Video Game Review: Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City
Is This Game Garbage?
A video game review Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City
By: Lawrence Napoli
A little while ago, my crew of gaming and pop culture experts came together in a podcast to discuss the best video games of 2011, and how 2012’s lineup was apparently going to blow its predecessor away. Well, you know what they say in regards to “the best laid plans of mice and men,” right? Ninja Gaiden 3, the next chapter in a very popular series of ninja-action games has fallen flat on its face for having a completely irrelevant story and virtually no challenge. Mass Effect 3 has sold an insane amount of copies, but this has led to a larger pool of passionate fans polishing their axes and pitchforks to lay siege to the offices of BioWare for concluding an epic fiction with one of the most controversially disappointing endings of all time. This brings us to Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City or ORC, and I must remind the reader how this game was just about the hottest destination at this past year’s New York Comic Con. The demo was brief, the booth was small and the line was long, but the game was fun; it was set in the Resident Evil universe and it featured the 4 player co-op slaughter of zombies.
Fast forward to today, and the “full” game has not exactly hit the ball out of the park with critics and consumers. What went wrong with this game? What has been going wrong with 2012? Have our expectations of worth in games swelled to such galactic proportions that “good” or “ok” games should all be mercilessly curb-stomped, and the studios that created them sent directly to bankruptcy hell? I’m one of the worst people to play devil’s advocate in regards to the overburdening “higher standard,” as I frequently demand it in my film reviews, and specifically refer to Hollywood’s ever degrading standards as the sole reason why video games will one day replace movies as the dominant media entertainment art form. People crave entertainment, and with limited resources, normal people cannot indulge in everything — which is why I write. I provide the service of suggestion as passionately as I can in hopes of describing something that resonates with the reader not to make up his or her mind, but to highlight the good and the bad in everything. That being said, ORC has no shortage of both.
ORC is a game that attempts to recapture the lightning in the bottle that was Capcom’s first 3 entries in the series for the PSX that revolved around the Raccoon City incident which introduced the world to a man-made zombie apocalypse. Resident Evil’s 1, 2 and 3 all involved gruesome tales of survival, betrayal, conspiracy and horror that spawned a rabid fan base, a series of novels and a somewhat successful film saga. As convoluted as many of the plot points have been in every game, it remains an ever intriguing story driven forward by an incredibly diverse cast of interesting characters that sets men and women of action against the corporate/new world order agents of chaos. ORC has absolutely none of these story elements at work for itself.
ORC is a really expensive “what if” production inspired by Resident Evil, but is in no way connected to the gaming fiction’s canon. The events of ORC explore the Raccoon City incident of the late 1990s from the perspective of the antagonists: one of Umbrella’s highly trained team of spec-ops mercenaries charged with eliminating all incriminating evidence of the corporation’s involvement with the murder of an entire city’s populace. I must admit that this starting point had all kinds of potential, but this lackluster tale of “fetch this,” “dodge that,” “kill this,” and “destroy that,” couldn’t have been delivered by a blander cast of characters. Sure, the spec-ops team all look cool in their black combat suits and night vision masks, but there is no variance to any of them beyond what you see. These mercs could be robots, and it wouldn’t make one bit of difference to the player. Heck, they could even be really smart zombies. Point is, there’s a whole lot of blah, blah, blah in ORC that any attempt at a story is met with immediate annoyance on the part of the player because nothing is really at stake, none of the characters really care, and it seems fitting because the only interesting thing going on the entire time is killing zombies. You would think people in a fictional zombie apocalypse would be more emotionally vested in actually surviving.
As yet another 3rd person, cover based shooter, ORC does nothing exceptionally well or anything egregiously wrong in regards to its controls. Shooting guns is really fun as there is a noticeable difference in firing pistols vs. rifles vs. shotguns vs. SMG’s. Effective range for each weapon type is vital to progressing through the game especially at higher difficulty levels, so don’t expect to be pulling off many headshots from a mile away with a shotty. Aiming, however, is not quite as satisfying. Once the player tightens in for precision, shifting the crosshairs tends to get a tad blocky which might be the result of lag, but more likely inadequate frame rate. Tossing grenades is a bit of a disappointment because there is no indication of a throwing arc to gauge where the explosives will actually land. Aiming and then throwing results in a general landing zone, but doesn’t take low ceilings or obstructions into account, and often results in grenade tosses that bounce back in your face. Melee attacks have been significantly downgraded in terms of speed and power that I witnessed in the demo at Comic Con. Still, learning the proper timing of CQC chaining into brutal kills is quite fun, but requires trial and error because there is no ability to lock on to targets, so “aiming” your knife attacks works in tandem with the movement analog stick.
General navigation is not crisp. Sure, this is the first Resident Evil to solve the inability to shoot while moving conundrum, but that doesn’t mean movement amounts to a victory here. Sprinting is fairly responsive, but changing course mid-sprint requires an all out stop, redirect and re-sprint in a safer direction. The volume of threats on the screen will require a healthy amount of awkward “stops” and “turns” because staying in cover won’t save you. Speaking of the cover system, the only way you can do this is by depressing directional control to literally move your character into various objects. I would be a fan of any action title doing something with button execution that didn’t involve one button being responsible for every single animation, but ORC’s scheme is NOT the answer. Going into and out of cover requires the precision of pressing a button. Sometimes there is a slight delay in one’s character actually going into cover which may result in death, but the same can be said of a button-cover control scheme if the response time isn’t instant. Moving in between cover is actually quite smooth, but not recommended during firefights because a defensive combat roll doesn’t exist in ORC. Your character practically stands up straight when leaving cover which, once again, rings the zombie dinner bell serving up some tasty morsels of Umbrella spec-ops.
