The ‘Spin-Off’ – Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City [Preview]
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Capcom is at the point with Resident Evil whereby anything they do won’t be good enough to please everybody. Do they keep it the same, please the hardcore fans of the series and continue to alienate everyone else? Or do they change things up, go for a new audience and risk alienating the old? It’s the same conundrum faced by all successful franchises of a certain age.
When it comes to this latest Resident Evil, things are different from what we’ve seen before. This is an all-out shooter fest. Not only that but it’s co-op, you play as the all-evil Umbrella corporation, it’s fast paced and it aims to create tension by throwing hordes of enemies at you.
It’s a long way from the early days of ink ribbons, desperate hunting for red ammo boxes and listening intently for squelching sounds before shuffling around each and every corner.
Before you get too worried, though, the Capcom rep demoing the game with us described Operation Raccoon City as a “spin-off”. So future all-out survival horror outings featuring Umbrella and co. are (hopefully) still on the cards.
In true co-op shooter fashion, things begin with class selection. All the usual options are here; assault, medic, demolitions, heavy, stealth. There are six in total, although only four players can play at any one time. Each of them has their own, upgradable special abilities. The stealth class can turn temporarily invisible, for example, and assault can invoke unlimited ammo.
I played as the assault class. I always play as the assault class. Keeping things simple lets me concentrate on killing, said the mass murderer.
Our mission takes place in Raccoon City’s City Hall, a large complex with multiple floors, long corridors, wide rooms and a lot of zombies. Things take place during the time of Resident Evil 2 and 3 – we’re told to expect to see Leon Kennedy and friends at some point/s during events but we weren’t privy to that here.
As a member of Umbrella’s security forces it’s your job to cover up all evidence of the company’s involvement in the zombie outbreak. The government’s special operations forces are out to achieve exactly the opposite so, apart from flesh hungry zombies, you’ll also need to deal with heavily trained guys with guns.
In City Hall we faced both.
You can probably guess how each will react – the zombies attack in slow moving packs that can flank and surround you if you’re not careful, while spec ops prefer sitting back, holding formation and making use of any and all cover.
When facing spec ops you’ll need to use the auto-cover system which causes you to hug scenery when you move towards it. In addition, you’ll want to keep your head down, keep check on when your enemy is reloading and make intelligent use of flash grenades and other equipment.
Unlike other team-based shooters, your AI squad-mates actually fire their weapons and do a decent job of handling the situation themselves. Whether or not this is the case when playing as a group of four humans will of course depend on the people you’re aligned with.
Zombie attacks are more visceral, requiring a lot of shooting and a lot of moving. It’s a classic case of ‘on their own they’re nothing, together they’re dangerous’. To facilitate you on your blood-soaked quest, ammo and weapons are plentiful, as are health items and checkpoints.
Play your cards right and it’s possible to play the two enemy types off against each other. The most memorable moment of our demo came when we shot a spec ops member in the leg, causing blood to flow and zombies to salivate. Every undead in the area swarmed on the poor bastard and began feasting on his flesh. One well-aimed grenade later and boom! – there goes the neighbourhood.
Furthermore, zombies themselves can be used as shields against the spec ops – rather them than me. It’s also possible to get bitten and become infected; if you don’t counter the virus quickly enough with the correct antidote spray then you’ll become one. If this happens you’ll lose control and watch as you attempt to kill your own. Only when you’re shot in the head will you die and respawn.
However, it’s not all multi-kills, meat shields, checkpointing and ammo dumps. Some elements of Resident Evil-classic do make their way into the new formula. Your inventory is limited in that you can (as an assault, at least) only carry one health spray and a couple of explosive grenades and your health does not automatically regenerate. Saving your health items for moments of need is not optional, it’s essential.
Just how well that balance is struck between modern third-person shooter and classic survival horror will surely be the key to the game’s quality and originality. Go too far into shooter land and, other than cameos and health sprays, the word ‘generic’ will litter reviews. Too far towards Resident Evil and generic will be replaced with ‘confused’.
Our demo ends with a mad dash from City Hall as it gets overrun with flesh eaters. Lickers crawling from air vents, zombies lining corridors and all around fire takes hold of timber. It’s this moment that removes any doubt about Raccoon City’s objective to provide solid shooter action. A confrontation with 30 Lickers in Resident Evil’s past meant death. Here it’s meant as fun.