For: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: Slant Six/Capcom
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
If you assembled a focus group of people who've never played a "Resident Evil" game and tasked them with designing the next one, "Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City" very well might be what they conceive by day's end.
That isn't damning criticism so much as faint praise, because "City" at least fulfills its unimaginative ideals with competency. It holds no candle to a traditional "RE" game. But as a cover-based, co-op-capable third-person squad shooter that hits every bullet point an online, experience points-driven, competitive/cooperative shooter needs to hit? Sure, why not.
With that said, the best thing about "City's" cover shooter ambitions might be how it largely abandons them early in the campaign, which you can play alone with three A.I. partners, online with three human partners, or some mix thereof. (Sadly, there's no local co-op option.)
"City" drops you into the shoes of an Umbrella Corporation-appointed cleanup squad, tasked with removing all traces of its involvement in sparking the Raccoon City zombie apocalypse. In other words, you finally get to play out the saga's formative episodes from the bad guy's side.
Without spoiling specifics, the first leg of this PR campaign pits you against government soldiers who are armed both with guns and intelligence. (Hence, the need to fight from cover.)
The results are passable but sloppy. There's no button to stick to cover: "City" does it automatically, which means it sometimes doesn't when you need it to and does when you don't. That, and the occasional unresponsiveness that happens when you try swapping weapons, detract from a control scheme that otherwise covers the basics adequately.
Fortunately - and inevitably, because they're "RE's" reason for being - the zombies indeed rush in. And once they do, "City" becomes 10 percent cover shooter and 90 percent run and gun.
The change in tempo doesn't fully nullify "City's" shortcomings, especially when it descends into chaos during mission-ending objectives that cram levels with zombies and soldiers galore. But the action is lively, and it's fun to take on the zombie horde with degrees of weaponry and dexterity that wouldn't make sense in a more traditional "RE" game.
As co-op experiences go, "City" is once again satisfactory. Setting up foursomes is easy, and teams that protect (and, in the event of a bad zombie fight, disinfect) each other will find those aforementioned descents into chaos much easier to bear.
If, however, you play alone, be prepared to fight alone. A.I. partners can kill a zombie or two, but they provide shoddy protection and can't revive you like you can them. (If you turn zombie or become incapacitated, the game halts and whisks you back to the nearest checkpoint.) Cold though it sounds, your A.I. partners are best used as bait while you flank enemies from behind.
Other bullet points abound. The campaign is roughly six hours long, but with six very different (and separately upgradable) character classes to play as, there's incentive to go play it again. Stats persist across the whole game, so you can apply your unlocked perks to "City's" competitive multiplayer suite as well.
The competitive multiplayer (eight players, online only) features "RE"-flavored variants of team deathmatch, capture the flag and territory control. A Heroes Mode, meanwhile, lets you play as famous faces from games past and take sides in the standoff between Umbrella and the government.
Again, the action is fun but customary - albeit with a wrinkle. The multiplayer arenas are crawling with zombies, and once again, they're the common enemy of both opposing forces. Having to manage boatloads of A.I. enemies while also outwitting more formidable human opponents - who are dealing with the same zombies while taking you on - adds some serious (and, unlike the chaos mentioned earlier, welcome) bedlam to what otherwise is pretty standard four-on-four action.