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E3 2012 Floor Footage Video Dump

Other than suffering from terrible foot, leg and back pain from carrying a 25lb pack on my back for four days straight I had a blast at E3.  I shot a considerable amount more of footage while on the show floor than what I did last year thanks to some extra batteries I packed and while I wasn't able to capture a bunch of games I really wanted to play I did get a good selection.

Here now is my video dump from my Youtube channel.  Look for my articles to start being churned out next week.

Oh, and the picture above is of me with Dean "Rocket" Hall, the creator of the popular (and very fun) Day Z mod for ARMA II.  I brought him a token of appreciation in the form of one of the most sought-after items in the game: beans.  If you play Day Z don't expect the same curtosy to be extended to you.  Ever.

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I Won!

Wow.  I'm at work right now and I can't describe how I feel.  Learning that I've won a competition like this is stunning, especially when you consider that I had a thousand other reviewers to compete with.  I'm honestly speechless about it.

I guess the best thing I can say right now is thank you, CD Projekt RED!  Not only did you give me the opportunity to play and write about a great game, you chose me out of hundreds of people, many of whom are far more worthy than I.  I can't wait to thank you guys in person when I'm at E3.

FYI I'll be on 4PlayerPodcast's main broadcast tomorrow night at 8pm CST.  Hopefully I'll be a little more composed when I appear on the show.

Thank you again, and thank you to all you visitors for coming by.


Review: Sniper Elite V2

If you were to go up to the average shooter fan these days and ask them what they thought of titles set during World War II you’ll probably hear one of two answers: that they became oversaturated during the last decade or that nothing interesting can or could be told about them.  Yet, in this age in which I look around and see nothing but modern, “cutting edge” titles with the same evil Russian/Chinese/Islamic/whathaveyou plot that has been repeated time and time again, I can’t help but want to revisit the days in which our enemies really were evil and not just a matter of perspective and consequence.  These days in games victory is assured thanks to the technological might and tenacity of Western powers but during the first half of the 1940s victory wasn’t certain.  Given that the Second World War spanned nearly five years and two theaters there is definitely plenty of room to explore new fiction.

To answer the other question though we have games like Brothers in Arms and, most recently, Sniper Elite V2, a remake of a 2005 title that saw you sneaking through the Battle of Berlin as a deadly sniper.  Seven years on and many new gameplay conventions learned, does Sniper Elite V2 prove that a setting doesn’t have to be the end-all reason to not go back to World War II?

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The Waning War
Despite the American and British’s best efforts it was the Soviet Union that charged into Berlin first and ended the five year struggle to rid Europe of Hitler’s fascist regime.  With the war in Europe in sight Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt met in February of 1945 at what became known as the Yalta Conference to discuss the post-war reconstruction and reorganization of Germany and its conquered nations.  What followed however was a behind-the-scenes scramble to gain control of Nazi Germany’s technologies and scientists as well as attempts by both sides to place socialistic or democratic influence on the soon-to-be rebuilt countries.  Europe was about to become center stage for a drama of ideologies that would engulf the world for the next fifty years and in Sniper Elite V2 you, the player, are at the heart of it.

You play as OSS officer Karl Fairborne inserted into Berlin in April of 1945.  As the Germans fight a losing war of attrition against an overwhelming Soviet army, you are tasked with capturing or killing key German scientists attached to the V-2 rocket program that continuously struck Antwerp, London and Paris during the preceding years.  With the war almost certainly won, you must do your best to prevent the Soviets from gaining these personnel at all costs.  Without any Allied backup and both the German and Soviet forces considering you hostile you are alone in the middle of one of the biggest battles in military history hoping to shape the future of a war that hasn’t even officially begun.

