Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City Hands-On: There Will Be Blood. And Running. And Gunning. All At The Same Time.

As much as I love all sorts of games I’ll admit to being a tiny bit skeptical every so often about Capcom announcing yet another Resident Evil title. Sure, the franchise is hugely popular with a whopping 45 million units sold across multiple platforms… but it’s far from perfect. There are certain gameplay elements that have been with the series from day one that, while fresh and fun a few years back, are a bit decayed when compared to some of today’s titles. Granted, keeping things set in stone doesn’t just plague Capcom’s zombie-packed games alone. I could go on for a few paragraphs about other storied franchises setting into too familiar territory, but let’s talk about the game that’s going to save Resident Evil from itself while surprising the hell out of the most skeptical die-hard fans in the process. Thanks to developer Slant Six Games, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is coming and in my opinion, as both an offline and online experience, it’s absolutely the best thing to happen to the franchise in years.

For starters, the game sets itself neatly into the RE canon by taking place during the events of Resident Evil 2 and 3. You’ll see a few familiar faces pop up as part of some dynamic cut scenes, but (and as far as I know) they’re not playable characters here. The game is all about an elite strike team made of of four complete bad-asses sent in for a bit of search and destroy mayhem inside Raccoon City.  As part of the U.S.S. (Umbrella Security Services), your mission is to eliminate any traces of the T-Virus including all infected and any non-infected survivors so news of the outbreak can be squashed. Of course, this means you’re playing as one of the bad guys here and yes, your targets include a certain Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield. Adding to the mix are a bunch of US Spec Ops troops sent in to find out what’s going on, which means the U.S.S. has not only zombies to deal with, but enemy snipers and gunners trying to put them down as they search for clues as to what’s going on in Raccoon.

At Capcom’s terminally packed New York Comic Con booth, my hands on time with the PS3 demo was limited to one map played with three other connected players and the experience was not only thrilling, it made me more excited about a non-portable RE game than I’d been in quite some time. What’s immediately impressive are the visuals, tight gameplay and fast-paced shooting action that packs the screen with undead, yet still feels perfectly grounded in the RE universe. The ability to shoot while running, take cover and pull off more dynamic moves in a fully 3D environment make the game more accessible right from the start. While the overall demo was less “frightening” than older games, it still packed in some shock moments. Getting attacked by a zombie has a few perils on its own, but if you or any of your team get injured and bleed, any zombies in the vicinity will swarm your way, which leads to some tense moments of shooting and slashing as you try and survive.

The game is set up like a cross between a team-based shooter with a definite nod to Left 4 Dead. If that’s not getting you excited, you’re probably pretty undead (or just someone  too jaded who needs to play the game, not just see screenshots and game footage). Each of the four playable characters in the demo is an absolute bad-ass to use, so there’s no worries if you end up with the medic, as she’s an undead killer first and foremost. Controls are great, although I tended to curb stomp instead of grabbing an item because I was so spastic with all zombie hell breaking loose around The map was set in Raccoon City’s destroyed nighttime city center and broken up into outdoor and indoor locations that offered up undead aplenty coming from all sides. Each character has a main weapon, sub weapon a few grenades and a melee attack, all of which will be used as the hordes of zombies and other enemies start coming.

The demo went from a street battle against undead civilians and cops to an indoor garage where Lickers dropped in from the ceiling and finally, to an outdoor area that had enemy snipers, even MORE zombies and (eek) Hunters running at me an my team in an attempt to eat and run. Death comes quickly if you’re careless, but respawning puts you back in the action really quickly. Just as the demo time was coming to a close, I got trapped in an alley with two Hunters bearing down on me and a third nearby. Frantically jamming on the buttons, I managed to kill not one, but BOTH Hunters with my combat knife and a third with a grenade and a few well placed shots before the mission ended.

The presentation is solid and spectacular so far. Slant Six’s programming expertise with a couple of excellent SOCOM titles on the PSP as well as the hard-core fan-favorite SOCOM Confrontation on the PS3 is on full display here in a sharper-looking game that’s going to make a lot of folks happy from new players to RE veterans. My suggestion to the cross-armed, stubborn RE die-hards that think this game isn’t the same thing as what they love is to shake it off and realizes, that YES, it may be an all-new way to play a RE game for some of you guys and gals, but it WORKS and works brilliantly once you see how well everything comes together. Besides, Capcom hasn’t let that old-school gameplay you crave die off completely. Resident Evil Revelations on the Nintendo 3DS will offer up an excellent game that plays like the older titles (but looks absolutely incredible on the handheld).

I found out a bit later from Capcom’s Honey (“I’m Home!”) Hamilton that the game will be entirely playable if you want to go solo with three AI teammates, but I’d gather that this one will be the go-to game for those who want to take the fight online. Given that this one’s a PS3, Xbox 360 and PC game, I can see fans asking for cross-platform play, but it looks like it’s a no go this time. Still, I can see Capcom and Slant Six teaming up for a few of these or at least a whole lot of DLC down the road, as Operation Raccoon City is looking to be the newest star in the long-running franchise that will bring even more core players on board when it ships next year. I can’t wait to see how the whole package has come together, that’s for sure. Capcom is once again, on a roll with the great games and 2012 looks to be a darn good year for the publisher on a few fronts.

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