Action is the one and only name of the game in ORC, and it’s a good thing too because the constant need to shoot things and run away is one of the few good things going for this game. The scale of zombie opposition is nowhere near the intimidating sea of undead one can witness in Dead Rising 2, but the utter frantic chaos that ensues more than makes up for it. Most of the environments that the player navigates through are tight interiors which generate a decent amount of tension during shooting sprees. This is only amplified at higher difficulty levels where friendly fire can inadvertently put down teammates in a matter of a couple stray shots.
Unfortunately, one of the primary mechanics to this game actually detracts from the overall action: always having a full squad of teammates and the terrible AI that controls them. This criticism is null and void if the player has three additional friends to fill every spot where discussing tactics and directing movement lead to the professional dispatching of undead opposition. AI teammates, however, constantly block doorways, run directly into your line of fire, walk blindly into traps, infrequently use their special abilities and have no means of reviving the player if he or she goes down. Yuck! How on Earth could this AI be worse than Resident Evil 5 where the player could give an AI Sheva the most powerful firearm in his or her collection, and she would proceed to do nothing but knife zombies?
As I wrote before, maximum entertainment value gets squeezed from ORC IF (and only if) you play either the extremely short campaign or various online competitive formats with friends. If the reader has played an online competitive shooter before, the formats of death match, capture and return to base and survival modes will all be familiar with the exception of one: heroes. Hero mode involves every player to select one of the iconic personalities from Resident Evil’s 1-3 and control them in a death match type competition with one important wrinkle. Heroes (good or bad) absorb a TON of damage, so much so that 5 grenade launcher rounds followed by 2 minutes of uninterrupted melee attacks cannot put a hero down permanently. Fan boys of the series may find the current selection of heroes to be bittersweet as “the master of death,” HUNK is available, but neither Wesker nor Chris Redfield are to be found. Perhaps more characters and formats will be available via DLC.
There’s plenty of stat tracking for the player’s performance in campaign and online modes, but not in the way most people are used to in CoD shooters. Kill/death ratios include every kill during competitive formats, which means that if someone on your team is terrible at killing human competition, he or she can still be useful killing zombies littered about every level while contributing to the team’s score which ultimately determines the winner. But the NPC (non-playable-character) fun doesn’t end there. BOWs (bio-organic-weapons) like tyrants and hunters make their way to the battlefield, and taking these bad boys down will yield as many points as killing human competition. I like that getting owned by the same douche-bag in death match is something that the player has more control over by going to a less populated section of the map to focus on zombie kills.
ORC is the proverbial mixed bag when it comes to graphics. Character models are extremely well detailed for Umbrella spec-ops, US Special forces and some BOW’s. The same cannot be said of the level design. The one exception to that criticism is the underground research facility, but otherwise, all of the hallways are dark, most of the open areas are bland, and the memorable locations (like the Raccoon City Police Department) simply do not generate wonder at any level. I liked the damage effects on zombies. If you take a shotgun to a zombie’s arm, head or leg at close range, BOOM! It’s gone and the appearance of ripped off flesh remains. Unfortunately, the overall look of the zombies themselves had a distinct copy/paste appeal to them. Comparing the level of detail between Resident Evil 5’s majini to ORC’s zombies is like comparing the mastery of the English language between Shakespeare and George W. Bush.
I cannot help but think that ORC is more of a well produced demo/beta rather than a full and complete video game worthy of the $59.99 price point ($69.99 for those of us lucky to get the extremely rare “Special Edition”). The scope, game play and overall look of this video game are far too limiting which is quite ironic seeing how this series stood out from the crowd for being an expansive fiction. It’s like developing a game about US counterinsurgency efforts in the Middle East while focusing only on the compound raid that ended Bin Laden. Cool idea, but awfully brief and not very immersive. It is important to note to the reader that this project wasn’t 100% Capcom. Yes, Capcom published the game, but Slant Six Games developed it in Canada, and their only history of game development is with SOCOM games for the PSP and PS3 and none were considered to be massive successes or monumental fails. Their games walk the fine line between good and mediocrity so much so that even I, an ardent fan of every Resident Evil game cannot give ORC a glowing endorsement.
This is not an instant buy for most consumers because it simply is not refined enough to be worthy of having “Resident Evil” written on its cover art. However, I cannot describe this game as garbage. If the reader/player enjoys the action-packed slaughter of zombies everywhere and in multiple formats, ORC is at least worth a rental. I continue to have a blast with this game because I have several real friends who jump into my squad in order to own zombies together. If you find yourself with similar means, I would seriously recommend purchasing this. If what you want out of this game is story, relevance or an intriguing take on the Resident Evil mythos — do yourself a favor and pass. I would even go so far as to recommend forgetting this game ever existed if the reader/player doesn’t have any actual friends to play with, because matchmaking (even for campaign mode) often results in drop outs, leaving the player with an extremely handicapped team of AI that makes this game a chore.