E3 2011 – Relive the Zombie Apocalypse in Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City

Clare Redfield and Leon S. Kennedy are gunning it for the police station in an abandoned cruiser when suddenly, a zombie pops up from the back seat and attacks Leon. Gnashing its teeth and trying desperately to bury them in Leon’s neck, the car goes into a spin — slamming its back end straight into a brick wall and sending the zombie flying out the back windshield to its death.

Dazed but relatively unhurt, Clare and Leon try to shake off the accident, but almost instantly they have a new threat: a massive semi-truck bearing down on them, its driver turned zombie, its speed increasing. They’ve only a second, maybe two, to leap from the car before the truck slams into it, and a moment later, bursts into flames.

As Clare and Leon separate and individually make for the police station, your team arrives on the street, perhaps a block from the explosion, with new orders — eliminate “that cop.” Leon represents one of the only Raccoon cops still alive, and apparently, you need to drop him.

In fact, there’s nothing in Raccoon City that is to be left alive: Umbrella demands it, and as a small crack squad of commandos, your job is to eliminate any humans with functioning brains still within the city. Yep, that’s right — you’re among the bad guys, and if you read any of the descriptions of the five squad members, you get the impression they’re not the kind of people you’d want to meet…well, anywhere, for any reason.

I got hands-on with Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City‘s demo on the floor at E3 2011, and spent roughly 10 minutes blasting away at zombies on the mean streets of Raccoon. For the most part, that included zombies and other iconic Resident Evil enemies, all while in pursuit of people my team and I had been ordered to murder. It was a strange side of the line to be on.

Operation Raccoon City is a third-person co-op-heavy shooter, with each squad member being controlled by a different player. Each member also has different specialties and capabilities: one’s a demolitions expert, another a medic, a third capable of active camouflage to sneak around enemies and attack them from behind. Each character gets to choose a weapons load-out at the beginning of the level, ranging from pistols to assault rifles, and each carries melee weapons and class-specific items like grenades. Obviously, the entire team functions best when it is working together and supporting one another, and the different abilities of the classes make that work pretty well.

Heading into the demo level, we’re in pursuit of Leon as he ducks through a garage, lowering a metal gate behind him and disappearing at a heavy clip through Raccoon’s back alleys. Meanwhile, unlike Leon, the Umbrella squad is hampered by heavy zombie interference, and it takes a minute for those of us on the demo to realize that it’s a waste of time and ammunition to try to deal with every zombies. Zombies are an ever-present threat in Raccoon City, and they never go away, so there’s no use killing any more than those that are specifically threatening. Instead, the game is about completing objectives: reaching certain areas, killing certain characters, and so on. Eventually, the lot of us realizes that and the squad abandons random zombie pot-shots to open the game and pursue Leon.

From a third-person perspective, shooting zombies works pretty well. It’s easy for things to sneak around behind you — and sometimes for other players to cut between your character and your camera, which is completely irritating and confusing — but you get a sense of what’s around and the capability to deal with most threats, without losing the generalized horror aspect of being constantly under attack. For the most part, you’ll kill hordes of zombies without them ever getting close; every so often, something’s going to grab you and you’ll need a little help fighting it off.

As you do get hurt, you can sometimes become infected with the G-Virus (Resident Evil 2′s version of the zombie-creating T-Virus) and require anti-viral injections to stay alive, or end up a zombie. You can also be injured and left bleeding, which not only drains your health, but turns you into a big target for enemies. Die, and you’ll be able to respawn relatively quickly on your nearby teammates, but there’s a delay that leaves everyone short a squadmate for at least a few seconds.

The demo carries our squad through various locales, including an interior garage where we fight a group of skinless Lickers from RE2, and later, the green lizard-like Hunters that are dropped in B.O.W. canisters, presumably to help wipe out survivors from the city (as well as us, for some reason). Additional ammunition and green herbs for health can be found at intervals throughout the city along the way, and for the most part, we have the supplies we needto stay alive.

Further on, we encounter some actual human enemies in the form of some kind of special ops squad, and objectives switch to eliminating them. Just walking up to any flat surface allows players to drop into cover behind it, so using cars and walls to hide while trading fire with soldiers works pretty well. These soldiers are also constantly dealing with zombies, which creates an interesting firefight; later, when the Hunters are running around (which are big, hulking creatures that deal a lot of damage and are tough to kill), it’s a similar situation. We’re fighting each other, but both sides always have to keep an eye out for monsters at every turn and during every battle.

Eventually, we reach our final objective, having killed all the spec-ops troops and braved a huge number of Hunters and zombies. We reach a back alley where one final canister falls, containing the Tyrant from the “B” game of Resident Evil 2. This huge, trench coat-wearing creature is basically unkillable, and in Resident Evil 2 pursued Leon and Clare all the way to the end of the game. The demo ends before we can engage him, which is highly unfortunate.

Final Impressions
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City falls into a bit of a trench with other third-person shooters, carrying many of the same elements as games of this ilk like Gears of War or Uncharted. Because of that, we’re very used to what’s on hand — the cover systems, the aiming and firing, the use of different items. This is well-worn territory, and instead of expanding the language of Resident Evil the way Resident Evil 4′s third-person perspective did way back on the GameCube, it doesn’t seem like Operation Raccoon City will add much to the overall series’ horror experience beyond teaming up with friends and shooting many, many things.

However, there does feel to be some potential in Operation Raccoon City, particularly in the zombie combat and the inclusion of other Resident Evil monsters. First of all, it’s nice to be dealing with true zombies again, after the departure of the last two RE titles. Secondly, Operation Raccoon City puts you under assault nearly constantly — or at least, it did in the demo (we’ll have to see whether the game takes us through many interiors and how those are paced). That sort of head-on-a-swivel gameplay was new and exciting for the RE series, because while you and your squad are capable fighters, you’re at risk of being overrun constantly, and just sprinting away from enemies is only a good strategy for about four seconds before you’re surrounded again.

It’s easy to get into trouble and panic in this game, and that’s exactly the wrong reaction when you’re playing with friends; Operation Raccoon City is in a good position to engender the kind of team play that could really make this game work. If it pushes the envelope and offers some interesting and unique moments, it definitely has the potential to be a winner, both alone and with a squad of couch commandos.

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