The campaign of Sniper Elite V2 has you (and a buddy if playing cooperatively) playing through nine different levels located in and around Berlin.  Across the roughly six to eight hour campaign you will stalk your prey as the city falls around you in mostly linear missions as you complete objective dictated to you in a pre-mission briefing.  Other than a scant few cutscenes to be had and the briefings Sniper Elite is decidedly a lonely experience with little to no story narration or emotional pull to be had.  All you know is that you have a rifle, targets you need to use it on and an objective to accomplish.  This harkens back to a time in which shooters could be emotionally closed off and didn’t try to pull on your heartstrings and, for a title like this, this is all but necessary.  Sometimes it’s just better to choose to give the player the tools to complete his mission and not much else and, at least in the case of Sniper Elite, this is the right call.

What isn’t the right call however is the game’s length and ending.  An experienced shooter fan can complete the campaign in a good afternoon’s worth of dedication and, other than replaying the campaign cooperatively or completing challenges, there’s really not much left to do with the game.  The ending is also very abrupt and leaves the player wanting more.  Developer Rebellion looks to be adding DLC down the road but, as it stands right out of the box, V2 doesn’t offer much else.  Preorder content such as the ‘Kill Hitler’ level does offer a glimpse at a strong future for the game though.

Lining Up the Target
Most shooters these days are a run-and-gun, macho affair that has you playing as a supersoldier that can withstand pain as if bullets were instead pebbles being thrown at you by a five year old.  Sniper Elite V2 however is pretty much the antithesis of this gameplay formula as you are, decidedly, far more human than in most games.  To be fair, the game does feature the commonplace regenerative health scheme but, on any difficulty save for easy, a burst of machine gun fire will end you very quickly.

Going beyond the health scheme however, Sniper Elite is also a very much tactical shooter in comparison to the Call of Duties and other macho shooters seen nowadays.  The game’s gameplay is quite slow and methodical for the majority of your playtime and actively discourages you from playing in any other style than a tortoise-like advance through the battlefield.  The game incorporates a stealth gameplay mechanic very much like that used in Splinter Cell Conviction and, in some ways downright stealing from that game.  The stealth gameplay is a welcome feature to a game like this though it is all but a prerequisite for a game based entirely around sniping.

There are some issues with the stealth elements of the game however.  The game takes line-of-sight far more seriously than player illumination and discrepancies rear their ugly heads more often than not later in the game.  One later level set at night has the player running into an issue in which a machine gunner can see you from fifty meters away when an enemy ten meters away can’t.  Enemies can also discern the falling of a rock or the slightest bit of movement faster than tip-toeing while in the middle of an artillery strike, causing them to investigate the area when there should be little to no reason to do so.  I often found myself struggling through an area and facing a game over screen because an enemy sniper could somehow tell me apart from all the rubble around me just because the hair on my character stood half an inch higher than anything else.  More often than not an enemy sniper will see you long before you see them and firing eliminates any hope of getting the drop on the enemies directly in front of you. The stealth element of the game is manageable but the way it works currently it is something that takes some getting used to.

As the game’s title implies and demands, V2’s primary gameplay has you focusing on sniping targets from afar while trying to be as well hidden as possible.  Over time you will earn new sniper rifles to get the job done that offer enhancements such as increased ammunition capacity and enhanced magnification on weapon scopes.  Players are unable to customize their primary weapon though so you don’t get the feeling of being a professional sniper.  Given that the weapon selection in 1945 was decidedly limited though this is but a minor issue in my eyes.

When sniping, players playing on anything other than easy have to account for real-world problems that plague sharpshooters today.  Issues such as bullet drop over distance, lead time, stance, heart rate and even wind speeds in and around the target must be accounted for when taking an accurate shot at your target and, with only the indicators on your rifle’s scope and an estimated distance to target to work with, higher difficulties in the game can be decidedly harder.  One particular mechanic however aids the player significantly: the game’s Focus Time mechanic.  Similar to that of your typical bullet time effect, players can activate this ability based on how low their heart rate is, causing the world around you to slow down and also activating a targeting reticle in your scope indicating exactly where the bullet will strike.  The result is a mightily useful tool, especially when you have already been spotted by the enemy and are under fire.

