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Wot I Think: Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City

This is not a good week for a bad zombie game to land. Incidentally, do you think PopCap has approached Bohemia Interactive to discuss a Plants vs. Zombies team-up called 'DayZ, DayZ'?

When we asked Richard to take a look at Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, he started sniffling and claiming to have gone down with the T-Virus. Can this action-packed retelling of the series’ early years be the cure to what ails him, or just one more headache?

I have a pet theory about Capcom – one I can’t in any way prove, but I think would explain a lot. About thirty years ago, its founder discovered a tarnished golden lamp somewhere in Osaka, and rubbing it produced a genie. “What is your wish?” asked the genie. “To have a beloved games company,” answered the excited man in a heartbeat. And in Japanese, obviously.

“I can do that,” declared the genie. “Unto you I grant legendary names like Megaman, and mastery of the arcades with Street Fighter II. You shall bring the world quirky goodness like Dead Rising, and the whimsy of Phoenix Wright. But! There is a catch! To maintain balance, you must sacrifice this hard-earned goodwill on a regular basis, from placing your DLC upon pressed silver disks against all logic, to using Games For Windows Live for your networking. So too will you be cursed to publicly fart down your customers’ throats with cash-ins like Dead Rising 2: Off The Record, and hope their devotion is enough to make them quietly suck a breath mint.”

Like I said, it’s just a theory. In unrelated news, here’s a Resident Evil spin-off.

Wow. You REALLY lost the Mutation Lottery with this transformation...

Operation: Raccoon City is a slice of Resident Evil from the baddies’ viewpoint – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead, if you will. You’re one of a squad of four amoral soldiers sent in by the Umbrella Corporation (“Umbrella: Always Open To Evil”) to clean up after the T-Virus turns Raccoon City into a charnel house, and get rid of any evidence of their involvement.

Except for the giant Umbrella logos in their secret bases, obviously.

To give it some credit, this is a fun premise – if one that’s instantly let down by a lack of any real story. Technically, stuff happens in a linear sequence that can be seen as a ‘plot’, and there are individual moments that tie into the main series, like making a faulty Nemesis see STARS, but mostly you’re just footling around and being shouted at by your boss. Typical mission objectives are to burn documents, smash servers, try to get out of the city and generally be dicks in the name of Umbrella (“Umbrella: More T-Victims?”) and its concerned shareholders.

Despite the Resident Evil name, don’t expect horror. This is a pure cover-shooter where some of the enemies have tentacles, but most are simply generic zombies or Spec Ops soldiers. Occasionally something leaps out at you, but only because that’s how it gets from A to B rather than because it wants to try its hand at an old-school jump-scare. There aren’t any big spiders (not that I’m complaining), all the encounters are full-on action that skip any ick moments, and you’re always travelling in a pack of hardened, completely amoral mercenaries with big guns and a response to the chaos around them that can be summed up as “Zombies? Pffft.”

Underground, overground, wombling free! The Wombles of Wimbledon Common are... RABID! Run! Run for your lives!

Frustration on the other hand abounds, especially if you try to play on your own. Put simply, there are two ways to play this game – with three other people in multiplayer, or screaming and smashing your controller of choice into tiny fragments of hate-infused dust.

Even at its very best, Operation: Raccoon City isn’t very good. It’s incredibly short, with only seven maps to get through, its cover system is fiddly, its weapons lacking in punch and with absolutely no cool set-pieces or memorable moments to look forward to. It’s not so much bad as grindingly unenthusiastic, from the way it looks at the Resident Evil universe and opts to recreate a few empty streets and labs for your shooting pleasure, to the half-hearted way most of its unlockable weapon upgrades are just mildly different rifles and pistols. There’s no sense of passion behind anything; not a scrap of personality or flicker of inspiration in sight.

GOOD LORD! What are we injecting into this guy - France?!

Avoid the single-player. Not only is it a tenth as good as the already not great multiplayer, it verges on unplayable at points. Your squadmates’ AI is beyond pathetic, with them constantly getting in your way, randomly running around, walking straight into explosive tripwires that they just warned you about, and every other cack-handed thing a computer controlled imbecile can do short of repeatedly blasting you in the face. You can’t even give them orders.

Worse, while in multiplayer you can be instantly revived if you either die or get infected by the zombies, (making a complete mockery of the latter as a mechanic, but never mind), flying solo you’re unceremoniously kicked you back to the last checkpoint. This means you’re left trying to carry the whole mission in a game designed for four; and four players whose brains aren’t functionally identical to a skull full of banana pudding. It’s not impossible, but nor is it fun.

Some companies will hire anyone with a brain. Umbrella isn't so snooty.

