Let’s face it. The Survival Horror genre hasn’t, well, survived the horror of game companies obsessed with satisfying action fans. Recent outings of Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Alone in the Dark have mostly disappointed long time fans of these series that have been around since the 90s. Gone is the creepy atmosphere, fixed horror movie camera angles, and terrifying, slow burning confrontations with nightmarish creatures. The genre has gone the way of horror movies: chaos and action bombarding you so fast you don’t have time to experience or be absorbed by fear. You could say 21st century horror video games are the running “infected” of 28 Days Later as compared to 20th century survival horror video games, which were the slow, ambling zombies of Night of the Living Dead.
And that translated literally to Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. Seriously, the zombies in the original RE games walked lazily and just kind of popped out at you unexpectedly from around corners, grabbing you around the neck and choking you (just like the incredible atmosphere). Since Resident Evil 4, we instead get these “infected” that run at you in swarms, forcing you to button mash with little success in actually taking them down. And the truth is, we just have to deal with this new resident reality, because Capcom, nor any other horror game makers for that matter, are likely to go back to the true horror genre since action fans have excessively applauded the abandonment of “tank controls,” lack of weapons and ammunition, lack of enemies, and “boring atmosphere” that they claim made survival horror games unplayable.
On the other hand, longtime fans have continuously griped about the new direction of the series. In turn, Capcom has ignored and not quite comprehended the actual complaint about why Resident Evil is no longer the magnificent series it once was. In an effort to appease those they think are living in the past, Capcom has made numerous non-canon games, such as the light gun shooters for Wii, that simply put us back in the mansion or the police station. Operation Raccoon City does the same thing. Seems like Capcom said, “Okay. Let’s have another game developer simply create an action game that is set in the original RE universe so these purists will shut up because we’re giving them what they want.” Honestly, the original RE fan base doesn’t need every game to be set in Raccoon City. We just want—you know—to be scared. Terrified. Fearing what monster waits behind the next door. We want to be immersed in the look and feel of the game—not rushing through it and shooting blindly trying to escape every new setting and horde of enemies as soon as possible. And we really don’t want our enemies shooting back at us! That’s what war games are for. Which is pretty much what I felt like I was playing when I played Operation Raccoon City.
Understanding this was an action game, I went into it ready to really play an arcade game instead of an engaging story-based epic. And yet, I was still shocked at how much time I had to spend right off the bat trying to plot, plan, and aim—at soldiers shooting at me with deadly accuracy! I felt like I was playing a third-person version of Time Crisis. Hey Resident Evil. Where are the zombies?
Oh, fear not. Here they come—in droves. Running. FAST. While you’re still being shot at by soldiers. Let the chaos ensue.
Yeah. I made it through the game, but really, it isn’t Resident Evil. It’s an action game with hints of horror. You get zombies, a few zombie dogs, lickers, hunters, Tyrant, and Nemesis. But you don’t get that “weak-in-the-knees-for-a-new-RE-game” feeling.
2-player online is more fun because it’s a panic party—you and your friend screaming in confusion as you run around shooting aimlessly, not because you feel totally alone and isolated. Also, the downloadable campaign, which literally gives you an entire second game, is way better than the original campaign; it actually feels more like an old school Resident Evil game, for some reason.
Now I’m no expert on action games either, but I must say, there are some seriously frustrating factors to this game. Let’s begin with the running, which is something you’ll need to do a lot. In order to run, you need to press straight down on the left stick (also known as L3) while pushing it up. Unless you hold the stick really hard and just right, the function fails mid-run. Happened to me way too often. Plus, the function can be combined with a dive and dodge feature by pressing X. I can’t count the amount of times I went into panic mode while fighting (aka: running) and accidentally hit the X button, inadvertently THROWING myself to the floor in a dodge move while Tyrant was stomping up behind me. ARGH!
Then there’s the “take cover” maneuver, which is automatic whenever you move up against an object. Of course, when you are intentionally trying to take cover behind something while being blasted by soldiers, it always turns out that is one of few objects you can’t take cover behind! But fear not. If you’re just moseying on over to a corner to pick up a healing spray, chances are your going to hug the nearest wall in case that healing spray should, you know, detonate or something….
The element that is present from the classic survival horror genre is the lack of supplies. You carry very few items, and only in quick menu slots. There’s no menu screen to access. You can carry limited healing spray and antiviral spray. See, you can become infected in this game, which causes you to die quickly if you don’t find a scarce and elusive blue antiviral spray. It sucks when you already have the limited amount you can carry on you yet you have to leave another one behind because you don’t have room…which usually means you’re going to desperately need it in the very next area when you get infected multiple times by multiple zombies. And green herbs? They are use-on-demand. You can’t pick them up or carry them at ALL. So again, if you don’t need them at the moment, you have to just wave goodbye to them longingly before moving on to the next area, where you will immediately be mutilated by enemies and in excruciating need of one.