The ‘V2’ portion of the game’s full title is a perfect moniker for Rebellion’s latest title as, beyond the game’s story implications, it serves as a proper reference to the 2012 title being a version 2.0 remake of the 2005 sleeper hit.  Many of the game’s core mechanics have been refined rather than reworked but nothing solidifies this version 2.0 gameplay than the introduction of the game’s notorious kill cams.  At random, the game will take control just after a bullet is fired at an enemy and follow it along the bullet’s flight path.  Some will stop there and show the impact of the round but many kill cams will go further and show off the actual damage the bullet inflicts, showing an anatomic cutaway of the victim and the destruction the round wreaks upon him as it tears through the body.  The result is both grotesque and awe-inspiring, easily making it one of the most memorable and enjoyable features Sniper Elite has to offer.  The effect also applies to moment like the destruction of a vehicle by shooting its fuel cap but, regardless how and in reference to what it occurs, the kill cam never gets old.  It definitely makes V2 a game that’s not for the faint of heart but, as the developer has implied in the past that the kill cam mechanic was actually toned down for the game’s release, one can only imagine what could have been.

The Sniper’s Playground
Sniper Elite’s visual presentation, much like most shooters seen today, is a muddled one filled to the brim with browns and greys throughout most of the game.  Since the game takes place in the remains of a once mighty city near the middle of the 20th century though this is a necessity, though a little green and some more lively colors would have been a welcome sight.  The game’s design really sells the player on being on site at the fall of Berlin as many locations feel quite authentic, capturing what one can imagine it must have felt like at times as the Soviet army stormed into the city.  To date, few games have really shown what Berlin was like at the fall so for those looking for an architectural reference to the scene in April 1945 there are few better ones than Sniper Elite V2.

The game’s level design is mostly a linear affair, though as the game goes on the levels get progressively more sandbox in nature.  One particularly memorable level has you infiltrating a Soviet base next to a bombed-out and rubble-filled neighborhood that you can fully explore.  Other, however, have you sneaking through destroyed churches and other standard war game tour locations like a flak tower and government buildings.  The balance is fair at times but, overall, it leaves you wanting more open, sandbox levels to trudge through with multiple ways to complete objectives and kills.

One unfortunate part of the game’s presentation comes in the form of the audio mix.  Surround sound only rarely has a better mix than that of basic stereo in Sniper Elite as you can easily hear enemy voice far, far off from where you are.  Sounds that should be indistinguishable such as a rock hitting the ground while a large explosion is going off can clearly be heard.  By contrast, enemy weapons fire at times can be very quiet despite happening almost right next to the player.  The game’s voice acting includes authentic German and Russian voice work which is nice but Fairborne’s work is very monotone and unemotional.  Sniper Ellite’s soundtrack is also decidedly generic and lacks any sort of distinction from other war games which, given how unique it is in comparison to most of its competitors, it deserves a good musical allotment.

One other minor complaint to be had is the game’s control scheme.  While for the most part Sniper Elite adopts the standard Call of Duty control scheme, some of the game’s design choices contrast’s the game’s tactical nature.  Player movement while in a crouched state only has one speed as the game doesn’t make full use of procedural character movement and the game’s camera is stuck to the player, shifting their position as the camera pans.  An unlocked camera plays better to third person gameplay like what Sniper Elite utilizes but it simply isn’t implemented.  The player character is also locked to the left third of the screen and cannot be shifted to the right unless in cover which is almost a prerequisite of most tactical shooters like Ghost Recon these days.  This makes it quite difficult to see around corners in enclosed environments and can be especially annoying at times.

One in the Chamber
Sniper Elite V2 is an example of what can be done right when trying to make a shooter really different.  While it ends up having some minor issues and game design choices that don’t align with what you think a game based around sniping should be, they come off as minor inconveniences in an already good game.  While Rebellion’s remake of the sleeper hit from 2005 hasn’t exactly cornered the market on sniper games it has demonstrated that they can be just as fun and smart as today’s big-box, triple-A releases.

