The last few Resident Evil games have been merely appetizers for the upcoming Resident Evil 6, and Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City isn't any different.
You're an elite squad of Umbrella operatives. Sent in to clean up the disaster that Raccoon City has become since the 'incident'. You've got certain goals to achieve, the undead to dispose of and a rogue military force that is trying to get to certain 'things' before you. On top of all this, you have to contend with major experiments that have gotten loose in the city.
Not a bad storyline.
Old School and some New School = Confusing Classes
Slant Six Games had a great idea, initially. They were going to take an old school, multiplayer arcade concept and apply it to a series that needs some flavoring. On top of this, they wanted the players to play as the antagonist rather than protagonist. Interesting conceptional structure, to say the least. So, when you start the game you can choose from a variety of different characters that bring their own special abilities to the table. If you can picture what Capcom's devs did with Lost Planet 2, then it's pretty much the same concept. So, you can choose from characters that are medics, surveillance, recon, field scientist, assault, and demolition. Each one brings a different attribute to the table and each one has their own set of unlockables that make them a more valuable asset. Again, it's really like Lost Planet 2, which isn't a bad thing.
That's where the Lost Planet 2 comparison ends and the old school 'arcade' feeling is supposed to kick in, and it does to an extent. You feel like you're part of a team that must work together to get the multiple jobs in the game finished. The game treats you like you're in a four-player arcade game by sending a relentless amount of enemies at you from the moment you hit the ground. It forces you to stay together and work together as a team to survive the onslaught. The initial arcade design of the game is very embedded and I'm happy they did something like this with the Resident Evil series. It makes complete sense to have this type of game within the Resident Evil universe.
While the concept is very solid, and appropriate, the execution of the design is extremely flawed and bland. For example, when you're playing the campaign mode, the first level you run into is a straight up firefight with another military group. Sounds fine, right? Well, the game is incredibly linear to the point where you're frustration kicks in quickly. The first part of the first mission has your team running down a set of stairs into a firefight, only to become restricted from going all the way down the stairs to battle the other group. The game throws up knee-high walls at the top of each stairway, which you can't jump over, and forces you to fight from the stairs. Don't get me wrong, the fighting isn't that difficult, but why the restriction? What's the point? It makes no sense, but as soon as you dispose of the other group the walls come down.
You might say after reading that, "So? This is an arcade game, as you just said, not your typical run of the mill action. There should be stop and go action sequences because arcade games are like that; see G.I. Joe for an example."
You would think so, but later in the game that notion changes. For example, when you have to go extract a sample from one of the Umbrella creatures in a lab, all hell breaks loose. You have the infected folks and 'other creatures I won't describe or mention' coming at you from all directions. You would assume that maybe, for consistency sake, Slant Six Games would do the same trickery of restricting progression. That isn't the case here. You can do a full sprint to the multiple checkpoints and just completely find a way out without having to do much, if any battling. What's sad, is that you can do that for about three levels beyond that level. What's even sadder, is that the cutscene is activated upon reaching the end of a level and the action behind you suddenly disappears. It's like it never happened, and your team is instantly transported to your location at the end (literally, they reappear in a green flash with you). Again, this happens multiple times and doesn't stay consistent with the earlier levels.
Granted, I couldn't find anyone in the public sector to play the campaign with me, so I was relying on NPC during my campaign stint and the rules might be different when you're playing with actual living and breathing players. Still, the same rules should apply regardless if it's NPC or human beings.
So, I can maybe forgive the linear and preventive nature of this game due to the construct of it as an 'arcade' experience, but having the ability to just run through levels touching checkpoints until you get to the end is very inexcusable. There should be motivation to stop and fight, as well as restrictions if you're going by standard 'arcade action' rules. This isn't a race from Track and Field.
What's also inexcusable is the imbalance of enemies. You will find the same repetitive enemies throughout the entire game. You will also find enemies popping up where enemies shouldn't be popping up. In between those, you will find strong bosses that are tough as nails to take out. Let's begin with the repeating factors first.
Wait, I've seen that guy before. And that girl. And that other girl. Did I start over again?
