REVIEW: Itchy Itchy
NOTE: We've held back this review until the first few Spec Ops mission became available, giving the 'full' title the benefit of the doubt before giving our final verdict.
I'm not an apologist when it comes to Resident Evil, I enjoy even the most mediocre titles in the series such as Survivor, and absolutely love titles that meet much criticism such as Resident Evil 5.
Occasionally though even such blind devotion is sometimes put to the test, and there's seldom been a tougher test than what the fan base has to endure with Resident Evil Operation Raccoon City.
This is the second time Capcom has licensed out Resident Evil to a western developer, the first time -Resident Evil Gaiden - was a non-canon title that met with a very poor reception. This time Canadian developer Slant Six have taken the reigns, developing a title that explores a non-canon, 'what if' scenario, essentially exploring the Raccoon City disaster that features in Resident Evil 2 and 3. You play as an Umbrella Secret Service team sent in to cover up any information of survivors that could either threaten or uncover series villains Umbrella as being responsible the viral outbreak that destroys the town. The premise in an interesting one, with early promises apparently allowing you to, for example, change the Resident Evil storyline dramatically, by killing fan favourite Leon S. Kennedy. Through the execusion and implentation of these ideas however, this game never lives up to the promise of its concept.
It's perhaps no suprise that absolutely none of the build up toward the game's release has been positive, whether it be from the fan base or the press, opinion has generally not been favourable.
The main fanbase has endured a turbulent time with the game, for many months. There was a great deal of concern regarding whether the game was set within the series canon, or just regarded as the spin off 'what if' as mentioned above. Mixed messages emerged from Capcom regarding the status, and the fans got more and more vocal as details of the well known, established story emerged to be different, changed. This extended to the environments as well, now changed beyond recognition. Casual gamers probably won't either care or notice, but anyone who has invested any time within the series knows how difficult it sometimes is to retain the canon and make each title fit within the timeline. Fans are as a result extremely protective of the franchise, and there really isn't any excuses for all the mistakes that have made it to the finished product here. Slant Six and Capcom didn't listen to their fans, and now they have a distinctly non-canon game on their hands, and one that has been generally recieved poorly.
The problems extend beyond the story issues though. With the game now confirmed to be non-canon it leaves only the structure of a team based action shooter with a Resident Evil theme, but sadly it must be said Slant Six has failed in nearly every area to make this game worthwhile for anyone, whether they are casual players or hardcore fans.
Operation Raccoon City drops the ball from beginning to end. The unforgivably bad AI is one of, if not the worst example within the genre regarding AI enemies for as long as anyone can remember. This is obviously less of an issue in multiplayer of course, but you still often fight 'human' AI opponents, and it's here is where it's completely lacklustre. Enemies will stay behind cover, wildly shooting at you repeatedly and hitting nothing but the cover they are hiding behind, or stay in the same place while you run around to their rear and finish them off, and often never even turn to face you. Will they attempt to dodge your grenades? Sometimes, but considering how advanced the AI was for the time in something such as Half Life back in 1998, it's absolutely appalling to see less sophisticated AI in a modern game with some raw budget pumped into it.
With regard to the single player mode, your AI team mates are utterly hopeless. Should they die - and they often will - they cannot revive each other, nor can they revive you if you die (it's a straight game over) which means not only do you have to look after yourself amid the chaos, you also have to babysit your squad. It really highlights how little time and effort has been put into the single player experience, and although the game was always marketed as a multiplayer game, it still must be scrutinised as there'll be many people playing it just for their own experiences, and it really fails in nearly every way single player wise. The worst thing is, better examples in the genre have shown to work around all of these problems. Gears of War 3, for example, has 4 man squads nearly throughout, and all can revive each other, and keep you going as well. With the template already created within the industy, all Slant Six had to do was take it, paint it in a Resident Evil theme, and the work was already done.
The visuals are hopeless, the framerate chugs during the bigger set pieces and although the art style is established from some of the older games, and the creatures certainly retain all their charm, the environments have a Paul WS Anderson approach to them. The subtle use of the Umbrella logo dotted around Raccoon has since been replaced with the movie approach of having it labelled on absolutely everything in existence, and the look of the labs is more in the style of the Hive from Anderson's first movie than anything seen in the games. The overall quality of the visuals are so hit and miss you come away with a mixed to low opinion of them. Occasionally you'll find the game looks pretty good, but it's never more than that, and certainly has nothing on Capcom's own MT Framework engine. At least the music makes up for it, with some actually superb arrangements- the Nemesis battle music was always an absolutely fantastic track, and it could never be anything else, even in Six Slant's hands.
Everything else just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Conceptually it's not a bad idea, but everything is handled so poorly. There's absolutely no real link between missions. One simply ends, there's a brief cutscene that often has no connection to the previous mission, and then a new one starts. It's fragmented, and although people will argue it's geared up to a more multiplayer friendly experience, it must be said that Capcom managed a much better set up with Resident Evil 5, which had a nice sense of progression and continuation between its level structure whilst remaining co-op friendly. Again, other developers have done the work, Slant Six only needed to built upon this, to make it all work.
Rounding off the raw criticism, is the vast amount of bugs the game has, whether it be in multiplayer or single player the game features many game breaking moments where sometimes killing yourself so the game level restarts is the only option for continuation (the game features no 'restart from previous checkpoint' option), this is without exaggeration one of the most bugged games in a long long time, at times it feels completely unfinished. Entire sections of a level can be skipped by simply running to the next checkpoint if it's available. One instance when I hit the next section I turned around and saw the entire zombie horde despawn behind me, it's embrassing frankly that we are seeing these kind of bugs in todays day and age.
There are seldom any positives to take away from the experience. Multiplayer offers some fun, but past the disguised game modes there are better experiences elsewhere. Though the zombies and monsters add a nice fresh dynamic to the multiplayer shenanigans, they don't do enough to save the game from feeling anything other than stunningly mediocre.
Indeed the only time the game ever became anything fun for me was near the end, where your squad comes against two Tyrants, similar to the ones seen in Resident Evil 2 in the trenchcoats. It's a great little boss fight, and the reason why it works is because it doesn't try to do anything clever, the old tactics that worked for Resident Evil 2 work a charm here. The Lickers and the Hunters in the game are just effectively bullet sponges, not reacting at all to gun fire until the moment they simply fall dead. But the Tyrants are relentless, and the fight emphasises them well.
The recently launched Spec Ops campaign offers little improvement from the USS campaign, coming with its own set of brand new bugs, and pacing problems that plague the main game throughout. There are further cameos and a couple of clever ways of tieing into the main storyline, but it's all window dressing that again, can't disguise for a minute what this game truly is.