What’s more important however is that Sniper Elite V2 shows that a World War II game isn’t an undesirable thing anymore.  In fact, a return to more constrained fiction may be what needs to happen in a genre that has been steadily becoming more boring with its fiction and game design.  Unique fun can still be found within the confines of a game set during one of the most important times in human history and Sniper Elite V2 is a testament to that fact.


Review: The Witcher 2 Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition

Plenty of innovation in the gaming industry comes from Japan and North America.  While these developers continue to push boundaries and reshape the landscape of our beloved medium, more often than not it seems that our European colleagues are forced to take a back seat thanks to incredibly large marketing campaigns and press demonstrations that simply can’t be afforded by anyone not being published by the likes of EA, Ubisoft or any of other large houses.  One brand that thankfully has pierced this veil has been The Witcher, a series based on Polish fantasy novel series.  CD Projekt RED, the developer behind the video game adaptations, released the first two games on PC this generation.  Prior to their announcement of The Witcher 3 though the team has chosen to release an updated version of the second game, Assassins of Kings, and port it to the Xbox 360, the team’s first home console project.

Assassins of Kings received rave reviews when it was released last year but, a year later and on a brand new platform, does The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition find itself well adapted to gamers with inadequate PCs?

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The Second Coming of the White Wolf

Based on the novel series started by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski in the 90s, the universe of The Witcher takes place on what is simply known as The Continent.  Dominated by humans who relegate all other species to the status of being second class citizens, the land is primarily divided into two major regions: the ever-growing Nilfgaardian Empire in the south and the divided Northern Kingdoms.  In a world of Elves, Dwarves, Trolls and all manner of magic folk, the citizens of this world live in constant threat of the monsters and evil creatures that lurk in the shadows.  Where a brigade of soldiers or a powerful mage fail there are those amongst us who border on being monsters themselves, ones whose abilities and powers bridge the gap between mage and warrior.  These rare beings are known as witchers.

Once human, witchers are mutated at a young age and given supernatural abilities allowing them to see in the dark and exercise limited amounts of magic.  These mercenaries are both hated and yet a necessity to quell the threat of the monsters of the world and few are more famous than Geralt of Rivia, the series’ protagonist.  Several months prior, Geralt had served and saved King Foltest of the Northern Kingdom of Tameria from an assassin.  Grateful, Foltest employs Geralt as a bodyguard.

At the start of Assassins of Kings, Geralt is imprisoned in the dungeon of La Valette castle, a fortress King Foltest had laid siege to in an attempt to quell a rebellion.  Geralt recounts his story to fellow brother in arms Vernon Roche who reveals that, on the cusp of victory, Foltest was murdered by a witcher assassin who escaped just in time to frame Geralt for the crime.  Believing him, Roche aids Geralt in escaping the castle and, with the aid of sorceress Triss Marigold, the trio set out to find the assassin and bring light to this sinister conspiracy.

Like most large RPG releases on the market today, The Witcher 2 makes a point of giving the player choices, both minor and major, that shape the plot.  Some might be as small and simple as creating a trap that later aids in a boss fight.  Others, such as one major one you have to make in the first chapter, can change the course of the rest of the game and have severe end-game consequences.  Unlike other titles however these choices feel a bit more personal and direct in terms of action and result, making these moments feel far more important than in a game like Mass Effect.

Probably the most intriguing part of the choices present to the player is the nature of them.  Most RPGs tend to employ a morality system and weave these choices in to present a plot that diverges based on good/evil decisions.  The Witcher 2 doesn’t utilize this gameplay structure however, instead opting for a design which has mostly morally gray ones.  More often than not there is no right or wrong decision to be made in the game and, despite some of them resulting in dire, world altering moments, CD Projekt RED’s focus on Geralt’s story rather than trying to deliberately change the world as a whole makes for a far more interesting and wondrous experience.

