Saturday, June 02, 2012

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City Review

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, developed by Slant Six Games and published by Capcom.
The Good: Online cooperative and competitive play with multiple modes, nice variety of weapons and abilities, frequent objective waypoints, zombie and military opponents to contend with
The Not So Good: Woeful AI, terrible interface not adapted for the PC, really short linear and repetitive campaign lacks manual saves, obstructive third person view, uninspired graphics
What say you? A cooperative zombie survival game with significant faults: 3/8

I’m not that familiar with the Resident Evil series (being a PC-only gamer), but apparently it involves Milla Jovovich being in skin-tight leather and doing….something…it really doesn’t matter as long as Milla Jovovich is in skin-tight leather. The survival horror game series has had a large number of installments, appearing annually in one form or another since 1996. A fork of the series has appeared in the form of Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, adapting the setting to a cooperative zombie adventure, in the vein of Left 4 Dead. Does Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City operate successfully in a city of rabid mammals?

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City features generally bland, gloomy graphic design. It starts with the levels, which can contain some memorable elements (city hall, a gas station, a hospital) but more often than not are just a collection of hallways with doors that zombies burst out of. The poorly detailed textures and sporadically empty rooms don’t help to increase the immersion. The character models have poor animations and blocky weapon design. Zombie deaths aren’t gory enough (most limbs are missing before you fill them with hot lead) and fire is simply passable. The third person camera view is also too close to your character, obscuring a significant portion of the screen. Overall, I was generally unimpressed by the graphics featured in the game. Sounds consist of understated zombie effects, typical battle chaos, stereotypical and repetitive voice acting, and generic music. I certainly felt Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City falls short of its $50 price tag in terms of the presentation.

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City has you patrolling the streets of Raccoon City, eliminating those who oppose whatever evil corporation you work for and shooting some zombies along the way. The campaign mode can be played cooperatively by enabling the option when you start or resume (or joining others that are in progress). Clocking in at twenty minutes a piece, the campaign consists of seven missions; you can do the math and figure out how long the campaign takes to complete (two to three hours). The linear level design rarely features alternate paths and cuts down on replay value; the scripted events also become tiresome the second time through. I also noticed a distinct lack of raccoons. You can’t pause your game (ostensibly because of the mandatory inclusion of cooperative play) or save your progress, a significant problem in longer missions. Games for Windows LIVE also rears its ugly head yet again, requiring too many steps to join a game, segregating people too much by difficulty level or online game mode, lacking a server browser to see what people are playing, and saying my install was corrupt if I chose to place the game into a custom directory (it took me three install attempts to figure that one out). All that said, the competitive modes Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City offers can be enjoyable, although all center around the same idea: you are competing against another team of four for kills, items, or escape on a helicopter (get to the choppa!!!), while having to contend with zombies that attack both sides. This provided some light fun once I was able to find a game to join buried within all the menu choices, although the sheer chaos of most games, coupled with really annoying melee attacks, removed some tactical .

The interface is downright terrible, constantly referring to gamepad-specific controls, which makes it really hard to learn the obscure control scheme Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City employs. There is a handy listing of grenades, first aid spray, and antiviral spray icons in the bottom left: useful, right? Except the display never says which keys to press to use any of those items, just which direction to press on the gamepad you are not using. The default controls just crowd everything on the left side of the keyboard, using obscure choices like the left control key for using abilities and the “C” key for quick time events (of course there are quick time events). Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City also disables the mouse wheel for selecting different weapons, instead relying on the number keys for some reason. A lot of time was spent changing around the controls to something more PC-friendly, and even then limitations on what you could change greatly hindered the enjoyment of controlling the game.

As you complete campaign or competitive matches, you gain experience you can use to unlock weapons and abilities. There are six classes in the game, each with three active (one of which you can use per game) and two passive (both of which can be used if unlocked) abilities: assault gets incendiary rounds and more damage, the surveillance soldier can detect nearby enemies, recon gets a motion detector, the medic class can reheal allies, the field scientist can attract zombies and view infected, and the demolition man can place trip mines and wear blast armor. The experience cost for unlocking new abilities is not very high: after a handful of online matches or campaign missions, you can have one active ability unlocked in each class. You can upgrade abilities with more experience as well, sticking with the class you like the most. Weapon upgrades, however, are much more expensive, divided into several groups: assault rifles (burst, militia, heavy, suppressed), submachine guns (tactical, mini, suppressed), machine guns (light, heavy), shotgun (pump action, assault, riot), and sniper rifles (precision, semi automatic). The differences between weapons of the same type isn’t dramatic, but at least the guns are not class specific, which is nice. In levels where you fight a lot of military, numerous weapons can be picked up from fallen enemies, but zombie-heavy levels usually result in running out of ammo quickly, as it takes an inordinate amount of bullets to bring down even the most basic zombie. Grenades are usually better options for taking out large groups, as you must be conservative with your ammo.

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City wants you to use cover (based on the number of armed and zombie enemies you’ll encounter), and the cover system to be easy to use: just approach any flat object and you’ll immediately duck behind it without having to press any additional buttons. Of course, this means you might end up behind cover without actually wanting to be, but that problem usually didn’t result in immediate death from my experience. Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City features both zombies and military opposition, which might have been an interesting mix if Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City didn’t have such terrible AI. The computer opposition is so clearly dumb from the outset, and the only challenge is the sheer number of enemies and the limited amount of ammunition the game provides. The AI fails to use cover effectively (typically leaving a significant portion of their body in the open), routinely turns it back to you, and ignores your presence too often. While these behaviors are acceptable for a zombie, they are not for a supposedly highly-trained military operative. Teammates aren’t any help either, getting shot, surrounded, or going off on their own, making the single player campaign something to avoid. For difficulty, the game simply throws a lot of enemies at you, instead of relying on “advanced” maneuvers like flanking or returning fire.

Left 4 Dead this is not. Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City fails in two main areas: AI and the interface. When the zombie AI is more convincing than the enemy soldier AI, whatever small amount of immersion you had is immediately lost. Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City features some of the dumbest enemies I’ve encountered in quite a while; while this can be expected for mindless zombies, the intelligence of the enemy soldiers never even approaches the bar set by, say, Half-Life (which came out in 1998). The AI shortcomings effectively ruin the campaign, coupled with the linear level design and scripted enemy encounters that reduce replay value. On top of that, the campaign is outrageously short (two to three hours) for a $50 game. I like the idea of having to fight both hordes of zombies and armed enemy soldiers, but the executing is definitely lacking. Competitive online play is more enjoyable than the cooperative campaign mode, where you not only have to contend with zombies but with enemy human players as well, but these diversions aren’t enough to carry a full-priced title. The problems continue with the control scheme: a restrictive third person view is bad enough, but coupling it with an uninformative, console-driven interface is double trouble. I simply could not keep the controls straight, as the on-screen interface fails to tell you which unintuitive keys are used for individual items (but does note the appropriate directions to press on a gamepad). The graphics are underwhelming at best, however, and signify development geared towards inferior hardware. Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City isn’t all bad news, as the game features a large range of weapons and abilities that are unlocked fairly quickly with experience, but this is a lone highlight in a game dominated by mediocrity. Despite the inherent appeal of a known license, I would much rather fire up Left 4 Dead 2 again than play a console port with bad AI, short and linear campaign, and an unmodified interface. Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City feels more like a $20 experiment than a $50 product.