To say the Resident Evil series has undergone a few changes over the years is a bit of an understatement.
When it made its debut on the PS One in 1996, Resident Evil was more about "jump scares" and exploration than it was about dropping zombies to their knees with well-placed headshots. Flashforward to Resident Evil 5, and you're looking at a game that -- in the eyes of many fans, at least -- was getting uncomfortably close to a third-person shooter.
So it's a bit ironic that Capcom's recently announced Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City takes players back to the roots of the series while making apologizes for what it is: a third-person action shooter.
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Developer: Slant Six, Capcom
Release date: Fall
The events of Operation Raccoon City take place between that of Resident Evil 1 and Resident Evil 2, taking players back to the fictional mid-West town that started it all. But here's the new angle: you're the bad guys. Up until this point, it's always been a tale of the heroes; in Operation Raccoon City you'll be suiting up as Umbrella Corporation black ops security service.
Capcom first shows us the game's story campaign, which can be played with up to four players or "alone" with AI in tow. It's a campaign based on cooperation and if you're thinking, "Oh, it's Capcom's Left 4 Dead in third person" then you're not that far off. That parallel is easy to draw, and while it's certainly a reasonably conclusion to come to, it's not entirely fair.
Operation Raccoon City introduces us to four mysterious Umbrella operatives, each with his or her own abilities. Vector is the game's stealth-based character; he's the recon class of the team, and can use a "mimicry" ability to assume other human shapes. Bertha is the game's female character, the medic class of the team; like the rest of team, little is known about her, but she carries some pretty sharp tools (is that a bone saw?), if that tells you anything. Beltway appears to be the tank of the group; he enjoys blowing stuff up, so he'll bring frag mines alone for the ride. Finally, Spectre is the team's Sam Fisher, with Splinter Cell-like goggles with different vision modes and access to more detailed map information.
While Capcom didn't have an actual chunk of story to show us, the small demo area gave us a good idea of what to expect. The city streets are littered with zombies, and the game's fast, third-person action encourages aggressively taking them out. Head shots will see undead skulls exploding like melons; there's even a limb-specific damage mode that had arms flopping to the ground.
Melee attacks are also encouraged, and as I found later in the game's multiplayer mode (which I'll get to in a bit), are surprisingly useful. The melee action is all mapped to a single button, but tapping it rhythmically will unleash a string of combos. At certain points, you'll have the opportunity to launch into a finisher maneuver, and will be prompted on screen for a quick button press. If you want to stab a zombie in the neck and then kick them down to the ground with a big boot, or to stomp on a zombies skull, this is the way you'll do it.
The streets of Raccoon City aren't just flooded with zombies, either. At one point, opposing military enter the fray, and the poor zombies are caught in the cross fire. What this means is that you're not only facing undead creatures, but heavily-armed opposition as well. Oh, and don't forget the typical Resident Evil Bio-Organic Weapon creatures that intend to make your life miserable, as well.
While there's a clear emphasis on third-person action, the game's producers claim the scares are still there. It's not full throttle action all of the time; if you pass any windows, brace yourself for dogs to jump through them, I guess.
I wasn't allowed to play the demo campaign level, but Capcom was more than happy to let us get my feet wet in the game's multiplayer mode. I played a mode called "Team Attack," a four on four team-based affair. One teams suits up as the Umbrella special forces (with the same abilities described for single player), with the other on a military team with analogous skills.
Players won't only get points for killing opposing team members in typical deathmatch style, though. Points will also be rewarded for killing zombies, with more points being awarded for headshots, and larger creatures are worth even more. Another twist: when you're "bleeding out" and near death, undead creatures will "smell" it and swarm you because you're an easy target. Shooting opposing team members to the point of bleeding out and then allowing them to get ravaged can also earn you big points, as well.
Out this year, the core of Operation Raccoon City is there, and there's potential for a fun third-person action title based in the Resident Evil universe. It looks great, probably the grittiest game in the series to date. But it also doesn't feel anything like a Resident Evil game you've played before, and while that may upset long-time fans who abhor change, it's not the worst thing in the context of what Capcom's trying to do with Operation Raccoon City.
Control- and feel-wise, it's closer to a third-person shooter like, oh I don't know, let's say Sony's SOCOM series. Not too shocking: Capcom is working hand-in-hand with Slant Six Games, whose previous experience includes working on Sony's popular third-person military shooter.
Oddly, not a single member of Slant Six was on-hand to talk about the game. Instead, the game's Japanese developers presented the title and answered all questions. When asked about Slant Six's input, it was made to sound like Capcom Japan is responsible for the bulk of the creative decisions on the game, making sure it remains true to the Resident Evil vibe. But the fact that the game feels like a Western-shooter seems to indicate Slant Six's involvement is more on the game mechanics side of things.
Bonus: Operation Raccoon City is in the running for "Best Loading Screen in a Game" for 2011. The screen in question featured a close up on a severed zombie arm, lying in a pool of shiny, fresh blood. The fingers on the arm's hand twitched intermittently, and flies could be seen buzzing around a wound on the forearm. Yummy.
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