One issue I could not help finding myself at odds with though was just how much The Witcher 2 makes mention of the previous game’s story.  As a newcomer to the Witcher universe as well as a console player I became quite confused at most of the instances that discussed the events of the first game.  Had The Witcher been released on consoles as well I’d be more inclined to dismiss this as Xbox 360 owners would have the option to play it but, given the previous game’s platform exclusivity and the lack of inclusion of a preamble explaining who Geralt is and what his previous exploits encompassed, it results in quite a bit of player confusion.  Assassins of Kings instead does little more than continue the plot set up in the first game and forces the player to learn about people and things like the Grand Master and the Golden Dragon on their own in the game’s quest codex.  The information provided is ample but, for a game that puts such a strong emphasis on story, it doesn’t provide much context for newcomers.

Despite this, The Witcher 2 delivers a strong narrative that will keep you wanting to play far later into the evening than you should.  With a strong story and side quests you can find yourself putting in well over forty hours in a single playthrough.  Couple this with branching story paths and multiple endings and the result is a game that almost demands being played through twice if not more.  You’ll come away satisfied with the story and quite excited for the prospects of The Witcher 3.

The Butcher of Blaviken

Despite having been born and raised on the PC, The Witcher 2’s Xbox 360 port makes the game almost feels like it is better suited for a controller than a mouse and keyboard.  Some PC quirks such as the lack of procedural movement for analog sticks and more mouse friendly menus unfortunately do make the transition to the console but, for the most part, it is a fine translation.  The arrangement of the buttons fits most of the appropriate actions taken normally in the game and they flow quite well so you should find yourself getting the hang of most of the in-game actions within at least the first hour or so.

Combat in The Witcher 2 is an exercise in patience and is certainly difficult to master.  Despite the controls being fairly adaptable, the gameplay forces the player to focus almost entirely on playing defense.  Geralt does regenerate health over time but it takes a decidedly long time to regain it, lasting well past your most recent battle.  Players will not find anything resembling a standard health item for instant regeneration either so dodging and blocking the attacks of your enemies is an absolute necessity.  Unlike other hack-n-slash games you’ll find yourself staring at the ‘game over’ screen more often than you’d like even on normal.  It isn’t nearly as difficult and repetitive a games as the likes of Dark Souls but it can still be quite difficult at times.  Several enemies in particular can be especially heinous in just how punishing they can be so take some advice from me: save, and save often.

As a witcher, Geralt is forced to face enemies both sentient and not but, unfortunately, his variety of weapons doesn’t allow for much variety in combat.  Players can equip two primary weapons at any given time, one dedicated for human and elven combat while keeping a default silver sword for fighting monsters.  Players can trade out their normal sword for an axe, club and other items but, more often than not, the game will hand you a new sword to use.  Shields cannot be equipped, nor can items like spears and halberds despite many of your opponents using them.  Geralt may be a professional monster hunter but, despite definitely having the skill to take on the task, CD Projekt seems intent on keeping his weapons focused on blades and not much else.

To augment Geralt’s paltry weapon selection though our main character has access to magic spells known as Signs.  Players have immediate access to all five signs in the game upon startup with a sixth being unlockable provided the player does some strong character leveling.  Each of these abilities have distinct advantages and disadvantages but you will find yourself falling back on one in particular for the majority of the game: Quen, a spell that protects you from a certain amount of damage, is easily the game’s biggest combat-related crutch.  Signs are definitely helpful in being forced to take on multiple opponents and since you magic quota regenerates considerably faster than your vitality, you can easily find yourself using several different spells multiple times during a conflict.

Pursuers of the Wild Hunt

CD Projekt RED’s initial launch of The Witcher 2 last year yielded a phenomenal graphics powerhouse of a game, stunning gamers in a way not really done on the PC since Crysis.  I’m happy to report that the transition to the Xbox 360 has yielded minimal issues and compromises. Throughout many parts of the game you might find yourself a bit stunned as to the presentation brought forth, the first chapter of the game in particular showing off a fantastic looking forest.  The nature of these graphically beautiful worlds does a great job of disguising just how compact each hub area in the game actually is, though it is a bit disappointing once you can see through the facade.  Character models look great, dialog syncing is spot on and, aside from the occasional facial mocap bug, every character emotes in a believable manner.