There is a set number of infected (whatever you want to call them, they still look like zombies to me). You will find a cop, suave gentleman in a white suit, a bald 'Moby-esque' dude, a woman in a workout suit, a homely house mom and that's about it. All of these enemies show up again and again and again throughout the entire game. They're in a hospital, out on the streets, in graveyards, in the Raccoon police station, in the Umbrella factory -- always dressed the same way. It's sickening that the dev team couldn't have changed the clothes at least once or twice to match the environment. Hell, why not make them somewhat nude in the lab scenes? It would sort of make sense. While I'm not going to outright assume this, I will say that better effort should have been made on the team's part to make this game feel like it wasn't repetitive. It couldn't have been that difficult to change clothing on an already established models. It possibly could have been a coding nightmare, but maybe not? They should have changed this aspect of the game up just a bit.
With that said, the location of said enemies was sometimes baffling. For example, there is a mission in the campaign mode that requires you to take down Raccoon City's electrical grid, which would basically kill the power in the entire city. While doing so, you encounter military resistance, which makes the mission a firefight and a half. On top of those enemies showing up, straight from a closet area (it doesn't have any doors inside, so it's a closet), out of nowhere you get a wave of infected trying to eat you. The waves just magically show up out of nowhere, possibly the same set of closets as the soldiers, and it simply doesn't make sense. True, you can go back to the 'arcade' point and then say that's logical, but if you're trying to make a compelling story and set your characters appropriately within that story, then you can't simply just make things appear without rhyme or reason. Nothing was built up, no warning was given to make you think enemies are coming. Rather they just simply showed up. One of the more frightening aspects of the Resident Evil games is the creepy 'what's behind that door' feel that you get from the series. It's that moment where you know that door in the room, with the banging, is going to unleash a massive amount of enemies at any given moment. That feeling never arose, and there was an opportunity for it in many instances, including the one above. And the oddly placed waves of enemies seemed just that, odd.
There is a moment where the game throws weird enemies at you that shouldn't 'be there'. For example, in one of the first missions of the game, you're trying to make your way through and then out of a hospital. When you go through it you run into a variety of lovely infected (yes, the same ones), which is fine. When you kick it in reverse and work your way out of it, you find yourself face-to-face with two Hunters. Hunters that have no reason to be there. There were no signs of Hunters, no signs of experiments for Hunters; they are simply just there for no real reason at all. What's even funnier, is that once you get beyond those Hunters you don't run into another pair for a very long time. It was as if they just appeared to make life difficult, and then they're gone. Again, no reason for 'being there', they simply are 'just there'. You will find several examples of that type of enemy placement as you go through the campaign.
All my complaints in this section really just boil down to one big complaint: messy design. By having random waves of enemies and oddly placed baddies, it's as if the dev team just wanted to fill up some space and hope for some horror to appear. That shouldn't be the way it's done, at least not for Resident Evil. RE games in the past were meticulous about enemy placement. The giant alligator in RE4 gave you a taste before the meal arrived. You were always warned in some fashion or another, and the placement of enemies always made sense in the past titles.
To end this section, let's talk about AI.
The AI of the enemies is what you would expect from an RE game. The lower class infected are less violent, even when they are fast-moving carriers, which makes them easy targets for wasting bullets. Their bodies react appropriately to the area they are shot in, and they can be easily 'de-headed' with an accurately placed shot. This is what you would expect from a Resident Evil game.
The mid-level enemies are appropriately structured as well. They're a bit smarter, a lot more erratic and deadly if you're cornered. For example, Hunters will kill you quicker than you can say Milla Jovovich. They should be deadly and quick, as they've been that way for years in the series. They will avoid getting hit, if possible and are far more confrontational than the lower class infected.
The bosses are a mix bag of nuts. The first boss you encounter you can't kill. Run. Run. Run. Don't worry, I'm not spoiling it for you, your team will encourage you to run like hell. You should follow those orders immediately. The second boss is sorta of easy to take care of, though you will require help from your team to fully take them down. The one reoccurring boss, which is baffling, is a Russian field agent who is working for another 'organization'. He is baffling.
