The Raccoon City Outbreak was the setting for the first three Resident Evil titles. An initial small outbreak at the Spencer Mansion was followed by a city-wide outbreak from which Leon Scott Kennedy, Claire Redfield and Jill Valentine had to escape. Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is a combination untold story and "what if?" alternate timeline. You follow the Wolfpack, a group of specialized mercenaries working for the evil Umbrella Corporation. The story begins when they, along with fan favorite HUNK, are tasked with stealing the G-Virus from William Birkin. Die-hard fans will recognize this as the start of the entire Raccoon City disaster. Later, Wolfpack is sent back to "clean up" Umbrella's messes, including eliminating any witnesses who can trace the incident back to Umbrella. It's a plot that mostly exists as an excuse to visit memorable Resident Evil locations. Fans won't get a lot of new info here, as this is just a trip back to some familiar locations to face some familiar bad guys.
Operation Raccoon City is structured much like a team-based military shooter, not unlike Slant Six's previous S.O.C.O.M titles. You take control of one of the members of Wolfpack, each with distinct active and passive abilities. Players can equip one of three active skills at the start of a match, but passive skills are always enabled. Bertha the Medic can equip Stimpack, which buffs her allies' attack speed and accuracy; Neutralize Infection, which can heal a T-Virus infection or damage enemies; or Painkiller, which reduces the damage an ally takes for a while. You can unlock new abilities or upgrade your current ones by spending experience points, which are character-specific. You'll have to start fresh if you change to a different character.
Characters are not balanced, so certain characters are ridiculously good while others are mediocre. There's clearly supposed to be a system where characters can counter one another, but it's awkward. Four Eyes, for example, gets a completely ridiculous loadout of skills. She can turn zombies and other monsters to her side or infect human enemies to turn them into monsters. This is so powerful that Four Eyes should constantly be on your team, and she'll probably outshine everyone around her. Things might be more balanced if you could bring more than one skill into a match, but one is the limit. If you're Bertha and want to use the Neutralize Infection skill, you have to give up pretty much every benefit you'd get from buffs in exchange for the slight hope that you'll save a friend once or twice. Even in competitive multiplayer, this limitation is way too harsh because the counters are not particularly equal.
What theoretically sets apart Operation Raccoon City from other military shooters is that it is set during a zombie outbreak. As such, you have three factions on the map: Umbrella's mercenaries, the U.S. Army and infected monsters. As Umbrella, you fight the army and monsters on a regular basis. Soldiers are far more lethal than monsters, but both can quickly kill you. It's a pretty neat idea, and in theory, there are a lot of ways you can exploit it. Shoot an enemy enough to make him bleed, and he'll be a target for every bloodthirsty ghoul around. Unfortunately, the game doesn't really play around with this idea. It feels like a regular competitive shooter, but there happen to be zombies and monsters around. That isn't to say it isn't cool when it works. When you can make a zombie hoard rush your enemy's position with a pheromone bomb, it's a really cool sequence. It just could have been fleshed out some more.
For the most part, the controls work in Operation Raccoon City, but there are some serious issues. First and foremost is that there are simply too many commands bound to too few buttons. There is no dedicated "cover" button, but you have to press up against cover and hope that your character decides to duck behind it. Sometimes he will, and sometimes he won't; sometimes, something that looks like it should be cover isn't, and sometimes, it is. This would be annoying at the best of times, but is extremely aggravating when you're under fire and take a bullet to the head because you thought you could dive behind that box and spent that extra second pressing against it. Diving for cover is also awkward. Instead of a simple roll/dive button, you have to click the analog stick and press A at the same time. By far the most annoying button-binding problem is reviving mechanic. To revive a downed ally, you stand over him and press A. You also press A to pick up a weapon off the ground. A downed ally will drop his weapon directly on top of the corpse. This means that it's a crapshoot if your character decides to revive a corpse or grab its weapon. Trying to rescue a downed ally while under enemy fire is almost suicide because you can't depend on the controls.
By far one of the biggest problems in Operation Raccoon City is that every enemy in the game appears to have evolved into a bullet sponge. While you have a variety of available weapons, almost all of them feel weak and pathetic because of every enemy you fight is quite durable. In theory, this is to emphasize teamwork, but in actuality, it makes combat lack reasonable impact. You can shoot at a Hunter or Licker for ages, and there is almost no feedback until it falls over dead. Even the infamous zombies seem too strong for their own good. At least the bullet-sponge nature of enemies like the Tyrant or Nemesis makes sense. Far more inexplicable is the time you come up against named human enemies who could put those Tyrants to shame. The more generic "Spec Ops" soldiers are less tedious to fight, but they turn the game into a generic shooter, and even they lack the same visceral impact of the weapons.