The audio portion of the game’s presentation is probably one of this year’s best 5.1 surround sound mixes.  Standing in the middle of the forest outside Flotsam you’ll hear birds singing, the creaking of trees, the distant howls of enemies; all of it presenting itself in a wonderful, almost symphonic presentation that gives you the feeling that you really are in this ancient, untamed environment.  Character voices and very well done and the actor’s presentations really give the player a sense of just how conflicted society is in The Witcher series.  The only downside to the acting you’ll find is in the form of Geralt himself as, for a majority of the game, he seems quite monotone and unexcited.  Hopefully this will change with The Witcher 3 but, as this game stands, Geralt doesn’t seem nearly as emotionally invested in the story he finds himself in, especially so given how much of a journey his character undergoes in the series.

As the Enhanced Edition stands, Assassins of Kings yields a fantastic demonstration of what this generation’s consoles are still capable of despite being nearly seven years old.

The Dragonslayer

I’ve made it clear in the past that I’m just not a fan of traditional fantasy titles.  Elves, Orcs, Dwarves: if your game has them and a traditional fantasy narrative chances are that I’m not going to be interested.  The Witcher 2, on the other hand, tickles my fancy by incorporating one of the more mature, well thought approaches to a story seen this generation.  Series like Lord of the Rings allow for an epic journey yes, but The Witcher 2’s approach allows you to shape a fantasy story in ways that I can’t recall having been done in the genre before.  The game’s relationships feel real, the power of Geralt of Rivia is satisfying and your influence on the world is fantastically strong.  While the lack of information for console-only players about Geralt’s previous adventure is regrettable, the series’ future is very bright. 

Assassins of Kings’ Enhanced Edition is not only a great game, it’s also a great port to consoles.  For gamers who love a good story and a fantastical, interesting narrative, you can’t afford to ignore The Witcher.


Review: Resident Evil Operation Raccoon City

In 1996 Japanese publisher and developer Capcom, known for their history with such beloved franchises as Mega Man and Street Fighter, released a game for a genre that, up until this point, they’d never truly delved into on an international scale: survival horror.  Resident Evil was the name that the world came to know that franchise by.  The rest, as they say, is history as the series went on to be one of the most powerful voices in survival horror.  Fifteen years on however the series has gone from scaring players to simply engaging them in an action style game.  While the core entries in the series follow a specific track and method of play though Capcom likes to experiment with lesser titles, hence the game we have before us today.

Wanting to see just what could be done with the series, Capcom hired out developer Slant Six Games, known for their work on the SOCOM franchise, to explore new lines of possibility with Resident Evil, an action that has yielded Operation Raccoon City.  Does this experiment open a new avenue to such a storied saga of games?

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Revisiting the Outbreak

In September of 1998 Raccoon City, a Midwestern town of seemingly little importance was wiped off the map in a hail of fire and death after a viral outbreak turned its inhabitants into flesh eating monsters.  This would eventually lead to the downfall of the Umbrella Corporation, the developer of the viruses that destroyed the population.  Every Resident Evil fan knows about the days of horror that plagued that ill-fated city but this new title answers an often asked question: what if Umbrella got away with it?  Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City attempts to find out in the first non-canon entry in the series in over a decade.

You play as a member of a six man elite Wolfpack squad of the Umbrella Security Service.  Dropped into Raccoon City just prior to the events of Resident Evil 2, you are assigned to help obtain samples of the G-virus developed by Dr. William Birkin whom intends to sell them to the US government.  Entering the lab far beneath the streets of the city you aid alpha team leader HUNK as he fights his way to Birkin’s lair.  The rest, as anyone who has played the early entries in the series can contend, is history: a dying Birkin injects himself with his creation, turning into a hulking giant of death and subsequently releases the G-virus, leading to the infection of the entire city.  Team Wolfpack barely manages to escape the facility but, as punishment for their part in the infection of Raccoon City they are ordered to stay until all signs of Umbrella’s involvement are destroyed.  Evidence, be it paper, digital or human is to be eliminated and you and your team aren’t getting out of this hellish nightmare until you’ve done just that.

