Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City Preview (PS3)

It appears Capcom is really gunning for mass popularity with Resident Evil this year. The fifteen-year old franchise has seen recent rereleases of popular entries digitally, a 3DS spin-off and the announcement of a new, proper numbered title - but the most interesting development of all is probably the game slotted between the handheld title and Resident Evil 6 - Operation Raccoon City.

What's so interesting, you ask? It'd be a cop-out to simply remark that the answer is 'everything' but that is, in fact, a pretty accurate answer. First up is where it was made - it's developed outside of Japan, by Canadian Developer Slant Six Games - and their three titles preceding this have all been for Sony's SOCOM third person shooter series.

Familiar faces will show up – but you’ll be hunting them, not playing them

In line with that you can expect shooter gameplay. Part SOCOM, part Resident Evil as you know it and part Left 4 Dead, Operation Raccoon City places a huge emphasis on cooperative play like one, lifts modern third person mechanics from another and the universe and gameplay mechanics in broad strokes from another.

Then there's the setting, which eschews recent Resident Evil lore to head back to what many would describe as the heyday of the series - Resident Evil 2. It's slotted somewhere around halfway Resident Evil 2, stretching through past the timeline of that game to become something of a bridge between Resident Evil 2 and 3. It weaves in-and-out of the Resident Evil 2 plot, adding layers of complexity to it that can enrich without damaging the memory of that story.

More interesting still, Operation Raccoon City casts you as Umbrella agents - the antagonists in this story, ultimately sent in to wipe any trace of Umbrella involvement from the undead-ridden city to stop your corporate paymasters from becoming implicated. It's an interesting twist, and paints characters like much-loved Leon - protagonist of Resi 2, 4 and 6 - as your enemy.

The team you play is interesting, made up of a bunch of different stereotypes that seem fairly well developed past their surface cliché. There's a knife-wielding stealth master, an Asian lady who does the science stuff, a German medic, a Russian sniper to name a few - but the interactions between these characters in cutscenes feel fun, interesting and genuine.

The Raccoon City setting is the perfect place for a game like this to be set, too - it allows the team to leverage nostalgia with familiar locations, places and even events for classic Resident Evil fans but is also big enough to not be constricting. It'd be hard to believe there were a ton of extra rooms hidden in Resi 1's mansion, but in a city it's easy for them to hide new secret labs and even potentially all-new bio-organic weapons (BOWs) and mutations that can be enclosed in their own little capsule without contaminating the rest of the Resident Evil plot.

As such you'll see plenty of new stuff built for this new style of Resident Evil but the build I had access to - roughly the first half of the game - also featured fits of nostalgia too. One mission has recurring villain Hunk joining the squad, who then encounter an infected William Birkin in Umbrella labs.

The world of Raccoon City is still all very familiar and all very Resident Evil, and ranges from clean, pristine labs to ruined city streets and residential areas - and comes full circle to labs occasionally - though they're sometimes soaked with blood.

The team’ll have to work together to take on bigger enemies like Birkin

In gameplay terms the levels I got to play felt a hell of a lot like a modern Western third person shooter - not a shock coming from the team that developed three SOCOM games, but nonetheless kind of shocking for a game titled Resident Evil. After playing Revelations, a title with a very traditional, conservative approach - landing somewhere between PS1 tank controls and modern speed - Operation Raccoon City is as quick to react as the nearest Gears of War, Ghost Recon or SOCOM is.

The controls are swift, slick and responsive, though elements of Resident Evil gameplay still shine through here - there's a clear priority on animation over control in certain, specific moments.

Other reasons for the Western development team become clear the further you play - there's a robust, impressive XP and unlock system for new abilities and weapons that resembles Call of Duty, encouraging replaying levels with your new gear. The mission structure of the campaign is also more Western in style, shorter missions with interstitial menus between them.

The menus serve an important purpose, letting you change your load-out and character of choice in a manner which, yes, resembles Call of Duty and just about every other major action shooting game of late. Each character has unique abilities that can be used to further edit how they handle situations in-mission. One character even has a power of sorts that lets her temporarily control zombies, turning them on each other or on rival humans.

Each of the six characters on offer has five different exclusive abilities they can use, so there's quite a level of variety in customization of this alone - and that's without considering the plethora of guns and attachments on offer to upgrade with, too.

As well as the various infected enemies there's also a rival spec-ops team out to get you, despatched by the government solely to prevent your team from having success. This means there'll be a fair bit of gun vs. gun play in addition to the traditional gun vs. flailing limb combat against zombies. Both types of combat feel great, and there are a lot of really solid crowd control methods you can employ to deal with the zombies.

My time with the single player campaign of Operation Raccoon City left me excited to get more time with the final version of the game - as well as the multiplayer. The shooting is fun and responsive while the mission variety so far seems to combine its solid combat with fun objectives and set pieces - but there are issues. The AI of your allies feels a little off right now, especially considering the missions are designed to be played co-op with allies in mind.

They’ll also be hunted by well-armed Special Forces

Dumb zombies are acceptable, but the human enemies definitely need tightening up also. This stands as the primary flaw, alongside balance and performance issues that always plague early builds - and will hopefully be fixed by the time the game launches in March.

If you're looking for a story companion to the golden era of Resident Evil lore, a solid third-person zombie blaster or just a new co-op experience, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is definitely one to watch. We'll have more for you on the multiplayer side of things in the near future.

Most Anticipated Feature: Getting time with my mates on co-op!

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