It may seem odd that I'm focusing on the impact, but it really does stand out. In Resident Evil 4 or Resident Evil 5, you had limited ammunition, but every shot had serious feedback. If it didn't, you knew you were up against something really nasty, or you were shooting the wrong place. In Operation Raccoon City, the only difference between hitting an enemy in the chest and hitting him in the weak point was that he seemed to go down slightly faster. At least zombies give a satisfying head explosion with a successful headshot. The emphasis was clearly supposed to be on human-versus-human battles, but those are the least interesting part of a Resident Evil title. If I wanted a good military shooter, there are countless better ones out there.
Speaking of the need for teamwork, this focus on bullet-sponge enemies is a large part of why nobody should attempt to take on this game in single-player. For all the problems that Sheva had in Resident Evil 5, she was a godsend compared to the idiocy of your AI partners in Operation Raccoon City. You can't depend on your AI allies. More often than not, my entire team would get slaughtered as it stood around helplessly while zombies munched on them, shot the wrong enemy, or walked into a wall until I left the room. This would be bad enough for a squad-based shooter, but for some reason, the developers couldn't figure out how to make the AI rescue you if you're downed. This is a problem because combat in Operation Raccoon City is lethal in multiple ways. It's very easy to die from a bullet, zombie bite, or infection, but you can't depend on your allies to revive you.
Despite the laundry list of complaints, Operation Raccoon City has some merit. If you can get a team of four people who communicate and work together, most of the complaints vanish. The bullet sponge enemies feel less so when you've got intelligent people working together to blast them. The awkward controls remain, but they feel less hindering when you're not carrying an unreasonable load. Many of the game's objectives and mechanics are clearly designed with the assumption that you've got four players with microphones working together. This is great if you have the kind of group who will get together regularly and play some Raccoon City. However, it also means that public groups can be intolerable if they try to do their own thing. Operation Raccoon City, unlike something like Left 4 Dead, just isn't something you can play with a bad team. The missions are too long, lethal and awkward to deal with uncommunicative players or AI partners. If you get a good team, it's a boatload of fun, and it's enough to make you overlook the frustrating elements that otherwise plague the game.
Competitive multiplayer comes in a few different types, but almost all pit Umbrella's Special Forces against U.S. Spec Ops. The coolest modes are Survivor and Biohazard. Survivor pits two teams against each other as they wait for a helicopter to arrive. The more times you die, the longer your respawn time. When the chopper finally arrives, both teams rush to get on it. The twist is that there are only four seats for eight players. Ideally, your goal is to get all four of the members of your team on the chopper, but for maximum point value and maximum experience gain, you have to survive. If one of the seats is already taken by an enemy, you may have to shoot your friend in the back to get a seat. It's an incredibly cool mechanic that lends itself well to assistance and betrayals. Biohazard is basically Capture the Flag, but it's good for the team-based nature of the game, and many of the abilities that otherwise seem worthless begin to shine. Other modes, such as the lackluster Heroes or the dull Team Attack, are not quite so fun, but they're a reasonable use of your time.
If I had to describe Operation Raccoon City in one word, it would be "dark." The game is extremely, ridiculously and immensely dark. One of the early missions involves blowing up the Raccoon City power plant, and the game is dark even before you take out the power. This is frustrating because, unlike Left 4 Dead, your characters have never learned about flashlights. This can lead to annoying blind fumbling around, forcing you to turn up your brightness to maximum just to avoid walking into a zombie in a dark room. When the game isn't dark, it looks reasonably nice. The characters and locations are instantly recognizable, although sometimes they look a bit weird and plastic. There are tons of nice little details and Resident Evil callbacks, which are sure to delight fans, and some of the locales are dripping with atmosphere. The audio is passable, although the voice acting is about as cartoonish as you'd expect from a Resident Evil game. Each character seems to have an atrocious accent, and the quips and dialogue are laughable.
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is a fun game that is simply buried under too much to be really great. It's undeniably fun when you can get four communicative players together, but beyond that, it's plagued by far too many problems to be worth your time. If you want cooperative zombie-killing action, there are many far superior games, so it's hard to figure out why you'd pick up Operation Raccoon City aside from the name. Left 4 Dead 2 offers much of the same competitive feel but with more visceral impact, more interesting set pieces, and better gameplay. Resident Evil die-hards will find a lot to like here, but everyone else should wait for Resident Evil 6.
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