Making this worse, the design is often sloppy, and sometimes just plain cruel. Guns hold ridiculously little ammo for instance, especially for the number of bullets it takes to drop enemies, and many encounters feel like they needed at least one more pass before being signed off. The first boss for instance chases you down a corridor, which is fine, but then traps you behind an invisible wall and beats the stuffing out of you if you don’t realise he’s currently invincible and that you’re meant to be trying to get out through the door behind you instead of making a stand. The core logic of the situation is fine. The signposting and prompting are undercooked, especially as you’ve just been introduced to his weakness (a giant globby eyeball) and already been trained to expect most doors to remain locked until you’ve dealt with nearby threats.

Later examples aren’t usually as pointed, but can be just as obnoxious. At one point for instance you have to fight Nemesis, and the whole encounter feels completely untuned. He takes insane amounts of damage without actually being an interesting challenge. Another sequence pits you against what feels like a never-ending army of Lickers, who are exactly no fun to fight even when you’re not sure how long you’re meant to last. Don’t even get me started on an encounter in a power plant, where you have to put up with both being gang-rushed by enemies from all sides, including Spec Ops guys with guns and grenades, and sniped from on-high while your AI squadmates amble around admiring the wall textures. My blood is still boiling.

By far the worst moment in the entire game though is a couple of levels from the end. It starts when you cross an invisible tripwire that crashes an enemy pod down on you, which can easily take 25% of your health up-front even if you know it’s coming. Then you find yourself in a cramped space, fighting enemies that can eat their own body weight in bullets, leap great distances to gut you, has a knockdown attack, ignores your stun grenades, and delivers massive damage with every blow. Four of these bastards, to be exact. At once. Did I mention you have no real dodging ability? Because you don’t. At all. You can’t even roll out of the way.

Oh, and just to rub salt in the wound, instead of rewarding you with a checkpoint after this, Operation: Raccoon City sends in a team of Spec Ops soldiers with machine guns.

That’s the point I gave up on trying to finish this game in single-player mode.

And you are dead TO ME.

In multiplayer, with the ability to revive other players, things are far looser and thus more enjoyable, though still very weak next to the competition. Capcom’s own Lost Planet 2 offers much the same basic action with huge bosses and set-pieces, while Left 4 Dead 2 kicks every shade of snot out of Raccoon City’s clunky cover system and boring enemies.

In public games, expect complete silence. There’s no text-chat at all, only VoIP. Matchmaking also offers no real control over where in the campaign you end up when you use Quick Match. You can simply invite other people into your own game to avoid spoilers from levels you’ve yet to reach properly (though the only big spoiler is that there’s really nothing to spoil) but will probably be waiting a while to get a full team. If you can get three friends together, that’s obviously the best way… but at £30 per copy and with no bundles on sale, it’s expensive mediocrity.

Stretching things out a bit are the dedicated multiplayer modes, including one where the goodies face off against the baddies in a Last Man Standing type fight with wandering zombies. Not much to say about these except that while the idea is fun, the basic combat isn’t satisfying enough to carry the action. In a genre not already up to its brains in zombie apocalypses, the novelty would have helped a lot. As it is, the shambling hordes add little, and nowhere near enough.

Uh, this is a bit awkward... but can you tell me how to waggle the C key so I can break your hold?

What really slams the nails into Operation: Raccoon City’s coffin though is its bugginess and the quality of the port. Setting the tone admirably, I had to restart the first fight after the game failed to notice the enemies were all gone and it was time to open the gate to the next area. Keyboard and mouse controls suffer from the standard porting feel; laggy and unpleasant. The bit of the screen that handles grenades only has visuals for the Xbox 360’s D-Pad, making it a pain to hurl the right one instead of wasting something valuable like a zombie cure mid-combat. The carefully designed PC defaults? “1” for Grenade, “2” for Zombie Cure and “3” for First Aid Spray… demoting the Switch Weapon command to “4”. Attention to detail, right there!

By far the worst issue I encountered though was the sound regularly cutting out. This happened seemingly at random, forcing me to play through whole levels in complete silence. Not only does this kill the atmosphere, it’s a huge tactical disadvantage not to know things like whether a zombie is about to try and eat your skull. It would come on again for the cut-scenes, and occasionally back up in the main levels, only to go off once again, but not once did I manage to get through a whole mission without interruption. Restarts and reboots did nothing to fix this, and while I initially thought it might just be a problem with my audio drivers, a glance at the Steam forums showed lots of others having the same problem.

And yes, the Games For Windows Live parasite is firmly implanted. Sigh.

Ah, Umbrella. Where plausible deniability starts with branding your evil labs, and ends with sending in a team of mooks with your logo on their uniforms to destroy any evidence you were ever there.surviving Day Z instead.

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Richard Cobbett

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