Interestingly, in the most outrageous of fights (when you can’t tell what the hell is going on), there’s plenty of ammo around, which is nice, but there are times in more subdued areas when you pretty much get completely depleted of ammo and need to switch to your useless handgun. There’s also really no cherishing any weapons. You get to carry your handgun and ONE…count it, ONE…better weapon. And as you run amok fleeing bullets and biters, you often click on any shit you run past hoping it’s something useful, only to find out later that you inadvertently picked up a different gun! Which makes me wonder why they even have this option to use experience points to BUY upgraded weapons (but ONLY between missions, not during game play). I’m supposed to blow 25,000 experience points on a gun I may accidentally exchange for a slow reload, limited ammo shotgun in a few minutes???
Speaking of picking up useless items, you will also find little shiny white objects that say “COLLECT DATA.” You collect it, but it’s not like picking up files in the old RE games, when you could actually READ the files right then and there to get more background on the main story or hear interesting back stories of characters slowly going mad as they transform into zombies. And it’s not like the game is affected if you miss collecting any data. Same goes for computer terminals with which you can interact. When you do so it will give you a message that you’ve earned x-amount of experience points (XP), but I don’t know if you earned those just by interacting with the computer or if it’s just a sort of tally to let you know how many points you’ve earned since the mission began. And really, it seems kind of irrelevant because the XP situation is kind of…worthless, as I’ll explain below.
That was another thing I didn’t completely get while playing the game. You can “upgrade” your character’s stats while playing (again, only between missions), but it seems all you’re really upgrading, up to 3 levels, are 3 different special abilities. And these are abilities I personally used like once (and I only found ONE of my character’s 3 abilities practical anyway). Meanwhile, by the time I finished upgrading these 3 useless special abilities, the game was over. I never had enough extra XP to buy any better weapons! I guess when I play through the game again I can waste my points on the weapons now that I’ve maxed out my character stats.
Of course, another reason I may not have had the XP needed was because I let my 3 A.I. team members do a lot of the killing. I mean, these idiots just ran right out into the fray of whizzing bullets. Why should I??? Besides which, there’s a bleeding feature in this game; if a soldier shoots you in just the right place just enough times, your screen is soaked in red so you can barely see, and you cry out that you’re bleeding, and that attracts swarms of zombies! Now you’re running around frantically and blindly trying to find a green herb, zombies are swarming you, you’re suddenly not only bleeding but infected as well, without a blue antivirus spray in sight (although it might be right next to you and you just can’t see it because of all the on-screen madness), and not one of your teammates comes over to help get the zombies off you. Nightmare. When things are actually chill, there is one team member who is nice enough to spray you with health if you need it, and in return, your members will occasionally be dying on the floor, about to turn into zombies, but not if you can get over there fast enough and hold the X button down long enough to revive them (although usually a Hunter comes along and swats you across the room before you can finish reviving them).
But really, I did have fun playing. I swear! And it wasn’t as hard as it sounds. I swear! However, there are other problems that make the game a challenge. For starters, it’s hard to tell when the game saves. Apparently a symbol flashes on screen letting you know it autosaved (you can’t choose when to save in this game), but unless you specifically notice yet one more symbol flashing on screen trying to tell you something, you are pretty much risking having to do a bunch of stuff over if you quit the game. In a similar fashion, when you get a sudden and immediate new objective (usually a boss battle scenario), characters shout some instructions and words flash on screen momentarily, but you are already too focused on trying to blast away at one or two Tyrants to take note—only to find out after you die trying like 5 times and then look it up on the internet that you weren’t actually supposed to SHOOT at him, but simply run away from him. Great.
And this is true for the “final boss” as well—if you want to call it that. In the last mission, you have an option to save a certain character. If you do, that character is on your side and you only have to take out two of your team members who have defected. If you don’t choose to save this character, you add a third enemy to the battle. I opted to save the character just to make things easier. I’m not stupid! Although, I was stupid moments after the cutscene when I discovered that I couldn’t tell my team members apart, so I had no idea which two I was supposed to be shooting at until they’d come running right up to me and take me out with a one-shot kill. That’s right. One-shot kill. But honestly, once I focused and made sure I knew who my enemies were, the final battle is a breeze.
This short game of only 7 missions really is like an arcade game. I don’t even know that I’d notice anything different playing through it again, because there isn’t time to appreciate the experience. It’s all run and gun. You truly race through each mission just to get to the end, and it’s not like you’re heading for a mind-blowing climax because there’s no story. Not to mention, going into a new game with my built-up stats is, well, like me going into the game the first time. No real advantage here since the special abilities are pretty useless! It’s not like I’ve become stronger, better able to take on damage, or a sharper shooter. Come on. Even the original RE games let you start the next game with an infinite grenade launcher or magnum or something!!!
Essentially, to fully appreciate Operation Raccoon City, you should play co-op and accept that it’s merely a third person Left4Dead…with army soldiers shooting at you most of the time….