Operation Raccoon City (ORC) has a lot of potential as a non-canonical entry into the Resident Evil series.  Without having to conform to the restrictions of the core series, Slant Six had the opportunity to allow us to explore Raccoon City in ways that couldn’t have been done before.  This was further aided by the fact that the game functions as a third person, squad-based shooter, a first for the series.  ORC could have been a great game, emphasis on could.

What has been released to the public however is a badly constructed and poorly thought out narrative that injects itself into the world of Resident Evil 2 with little regard to anything going on around it save for the chaos that fills the streets.  Much of the game has you running around performing errands for Umbrella before they inevitably decide to betray you after you fail to complete a certain objective.  Even the primary marketing point for ORC, the hunting down of survivors, only appears in the last third of the game and, even then, is ultimately disappointing.  This, coupled with characters that are neither likeable nor memorable and paper-thin narrative growth, produces a singleplayer/cooperative campaign that is easily the most unsatisfactory story in the series’ sixteen year history.

Probably the most frustrating part of the game’s story is the laundry list of things that could have been.  So much could have come from Operation Raccoon City from a narrative perspective that wasn’t previously attempted in the previous Resident Evil titles.  Exploring the city as the outbreak engulfs it, killing surviving witnesses and even encountering the soldiers that appear in the opening cinematic for the game could have been undertaken.  What we have been given however is a story that doesn’t even try to do anything new plotwise, only stopping to highlight a few key series characters and locations before abandoning them to focus almost entirely on gameplay.

In short, don’t come looking for an enthralling tale here, folks.  Turn around and don’t look back.

A Tale of Two Viruses

As previously stated, Operation Raccoon City is a four player cooperative third person shooter that pits you against both the hordes of infected as well as the government forces attempting to curb the outbreak.  Playing as one of six different characters whom conform to a unique class, you battle through the streets of the destroyed city while trying your best to stay alive.  This is a task easier said than done, and it’s not because of the game’s setting.

Put simply, this latest entry in the series is, by far, the most unbalanced and frustrating entry to date.  While most games that feature zombies tend to put less emphasis on the term ‘horde,’ ORC amps the tension up significantly by throwing wave upon wave of infected at you with little regard for your ammo count or health situation.  Despite the logical conclusion that headshots kill zombies every time, more often than not the result is an enemy that keeps stumbling after you even after two or even three rounds enter their skulls.  Even the most coordinated team of gamers will find themselves unable to stand ground against a wave of zombies, even when taking into account grenades and melee attacks.

Almost every single creature featured in the Resident Evil universe’s first three games make an appearance in Operation Raccoon City save for the giant spiders and the more obscure mutations like giant frogs.  This would have been a nice contribution to the game’s focus on fanservice but the end result only frustrates the player more than helps them.  Every single enemy is far more difficult to kill than in any other title released to date as each and every one of them are bullet sponges, absorbing more damage than seemingly seems possible for the creature.  For reference, a Hunter in takes several shotgun blasts to die in most games in the series.  In ORC however you can unload well upwards of thirty shells into a Hunter before they keel over.  Couple this with less than frequent ammo drops and never facing anything less than two or three enemies of such strength and you know you have a problem.

Playing alone in Operation Raccoon City is an exercise in building tolerance, one that few people can every hope to achieve in the game’s current form.  Enemy AI across the board is almost unacceptably dumb, so much so that it’s fair to say that you don’t have much hope of beating the game without seeing the ‘You Are Dead’ screen dozens of times without playing with human compatriots.  Enemies will regularly switch between not even knowing you are there to being the deadliest things ever to exist.  Your AI teammates are not programmed to pick you up if you go down and regularly charge into incoming fire unaware that they won’t get two feet closer without going down.  There is no mercy to be had in ORC even on the game’s normal difficulty.

