• Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City Review - Microsoft Xbox360

    Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City takes the series back to its heyday. Set during the timeline of the original outbreak, players take on the role of a team of Umbrella security specialists tasked with cleaning up the mess that's been left behind. As a team based shooter with a heavy emphasis on the online element it makes for a marked departure from previous entries and manages to provide an excellent example of how to take a horror staple and turn it into an effective competitive experience without compromising the history of its roots.
    Now watch and learn Mr. Redfield, you want to be using guns, not uppercuts, when dealing with the highly infectious undead.
    Now watch and learn Mr. Redfield, you want to be using guns, not uppercuts, when dealing with the highly infectious undead.
    A lot of shooters feature some form of online multiplayer these days, but not a lot of them do something new with it. Stripping out a few locations from the single player and cramming in the same tired modes that everyone has been playing for the last decade and a half just doesn't cut it. Making a high quality competitive environment can take far more work than goes into crafting many of the single player campaigns out there and the meticulous interaction of every element is crucial to ensuring an online title's longevity. It's that core balance and adjustment of all the variables under the hood that makes for a great multiplayer experience, with the depth to maintain its community over the long term, and Operation Raccoon City is a perfect example of how to do this right.

    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 times like this, you can guarantee someone on the enemy team has a bead on you.
    At times like this, you can guarantee someone on the enemy team has a bead on you.
    The end result is a situation where you have to be constantly aware of your surroundings, always checking the side passages for ambushes and pushing forward, staying mobile at all times. You don't just have to worry about the enemy dispersal but also take into account the ebb and flow of the AI movements, taking advantage of their layout at that exact moment to give you a tactical advantage in the field. Umbrella's creations can also be used as a tool over which you can wield some degree of influence. It opens up a whole array of strategies and tactics that you just don't get in other games and which require a more dynamic analysis during play. Raccoon City's multiplayer is a predatory experience; stalking your prey and waiting for the right moments. Zombies can be used as cover because player models can be hard to distinguish from them in the dark, they can grab players leaving them open to attack whilst being fended off and can also be used to earn more points should a player be left bleeding by an assailant and end up finished off by the undead horde.

    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.
    Headshots are essential to survival.
    Headshots are essential to survival.
    It can't be overstressed what a big difference the high population count makes, you really have to hunt for your enemies and then when you find them it's more a case of properly planning your ambush, rather than jumping in guns blazing. So while the Team Attack mode's name may sound generic, this could not be further from the truth. Barring the tedium of the Viral Cannister mode, which just turns into a drawn out tug of war, the other offerings are also equally strong.

    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.
    See Rhodes, they can be trained...
    See Rhodes, they can be trained...
    Survivor mode is still a team based affair but each time you kill an opposing team member their respawn timer increases. At the end of the round an escape helicopter appears with four spaces for the eight players and everyone fights over it. Scoring wise the helicopter nets the escaping players an experience points bonus but doesn't factor heavily into the team's overall score and as such isn't a big determiner in deciding the winning team. On the upside it provides an interesting mechanic as you see your team's alliance dissolve at the end of the round but at the same time it doesn't quite sit right flow-wise with the previous stage of the game.

    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.
    Running would be a VERY good idea.
    Running would be a VERY good idea.
    There's a good variety of locations on offer with graveyards and hospitals mixed in with destroyed city streets and underground labs. The pace is kept pretty consistent throughout, but the action is repetitive in nature. As a solo experience this can make Raccoon City feel a little hollow in places, usually during the downtime between the more individual set pieces. The storyline is still involving, there's some decent setups and boss fights (you are guaranteed a good time whenever the Nemesis is on screen) but when playing without human allies and the harder difficulty setting it doesn't quite capture the excitement level of the online competitive play. The dialogue is particularly well done though, with both your teammates' and Umbrella management's voices literally dripping with menace. Couple this with their intimidating aesthetics and it makes for a breath of fresh air as you mow down the good guys and cover up the company's loose ends.

    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.
    Good times.
    Good times.
    As an offline game you're going to get a reasonable, if at times somewhat flat, third person shooter. But the sheer scope of the online battles, with large levels chock full of combatants, be they players or AI, makes for a managed chaotic feel that you won't really find anywhere else. Raccoon City poses new challenges and scenarios to experienced competitive shooter players, offering a unique and very dynamic style of play, one that captures the atmosphere and environments of the campaign mode perfectly. It's a bold, engaging move that provides the first decent multiplayer Resident Evil title since the Outbreak games back on the PlayStation 2 and one that could easily stand on its own two feet in the online space without the license behind it.
    Operation Raccoon City boxshot.
    Third person shooter
    Slant Six Games
    Xbox 360
    -Hectic, varied versus modes.
    -Four player campaign.
    -Balanced levelling system.
    -Well connected map design.
    -Single player can feel flat.
    -Lack of campaign diversity.

    Score: 8/10