|Now watch and learn Mr. Redfield, you want to be using guns, not uppercuts, when dealing with the highly infectious undead.|
The main ingredient that sets this release apart from the pack is its three-way combat. There are two teams of players as usual, but in between them there is also a small army of bio-organic weapons. You have armoured zombies, rock-hard Hunters, jumping Lickers and even the massive Tyrant bosses all lumbering around, all of which are integral to making this such an engaging, deep, competitive experience. Take the bog standard Team Attack mode; kill the enemy players without dieing yourself. Everyone is familiar with this setup from countless first and third-person shooters but here it plays utterly uniquely because while taking out many of these AI creatures is well within the scope of most player's abilities, aiming down the sights massively restricts your vision, leaving you open to ambushes from the side and rear. So if you try to stand still and camp various areas of the map the AI will creep up on you and take you down. Meanwhile, if you get too involved in fighting them your muzzle flashes will easily give away your position to the human enemies and they can shred you to pieces while you are otherwise pre-occupied.
At the same time these bio-organic weapons can be a useful sources of points themselves. Hunters are worth the same as human enemies, and while zombies may be worth very little, it can all add up and this throws in an interesting dynamic where the sudden appearance of a high value monster can see your priorities immediately re-evaluated. These elements combine to make for very adaptive, varied games. There's a whole bunch of other nice touches too, players are rewarded for healing each other and the class based system meshes nicely ensuring players can ably support each other with varied, unique abilities that don't force the team to shadow each other in order to work effectively as a unit. The level designs are mostly excellent in terms traversal routes with plenty of interconnected paths and ambush points and the high degree of darkness makes for a very atmospheric feel. Dashing between crashed cars and glowing flares, dodging the attacks of zombies as you try to catch up with a human you just saw cut across the street feels so immersive it's like a scripted event from a single player campaign. There's a decent variety between closer ranged combat and somewhat more open areas ensuring that despite the constant threat of the zombie masses there's also still a degree of level specific customisation and behaviour going on. While there is an experience points system that unlocks weapons and abilities, thankfully you'll more than level this up over the course of a few single player levels such that everyone is on an even footing when it comes to competitive play.
Heroes casts each player in the role of a famous character from the series, they feature the same abilities as the normal classes but paired in different combinations. Once you die you respawn as one of the generic roles and the winning team is the one with the last hero left standing. It's a far more interesting take on the usual protect the VIP setup because you absolutely have to play aggressively with your VIPs when you have the numbers advantage. Starting off as full out assaults the game almost resets itself after the dust settles from the first firefight, the landscape completely shifted and the losing side adopting a much more defensive posture, pulling back across the board. Should the numbers swing back the other way then the roles become reversed. This isn't a game for sticking one player in the back of the base while all the others repeatedly throw themselves on the enemy's defences in a war of attrition, everyone has to get involved the whole time. It's high paced, edge of the seat stuff and you have to keep your wits about you constantly when in the hero role.
Raccoon City does feature a decent length story campaign, with the player taking on the role of the bad guys for a change. Playing as Umbrella special forces, up to four players can work their way through the game which encompasses a variety of levels, some of which will be familiar to series fans, as they hunt down characters from the past, fix up rogue bio-weapons and generally try to stay alive and hide Umbrella's involvement in the disaster. The developers have concentrated their efforts on the core experience so its stock third person shooting action the whole way through, no vehicle sections, QTEs or anything overly bombastic. As you move through the locales play alternates between stand up fights with infected and three-sided battles when units of Special Forces get thrown into the chaos, with a roughly equal mixture of both play styles.
Once other players are thrown into the mix, however, the campaign really picks up. As with the versus modes at the end of each level you are graded according to a variety of individual criteria including how helpful you were to teammates, how often you died and so on. This adds a nice competitive element as certain categories such as number of kills and finding pieces of evidence can only be acquired at the expense of your allies' scores, adding a cutthroat element that meshes well with the character types as presented in the storyline. The designers have done a good job at keeping the horror elements of the franchise intact despite now being in possession of a devastating arsenal of full automatic weaponry, with ammunition now readily on tap. The darkness and ambience of the levels add a lot to this but it's the closed in aiming camera, plentiful ambush points and multiple adversary groups go a long way to keeping the threat level high without trampling all over the series' history.