Apart from having a five to six hour long main campaign, Operation Raccoon City features a multiplayer suite that actually fares better than the story mode.  Players can choose from four competitive modes including the standard Deathmatch mode.  Heroes mode, one of the few bright spots of the game, allows you to play as series staple characters such as Leon Kennedy, Jill Valentine, Ada Wong and HUNK among others in a 4v4 bout.  Biohazard has you collecting G virus samples for points and it can be relatively fun.  The clear highlight of the multiplayer has to be the Survivors mode which has two teams facing off against wave after wave of zombies and BOWs while you wait for a rescue chopper to arrive.  The catch with this mode however is that there are a limited number of seats on the helicopter so you have to battle the other team as well in order to insure getting out alive.  The multiplayer isn’t exactly one you’ll be coming back to after the first week but it definitely offsets the deplorable main campaign.

With absolute certainty, the most egregious part of the game is not the game itself but rather Capcom’s plans for downloadable content for the game.  Normally I do not make mention of DLC plans in a review of a game as I want to focus on the product at hand but Capcom’s strategy is one of the worst post-launch support plans in recent memory.  The game launched with day one paid DLC which included a whole multiplayer mode featuring Nemesis, one of the most notorious enemies in series history.  This alone is bad enough but the game, despite word to the contrary, will only feature content and missions from Resident Evil 3 only as DLC (albeit free) later on.  This is also the only way you get to play as the US government forces in any story capacity, negating any chance of actually playing as protagonists in the core product at launch.  Capcom is also offering downloadable packs of weapons and alternate costumes at exceptionally high prices, going so far as to rival that of the work Namco Bandai has done this generation.  Some of this content is even already on the disc!  For shame, Capcom, you should know better than this by now.

By the Light of the Dying Car Fire

One of the few things Resident Evil Operation Raccoon City stands a chance of getting right is the game’s graphical content.  Texture work in the environment really hits home just what has happened to this once populous town and feels about right for a town in 1998.  Character models vary at times as do the particle effects (explosions and fires can be quite bad) but the best item in the graphics department’s favor is the gore factor.  Limbs and body parts explode in a gorefest to rival games like Dead Island and, in some ways, surpass them.  Melee attacks against zombies and human enemies can be especially brutal.  Character animations could use some reworking and proximity interactions, say when you are knocked over by an enemy, do need some work though.

The game’s sound design fares far less favorably.  Voice work is shoddy at best and leaves no lasting impression other than boredom and indifference.  Sound effect issues such as getting stuck in a loop or disappearing altogether is a frequent problem in ORC and the game’s 5.1 surround sound mix is underwhelming.  In comparison to the game’s other flaws however these items are but minor issues.

For any title like this one however one of the largest driving forces for sales is the fanservice factor and, in some ways, it does succeed.  Several locations in the game feel very authentic to their original counterparts, particularly the Raccoon City police station.  Dialog in the cinematics for the game (at least the ones not altered by this non-canon insertion) actually remain true to its original design.  ORC doesn’t succeed however in matching the time period with exact authenticity though.  Many of the character designs seem taken directly from previous entries in the series, the Hunters most notably looking exactly like their 2002 Resident Evil remake counterparts instead of the Beta or Gamma Hunters that actually appeared in RE2 and 3.  Weapons specific to the Raccoon City games are present in the game but, given the game’s severe lack of balance in the favor of everything else but you and your squadmates, you don’t really get an ample demonstration of their historic power.

Better Off Dead

The Resident Evil series is beloved by millions of fans around the world and while the franchise has had its share of lesser titles no entry to date has been more disappointing than Operation Raccoon City.  What should be a nice jaunt down memory lane turns out to be a broken, frustrating mess of unbalanced gameplay mechanics, a story whose brevity is more than welcome and a multiplayer component that will only hold your interest for a short while.  ORC had quite a bit going for it and was surprisingly fun to play at E3 2011 but somewhere in the nine months between then and now something happened that turned this into a shambling pile of wasted effort.  Even with ongoing DLC and bug fixes this game simply cannot be saved.  Thank goodness that this is not a canon entry because, if it were, Resident Evil might truly have lost its way in the eyes of countless fans.