SPOILER ALERT - BEGINS
There is a point in the game where you make it out of an area and end up in the front of a large building. This Russian man sits on the second level of this building continually trying to snipe your team. I spent about 20 minutes trying to take this guy out with multiple head shots, body shots and grenades, but to no avail. The (bleeper) survived it all and your team basically is ordered to continue the mission at hand, and stop wasting time with him.
That is one of the most unsatisfying moments in the game. Not to mention, he continually goes through a pattern of putting his face/body in the window frame so you can shoot him. He does this non-stop. How this man doesn't have major lead poisoning by the end of the scene is beyond me.
Again, very unsatisfying for the amount of effort you're going to go through.
SPOILER ALERT - ENDS
For the most part, the AI is on par with most RE titles of the series. You will find moments, like the spoiler one, where you just can't understand why something is so repetitive, and still alive.
Enemies aside, the NPC AI is bipolar at best. There are moments where your team really helps you out, and then there are moments where your team is just sitting around waiting for you to go 'Rambo' on the entire lot of enemies. This is probably one of the more broken portions of the game. You would probably have better luck with 'real' players than with the NPC. It would certainly make you hate the experience less.
Other aspects of REORC
One of the aspects of the game that holds true to the series, and something I really appreciated, was the variety of weapons and the availability of ammo. While I can't say that finding the ammo was particularly fun (you have to look around for cases, small boxes of it and ammo drops from infected enemies -- why would enemies carry ammo when they don't carry guns?), but it was out there and it's available when you need it.
The weapons are nicely scattered from fallen military enemies or just some properly placed weaponry in certain locations. So, if you end up taking down military folks, you can pick up (exchange) their weapon for yours. You won't find that backpack crap in this game, which resides in most RE titles. You don't have to imagine yourself carrying a shotgun, rifle, handgun, etc. You can have two main weapons, and a variety of grenade-like options (flashbangs, incendiary, and regular). You will be armed, your ammo will be limited, but you have options.
One aspect of the game that needs work is the controls. Buttons on the controller have multiple uses. This can get in the way, especially in heated moments of battle. For example, should you want to pick something up on the run, because their are countless infected folks running after you, the option is completely unavailable in REORC. You have to stop, pick up the item and then pray there is enough space between you and the enemy. If you try to pick up an item while running, you will go into a dive, which is probably counterproductive to what you want. It absolutely is unacceptable that this is the case and I can't tell you how many times I've accidentally dove onto the ground instead of quickly picking up a green plant. It was one of many frustrating aspects of the controls.
The other aspect, which really ticked me off, is how you hide behind walls and how you interact with objects.
First, hiding behind a wall means you have to shove your character against it, press A and then it hides. You can't just run into hiding position. It's frustrating to try and it's even more frustrating to get constantly shot while you're trying to break for cover. It's like a less refined version of the Gears of War duck and cover. It's quite bad.
As for the interacting with objects, you have to be dead on the object to interact with it. For example, during the electric grid stage I was discussing earlier, there was a green plant on top of a piece of machinery. I had to stop my character, target the green plant almost perfectly before the controls or system recognized it. Same when I was planting an EMP on a generator in the same stage. I had to focus on one part of the generator (a particularly small portion of it) and then plant the EMP. There is pretty much no 'give' in object retrieval or placement in this game.
One of the final parts I want to discuss on the game is how you can play with folks online. Since playing Konami's X-Men (the arcade game) and The Simpsons, I've always loved the ability to play with actual people/friends online in an arcade fashioned game. This is probably one of the better aspects to Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, and might be the only reason you decide to purchase this game. The Campaign mode allows for you to play online with the public and in co-op mode (which is brilliant). You can also play various other styles of online play with the Versus option, which includes the following game modes:
Team Attack - Creatures and enemy players are the target. Most posts or the team that reaches the point limit wins.
Biohazard - Picture capture the flag, except instead of a flag you have to retrieve the G-virus. basically the same concept.
Heroes - This one will win the RE crowd over. You get to play as classic RE hero characters. Who ever is left standing (on teams) will win.
Survivor - Infected creatures attack. Survive until a helicopter shows up.
Again, this might be the selling point, as it's far more entertaining than dealing with the campaign mode. Of course, if you do co-op with a friend in campaign mode then you may enjoy it a bit more.