Evacuation plan

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City assumes a lot about the player. It takes for granted that you already know the fiction going into the affair, that you already know about its character classes and that you already have people in mind for your squad. It thinks you know about the special abilities and unlockables of each class, and how to access that content, right from the start.

Those who missed out on Resident Evil 2 and 3 may not appreciate the small bits of fanservice developer Slant 6 Games has tossed in, but that's minor compared to how much context is missing elsewhere.
%Gallery-138014% Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City opens with your squad infiltrating Umbrella's laboratory in Raccoon City, a location reused a few times throughout the seven-mission campaign, which spans roughly five hours. Each leather-clad Umbrella operative sounds off with a one-liner, after which series staple Hunk offers a quick, raspy-voiced bit of exposition to get the player up to speed. The only problem is, if you've never played Resident Evil 2, you're not going to have any idea what these people are talking about or what the hell they're doing. For newcomers, there's not even an explanation of what Umbrella is.

Raccoon City is under siege by the undead, and Umbrella, the company behind the outbreak, wants to clean up the mess. On the other side are government-issued Spec Ops troops trying to coordinate a rescue and ascertain exactly what caused the contagion. Throughout the campaign, your Umbrella Delta squad is sent to key locations to hide behind filing cabinets to shoot zombies, soldiers and an inexplicably abundant remote mine population. I can't say I've ever heard of a city hall locking up at night by placing laser trip-mines in its records room, but it appears to be protocol in Raccoon City.

The main theme of the campaign is recycling. Several environments are recycled -- especially the Umbrella labs at the beginning, middle, and again at the end -- and every encounter plays out just like the last. The campaign escorts you from one scripted encounter to the next in a linear way. You never wonder about where to go next because there's always a big icon telling you "this is where you need to be to shoot the next bunch of dudes you need to shoot."

Gameplay is rote -- a barebones, cover-based affair that is equal parts generic and infuriating. The cover system lacks any kind of grace or style, odd given the stylish leather-clad protagonists of this supposedly elite squad. You walk up to an object and press forward to go into cover. That's it. There's no elegant way to switch between cover -- no SWAT turns here -- just a clumsy meandering from fence to car to concrete slab as you shoot whatever's in front of you.

Unless you play online, you won't be able to play with any human squadmates -- there is no local co-op. Playing with other humans is obviously the better way to play, but if you're stuck with AI teammates you'll find they have the mental capacity of a child mesmerized by fireworks, showing fascination for random corners and walls. They're constantly getting in the way, moving between two pieces of equally inefficient cover and refusing to heal you when you need it. During a fight against Nemesis, the giant Tyrant that stalks Jill Valentine in Resident Evil 3, one of my AI teammates actually walked up behind me and blocked the camera, making it impossible for me to zoom in and shoot. I could've just moved, but the Tyrant's arm cannon is both deadly and accurate, and I didn't really have a better vantage point.

The AI governing enemies isn't any better, though their effectiveness is at least increased by their ability to withstand multiple bullets to the face. Operation Raccoon City's guns feel like toys. There's no power behind any of the weaponry, save for shotguns that will effectively knock a guy on his butt -- only for him to get up and stare at you until you shoot him again. Even upgraded guns lack stopping power, making all opponents massive bullet sponges willing to just stand there and take it.

There's melee for when things invade your personal space, though it's just as ineffectual as firearms. A zombie can take ten stabs easily, shrug it off, and keep coming. Living opponents are even worse, as they'll just interrupt your attack with their own, starting an infinite melee chain that will simply destroy you -- something that happens more often than it should.

Speaking of which, dying is especially painful in Operation Raccoon City because, for some odd reason, when you restart at a checkpoint, you lose all equipment acquired up to that point. You're suddenly equipped with your generic starting gun, a few grenades and nothing else. So, if you want to keep using that awesome gun, or want some anti-viral spray to stave off your inevitable infection, don't die.

It's strange: I'm supposed to be a badass, part of Umbrella's elite cleanup crew, and yet I felt like the most powerless person in Operation Raccoon City. With every enemy easily taking dozens of bullets and asking for more, and my knife having the death-dealing prowess of a declawed kitten, the whole experience was pretty demoralizing.

Each character class is enhanced by passive and active support abilities, which are unlocked with experience points earned in the campaign and multiplayer. These abilities add some variety, but all of them essentially become pointless when you discover Vector, who has the two most useful skills in the game: invisibility and the ability to shape-shift into enemies.

As an experiment, I tried to get through a mission by just running through it, without the aid of Vector's invisibility skill. When that worked, I was pretty shocked -- as I reached a checkpoint, all the enemies I had encountered thus far simply disappeared. Vector's invisibility skill only made this tactic easier and more effective. Of course, I couldn't do this to get through the entire campaign, as some areas require players to stand and fight. Still, as Raccoon City started throwing out tougher enemies in greater numbers, I just used the invisibility to sneak past everyone and get to the next checkpoint.

Surprisingly, I was able to max out the invisibility upgrades after completing the very first mission, greatly increasing the duration of my invisibility. Or if you want, you could always shape-shift into a Spec Ops soldier, sneak behind enemy lines and throw a grenade to kill them all; go for it -- it's another very viable strategy. Sure, it's fun the first time, but the novelty of this approach wears thin pretty quickly.

A few online modes extend the experience, pitting players against each other in a variety of four-versus-four competitive match types. Heroes mode tasks two teams with killing the titular heroes on the other squad -- notable characters from the Resident Evil universe. This mode is bland and ultimately forgettable thanks to the enormous amount of health for each hero.

Survivor mode has eight players fighting AI zombies and enemies -- as well as each other -- in a closed area. After a few minutes, a helicopter lands and players rush to reach it for evac, though the game doesn't really do a good job of telling you where the helicopter is or when it lands. Plus, being one of the survivors doesn't really net you that much -- just a slight experience boost.

Biohazard mode is my favorite of Operation Raccoon City's multiplayer suite. This is a capture game mode, in which two teams race to grab G Virus samples and bring them back to home base. Zombies, Lickers and other enemies are in the middle of it all, interfering and adding a new dynamic to an otherwise very traditional game type. Unfortunately, with such a shoddy foundation at the core of Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, none of this really matters. Thanks to the assortment of weak weaponry and the overall clumsy gameplay, none of the modes feel like worthwhile, sustainable experiences.

Ultimately, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is everything I hoped it wouldn't be: a mediocre shooter hoping to be bolstered by the Resident Evil name. It takes what is arguably the series' best setting and wastes it, forcing players to plod through generic underground facilities and the occasional, oddly vacant street from one boring encounter to the next.

This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, provided by Capcom.

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