Monday, 24 September 2012

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City

Operation Raccoon City is a game about Raccoons running a hospital in a big city. Things don't always work out for them but when they do boy is it hilarious!

Oh, wait. Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon city is actually a team based shooter set in the world of Resident Evil during the events of Resident Evil 2 and 3. The basic premise is that you are part of Umbrella's crack squad of mercenaries (one of many crack squads presumably given how many Umbrella Mercenaries we've seen throughout the series) and you've been called in to deal with an incident which immediately spirals out of control and everything goes to shit. You're then expected to clean up this whole mess through a combination of running around and shooting everybody.

The first thing I thought when playing this was that this game didn't know what it wanted to be. The dramatic difference in combatative approaches from fighting zombies and engaging in gunfights meant that one of the two seemed to suffer at any moment. For the most part it was the gunfighting, which for my chosen gameplay style was pretty poor and unengaging. Fighting zombies was more fun but also seemed a bit unbalanced in terms of functionality.

However as things progressed, and I tried out different characters and equipment loadouts, things improved. There were other ways of playing I had not originally tried that were far more satisfying. The level design was rarely brilliant, but did get more and more focused as the game went on. More interesting enemies were introduced to make combat more complex and intense. Perhaps most importantly of all I discovered a whole bunch of stuff about the game that it hadn't bothered to explain to me. 

 Which is really one of the key problems, and I understand some of the more negative reviews given that non-awareness of these features would inevitably leave the game lacking and frustrating. For example, as a team based game, there are certain classes that are almost useless outside of multiplayer. Survelliance and Field Scientist fit that description, and ironically those are the classes I insisted on using for my first playthrough. Additionally, certain weapons are a waste of time too- in particular shotguns and in most situations sniper rifles. There are even game mechanics that are largely unexplained- the never mentioned dodge move (activated by pressing Left Stick+Left Stick Direction+A at the same time) is essential to surviving against enemies such as Hunters and Tyrants, and the blood frenzy mechanic which allows you to force zombies to attack enemy gunmen during a three way fight is never really mentioned outside of the loading screens (although it makes certain battles infinitely easier). 

 Even the Quickdraw move which has it's own bloody button has literally no explanation whatsoever given aside from the button to activate it, and it's up to you to figure our how it works. (I will add notes at the end of the review for anybody planning on playing the game. This knowledge will almost certainly make your experience more full and enjoyable.) As a game that doesn't seem like it knows what it wants to be, it certainly doesn't make any efforts to help the player decide on that either.

 Outside of the mysterious but highly effective game mechanics, the visuals are neither offensive nor anything special. They're highly functional with occaisional flair, and the enemies look decent. There are some nice environments but sadly you'll spend far too long walking around concrete and steel corridors underground rather than experiencing the Raccoon City overworld proper. The sound is however much more interesting, with some great atmospheric pieces and incidental music, as well as great ambience and sound effects. Even the music from the main menu is pretty great, and though unexpected this is one of the game's stronger suits.

 Despite being based around a survival horror series the game is rarely making an effort to scare- though there are plenty of hairy moments to get your heart pounding- it's hardly going to have you in a fit of terror. This is due in part to the heavy focus on action, and the fact that the game is oriented around multiple players. Multiplayer is rarely scary as you have strength in numbers, and there aren't the same stakes involved unless you play solo due to the revival mechanic (you get killed, somebody rezzes you and vice versa, death is more inconvenient in co-op than anything)

 Having six playable characters with different play styles works reasonably well, and gives the game mnore replay value as well as a stronger team aesthetic, what with different characters performing different roles. I'm going to tell you now the best character is undoubtedly Lupo, the team's assault weapon specialist, and this shows something of a lack of balance. Granted, I was unable to get into a co-op game (probably because many reviewers slammed this aspect of it and nobody wanted to play), so obviously you can't all play as Lupo. Behind her come Bertha, the team's Medic/surprisingly badass tank; Vector who specialises in close combat and stealth, then after that Beltway (bombs) Four Eyes (Antiviral) and Spectre (surveiilance-useless in single player, almost essential in deathmatch) lag far behind in effectiveness. The main problem being that supportive classes are great and all for the people who aren't using them, but need them as backup. The AI alternate between tactical brilliance and completely bumbling idiocy, therefore you can't possibly play a supporting character (aside from your masochistic medic) and be able to lead the team properly. Playing second fiddle to Lupo just isn't that cool.

 In terms of narrative it's pretty poor, even by Resident Evil standards. Birkin has been discovered to be a right arse and you're part of the team sent in to kick his...arse. Things go wrong, all hell breaks loose and Resident Evil 2 and 3 play out in the background (although I never did work out the continuity between those two). You're constantly sent on wild goose chases for some reason or another, before eventually getting fired, and just ending up killing zombies for the fun of it. Then you get rehired for one last mission blah blah blah. It's hardly engaging and doesn't really have any direction to it. At the climax there's a moral choice to make which involves you either having a really hard boss fight if you're a bastard, or a pifflingly easy one if you're nice. The only difference is in which achievement you get at the end of it, and this game isn't canon anyway so really it just feels tacked on. Then again, did anybody ever really play Resident Evil for the story? I think that's what Silent Hill was for.

