The Resident Evil franchise has been around for what seems like an eternity, both because its horror genre is a gameplay stalwart and because, well, it’s been around for 15 years. Like many franchises it’s evolved out of necessity, with an increased emphasis on action rather than relying strictly on “jump out of the dark to scare you” thrills. The latest entry, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, takes the action emphasis farther than the series has previously gone, and it frankly suffers because of it. Worse yet, by relying so heavily on squad-based action, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City loses every ounce of narrative magic that’s traditionally set the survival-horror series apart from others.
Much like F.E.A.R. 2 follows an alternate path in its predecessor’s primary storyline, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City follows the path of an Umbrella Security Services squad as they fight their way through the Raccoon City outbreak from Resident Evil 2 and 3. It’s an interesting direction for the franchise to take, as series fans have grown accustomed to a singular drawn-out story with distinct characters. Neither of those elements is apparent here. The characters on the squad aren’t particularly transcendent, while the story is there merely in principle and doesn’t guide any bit of the action. Instead, the game rushes from one outbreak point to the next as you try to find or destroy evidence of Umbrella’s mistakes – without emotionally attaching you to any of them. Every run-of-the-mill shooter suffers from this same “wash, rinse, repeat” gameplay, not offering any real meaning to the goings-on; the strongest shooters endure because of their narrative thread. Unfortunately, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City finds itself in the former category.
A few potentially-intriguing twists exist, such as players being potentially infected by the virus and thus turning into zombies, but that’s generally overcome by plentiful antidote and health. Another potential-filled feature, the inclusion of squad-based gameplay, could have been a nice addition as well, but the squad simply follows its AI routines and can’t be commanded like a real squad, thus rendering them nothing more than set decorations. In fact, your AI comrades can actually be a burden to your progress, making their presence all the more frustrating.
What those shortcomings mean, however, is that’s you’re basically going to be going it alone, which means you rack up nice XP along the way. At the conclusion of each level, this XP can be spent upgrading your character’s skills and abilities, which means at the end of the game you may very well have one character on your squad be an absolute beast while the other three stink. That’s OK if you’re playing solo, but take the game online, and if a fellow squadmate chooses the character you wanted to play, you’re going to be battling online with a completely weak character. It would’ve been great if the game transferred correlating upgrades cross-class, thus ensuring that you’re not nerfed when playing with “less than desirable” classes. It wouldn’t have completely made the forced-class gameplay palatable, but it would’ve at least made the mission tolerable.
When all of these elements are mixed with imbalanced weapons, a poorly implemented cover system and so-so graphics, it feels like Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is little more than an attempt to milk some sales from fans of an otherwise-strong brand. I may not have been the biggest fan of the previous two Resident Evil outings, but I could respect the elements they introduced to the series and understood the reasoning behind them. Not so much with this one. I recommend you pass on Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City altogether and wait for the next “real” entry in the Resident Evil franchise.
Platform reviewed: Xbox 360