Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City
Release: May 2012 (EU, PC)
Formats: PC (version reviewed), PS3, 360
Developer: Slant Six Games
Cert: PEGI 18
DLC: Yes (included in review)
First the bad news: if you were looking for the next classic Resident Evil game you are not going to find it here. RE:ORC is not a ‘canon’ entry in the franchise’s long and distinguished history. This is a side-project, a far more conventional beast; a squad-based shooter much more along the lines of something like Brink or Capcom’s own Lost Planet 2. Played online or off, RE: ORC casts you as any one of a four-man squad dutifully following mission objectives, ticking boxes, collecting power-ups and taking cover all the way to each mission’s final exit door. It is a linear progression from start to finish, often great fun, often undermined by dodgy AI or occasionally careless design. Slant Six pays RE fan service, with each mission containing several nods to the ‘canon’ game series, while major characters from the RE universe pop up all over the place at pleasingly regular intervals. Seen as an adjunct to the RE franchise, a curio rather than a bona-fide entry, RE:ORC is a perfectly entertaining diversion for anyone who enjoys the serious business of killing zombies.
There are two ‘teams’ or ‘squads’ in the game. Shipping with the vanilla game are the six members of Umbrella Security Service (USS), whilst available exclusively via DLC are the six members of the United States Special Ops (USSO) and their missions. Each team will follow their own 7-mission parallel narrative story arc. The teams are comprised of specialists with upgradeable skillsets (medics, explosives, psyops, etc) – so for instance on the USS team ‘Four Eyes’ the scientist will have the ability to program bio-organic weapons for greater efficiency and fire-power, while ‘Dee-Aye’ the USSO Team Leader is much more an out-and-out ‘tank’ with upgradable armour and weapon fire. All team members have ‘active’ and ‘passive’ upgradeable skills and each skill can be upgraded through three levels. Weapons can also be bought and individually equipped for the player character with points (or ‘XP’) earned in-game via combat and with the discovery of ‘data’ items (and the even rarer ‘raccoon’ trophies, one of which is to be found hiding somewhere in each mission. XP allows the player to buy better weapons and to upgrade skills in the pre-game menu. It is perfectly possible to build-out very powerfully-equipped characters this way, by expanding all their special skills and saving up for some of the game’s most powerful weapons. The usefulness of this cannot be over-emphasized.
RE:ORC’s 14 missions (7 on the disk at retail, another 7 via optional DLC) all follow generally familiar tropes – all are objective-based but this is no bad thing. By crafting carefully scripted progression through each mission Slant Six ensure they keep events interesting and relatively fast-moving. The player is continually pushing forward, continually facing-off against either hordes of zombies or the equally threatening human opponents in the form of Umbrella Biohazard Countermeasure Service (UBCS) – and very often against both factions at once. It can make for some frenzied encounters, only made more anxious by the unexpected intrusion of some of the game’s more deadly adversaries such as Lickers, Tyrants or Hunters. Thankfully, mission sign-posting is excellent throughout and while combat can often be a confusing panic, finding one’s bearings and getting back ‘on-mission’ again is never too difficult or too far away. The game features an on-screen map, but it’s worth noting that some player characters can improve upon this with additional upgrades to produce more detail within the default map, including locations of enemies and pick-ups.
The story beats are satisfyingly paced. As members of the evil Umbrella Corporation’s exclusive private army, the player is effectively cast as a ‘bad guy’. When cut-scenes play we moments from the RE back story as if looking upon events from ‘the other side’. RE fans have perhaps understandably been hostile and vocal about the validity of this approach, questioning whether Slant Six managed to make the conceit work adequately in RE:ORC. I suppose that’s all a matter of how invested in - and knowledgeable of - the RE universe you might be. The interesting thing is that when playing the 7 USSO DLC missions you are once again on the ‘good guys’ team and your encounters with familiar RE characters therefore take on a rather more ambiguous meaning. While it can be argued that Slant Six could have done far better with the overall execution, the ideas and themes here are intriguing, if not entirely fleshed-out.
Many of the annoying technical issues that plagued the game at release have since been patched out by Slant Six, so much so that I really cannot find fault with anything other than the unreliable AI. This seems to be a recurring problem with squad-based shooters in which the player is asked to place their faith in sadly ineffective AI team mates. All too often combat scenarios might present real player jeopardy which the AI simply fails to react to – AI squad members seemingly unable to utilise common sense and tactics. It is not, however, a ‘broken’ game in any sense because of this – more of an ever-present frustration which must be overcome. Playing missions cooperatively online transforms the experience – missions tend to take half the time to complete and falling in combat is quickly remedied by attentive human counterparts who will rush to your aid with a quick revive, to say nothing of how an all-human four-man squad can efficiently exploit mission tactics with very satisfying aplomb. In the light of this, it is a great shame that Slant Six could not have implemented offline AI far more effectively.
‘Versus’, the MP game, features ‘Team Attack’ (DM), ‘Biohazard’ (CTF), ‘Survivor’ and ‘Heroes Mode’. In the latter (a team attack mode) the player assumes the persona of an iconic RE character such as Leon S. Kennedy, Claire Redfield or Jill Valentine, etc, with maps populated by hordes of AI zombies as well as an opposing human team (also playing as ‘heroes’) across a wide variety of in-game settings. Sadly, ‘Nemesis Mode’ in which the player assumes control of the towering BOW boss, remains an Xbox 360 exclusive.
Visually, the PC version is the one to go for. Character models look marginally more detailed and environments more texture-rich than those on my 360 version. The particle effects and lighting are also much more impressive in this PC version. Whilst the Hexane game engine might never rival Unreal 3 tech it does a passable job with some impressive set designs and some pleasantly entertaining in-game cut-scenes (although in true RE fashion many of the game’s cut scenes are actually pre-rendered). The game also natively supports the use of game controllers on PC.
Menu design is functional and clear rather than inventive or ambitious. However there is a surprising amount of detail to be found within those menus – everything from very detailed game stats, global leader boards, to artwork gallery extras from the developer and a variety of different modes with which to replay missions to attempt a better overall score (and keep earning more XP to spend on upgrades).
The game’s music is in my opinion perhaps one of its poorest efforts – the main theme, for instance, is truly atrocious and thoroughly grating.
Something every gamer puts great store by is value-for-money. We each have to weigh up the return on our investment in any given game. In this case, I’d say the RE:ORC’s strongest suit is its potential for endless replay. I really have found hours of enjoyment playing and replaying these 14 missions both online and off. Beyond a few minor grumbles RE:ORC delivers an enjoyable romp through a varied, detailed zombie-infested battlefield with familiar places and faces from the RE back catalogue to spice things up a bit along the way. If you can overlook occasional (but never game-breaking) AI indiscretions and a fairly shallow narrative then I’d suggest this is a safe, solid return on a modest investment, whichever platform you go for.
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