The biggest problem the Resident Evil series had for maybe four or five years was its inability to progress beyond the Raccoon City disaster, the zombie outbreak that formed the background for Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3. After Code Veronica in early 2000, the series simply recycled its old plots for several years, setting new games either in Raccoon City or showing some unseen part of the "mansion incident" before burning the entire thing to the ground in 2005 with RE4. Even after that, they've still managed to revisit Raccoon City in the two Chronicles rail shooters for the Wii. Now here we are, back again, in the middle of our favorite apocalypse.
Operation Raccoon City is an "alternate continuity" game, as Capcom describes it. In the wake of the virus spill that began the Raccoon City disaster — the release of the T-Virus, a mutagenic virus that turns humans into zombies — the megacorporation Umbrella sent in several groups of heavily armed mercenaries. Some were in the city to rescue civilians or protect Umbrella's interests; others were there to destroy crucial information or assassinate certain people.
In Resident Evil 3, we saw that most of those mercenaries got wiped out, either by the zombies or by each other. In Operation Raccoon City, however, you're playing as members of the Umbrella Special Service, an elite squad that's specifically in the city to eliminate witnesses and destroy crucial information.
ORC is a four-player, third-person shooter from the developers of the SOCOM series, complete with drop-out (but apparently not drop-in) online co-op. You play as one of six members of the USS, each of whom has unique abilities. As examples, Lupo, the team leader, is an assault specialist, who can boost her damage output for short periods of time, or turn on infinite ammo for a few seconds and murder everything she sees. Four-Eyes is a field scientist and can either drop a chemical that attracts all zombies and mutants to a given location or hit a bioweapon — including a Tyrant, if the skill's icon is any indication — with a chemical dart that turns it friendly to the team for a little while.
The past RE games set in Raccoon City have mostly emphasized resource conservation and horror. ORC doesn't. Apparently one of the reasons why ammunition was so scarce in RE2 and RE3 is that the USS used it all up.
In the E3 demo, you could select one of two character-specific abilities, and then load up with a pistol and a long gun — assault rifle, heavy machine gun, shotgun or SMG — before entering the field. Ammunition was very easy to come by, and each new area usually had a couple of herbs, a stockpile of bullets or a couple of extra grenades to pick up.
On the other hand, ORC just doesn't let up. The zombies are everywhere, and more are constantly shambling into the area. They don't do a lot of damage, but they can knock off a little health while you're not looking. The real problems are Hunters, Lickers and the U.S. Special Forces, any two of which are usually in any given area. The Hunters can soak up a ridiculous amount of punishment, the Lickers are fast and difficult to stop, and the Special Forces often have sniper support.
It's difficult to make any real statements about the game's difficulty or gameplay just from an E3 build, but a lot of people who sat down to play it got torn up. I only played it for a bit, but I reached a particularly difficult section where, upon emerging into a parking lot, I was under direct fire from the Special Forces at the same time a Hunter was rushing my position. It didn't go well for me.
The zombies, as well as the various viruses loose in the city, have a certain degree of tactical utility. It wasn't available in the E3 build, but you can reportedly take zombies as "human shields," letting them take bullets for you. You can also deliberately wound human opponents, as a bleeding character drives nearby zombies and mutants into a frenzy of hunger, forcing them to exclusively target that character. Taking multiple hits from certain enemies may also infect your character with the T-Virus, and if you don't counteract it with an antiviral spray or Bertha's abilities as the team medic, you may turn into a zombie.
Multiplayer modes include deathmatch and a capture-the-flag sort of game, with both sides fighting over possession of a sample of the G-Virus. One team takes the role of the USS, while the other is the U.S. Special Forces. This wasn't available on the E3 floor.
A minor controversy regarding ORC arose when early interviews and one of the first trailers both indicated that you would, over the course of the game, be able to hunt down and kill characters from the main game. In fact, the E3 demo even begins when the USS troops witness the multicar pile-up that starts off Resident Evil 2; upon seeing Leon Kennedy's RPD uniform, the mercenaries decide to take out Leon.
Naturally, this is something that's on most people's minds when they talk about ORC, and it was one of the first things I asked Capcom's producers about at E3. According to them, not only has the relative importance of Leon's death been overstated — hunting and killing the past protagonists of the series isn't the entire point of the game — but they deliberately set out to make ORC an alternate continuity for just this reason.
There are a lot of questions remaining about Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, and Capcom's being very cagey about it so far. Right now, all I can tell you is that as third-person shooters go, this one's unforgiving and bloody. It's aimed at a very different audience than the typical Resident Evil fan, and it may have a certain degree of crossover appeal.
More articles about Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City