 In fairness though if you ignore the boring plot and just play for the action, it works really well. The level design as mentioned before is mostly just functional, but there are some really great areas too, for example sprinting around Umbrella's lab as you continuously accidentally release more BOWs on yourself all whilst being chased around by a Tyrant. Or the city streets sections where Hunters attack you and you have to dive around cars whilst avoiding the government troops in the distance. When it gets going it really hits the mark, so it's a shame so much of the level layouts seem to be just getting you from one point to another whilst having a bit of a fight. On top of the basic gameplay there's also a weapon shop and upgrade system so you can customise each character's personal skill set to make them more powerful, and this helps give more of a sense of progression even when the literal progress through the story falls flat, as well as adding some vital replay value- the campaign is at best eight hours long, and that includes a lot of stupid singleplayer deaths.

 Moving on to what may or may not be the intended focus of the game, the multiplayer gameplay. I never got a chance to play campaign online, either due to time differences, lack of players, or perhaps it simply doesn't work. However from my experience of single player I can infer that the campaign probably worked quite well, and that the team mechanics would probably mesh quite nicely, allowing for a more coherent and flowing player experience than the single player which suffers from pacing issues due to the reliance on AI who are simply unreliable. There's no splitscreen sadly, which follows a trend of not bothering with allowing splitscreen play these days despite the fact it is clearly more fun than online play.

 For the competitive multiplayer you get to fight it out over what are arguably the best bits of the campaign, implying that perhaps they build these first and then structured the campaign around them. After all, the multiplayer was touted as the main appeal of this game. There are four game modes- standard team deathmatch, a capture the flag variant, survivor in which you all fight for a bit to earn points but after a while you all have to race to a helicopter that only four people can get in (this is genuinely interesting but drags on a bit too long), and Heroes (or something like that) in which you get to play as super powerful characters from the series such as Leon, Hunk etc and generally kill each other in that manner.

Team Deathmatch as usual is where it's at, and the game really shines in multiplayer. In this format the supportive character's skills are actually incredibly useful. For example, the surveillance man I mentioned earlier who's skills are useful in singleplayer is actually capable of showing his whole team a better map and indicating enemy and item locations. Now the whole team benefits from him. Likewise for the field scientist who can turn enemy players into zombies or attract hordes of zombies to their location to mess them up. Team play really comes in here and the significantly varied styles of each character make every encounter more interesting due to their asymmetrical nature. Oh, and speaking of zombies, they really serve to make this something other than your standard 'kill the other team' deathmatch. They're a third party, who attack whoever is nearby. You get points for killing them (although not half as much as for killing players) and you can use mechanics such as blood frenzy to utilise them to your advantage. Also having them turn up in the middle of a gunfight send things totally nuts- they're wonderfully chaotic and make the game infinitely more interesting for it.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by Operation Raccoon City, especially given how much negative press I'd seen about it. The game is a little rough around the edges, but it takes co-op shooting and injects it with enough Resident Evil flavour to set it apart from its clear rival from Valve, and a head above the appalling Resident Evil 5. I'd recommend it to any fan of the series, or anybody into team based shooting. Single player isn't fantastic- but it's not bad either- and the multiplayer will give you hours of replay value. I truly hoped that they'd keep what they learnt from this game in the development of Resident Evil 6, and I'm pleased to see that it seems they have. Perhaps finally Capcom are going manage to modernise the series rather than making the key challenge in the game how to get across the room without having to perform a three point turn.

We can only hope.

[Oh hey, those tips I mentioned. Right, first of all, the secret controls:
Dodge: Left Stick Click +Left Stick Direction+A. This allows you to dive immediately in any direction and is invaluable for defending against hunters and Tyrants. You can still fire whilst you're flying through the air and even whilst you're getting up, so you can defend and attack simultaneously. It's super handy.
Quickdraw: Hold LB /L1. Then point in any direction with the left stick to fire your sidearm at anything you see. This is also incredibly handy when dealing with groups of zombies, as not only can you instantly aim in any direction, the camera pans out so you can walk and fire through a crowd, and your character only fires when there's a target, making the attack surprisingly accurate. In the right situations this will save your arse. Those situations being when you're surrounded by zombies. This can also function as a quick turn once you get the hang of it.
Blood Frenzy: Shooting humans in the head is a good way to kill them, but shooting their bodies enough will cause them to bleed. Bleeding people are incredibly attractive to the undead for some reason, and will cause zombies in the area to gravitate towards them quite rapidly. This is really handy for three way fights where there are groups of soldiers together, as wounding one will allow you to draw the zombies to them and totally mess them up. Be careful though, as the same goes for you if you end up in bleeding status. One of the attributes a weapon can have is its chance of causing blood frenzy, so if you're expecting loads of human opponents this is something to consider.
Redhead creation: I know they're called Crimson Heads but redhead is much simpler to say. Anyway, wounding, but not killing a zombie will cause them to undergo a transformation into these if you leave them alone long enough. You don't want that, because they're lightning fast and fucking hard to kill. 

Other tips: Some quick time events aren't obviously that. Not noticing them will get you killed.
Shotguns are appalling. I upgraded to the best one as soon as I could and still spent the whole game struggling to kill your average zombie. Sniper rifles are good in multiplayer but not much place else.
Lupo is the shit. She'll kill everybody, so use her liberally.
Melee attacks are nowhere near as effective as they are cool looking, don't be tempted by their stylish nature when you'd be better off shooting somebody in the face.
Anti Viral Sprays stop you being a zombie. If a team mate is going to be a zombie, just kill them. In single player if you get infected without a spray you're done for. Your team mates respawn- you don't.]

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