A police car swerving out of control. A boyish cop in one seat, a hot brunette in the other. A zombie riding in the back, and then flying through the rear windscreen as a wall brings the vehicle to a sudden halt. Sound familiar? If you owned a PlayStation in 1998 it should do, as I'm talking about the intro to the wonderful Resident Evil 2.
The exact same sequence pops up at the start of the E3 demo for Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. It's not often that I get nostalgic over a car crash [Diana joke deleted], and yet today Capcom has somehow pulled it off. But here's the catch: something has changed, and I'm not talking about Leon S Kennedy's now-ridiculously-prepubescent appearance.
(Seriously, they're turning him into a cherub. If they keep this up, he'll probably appear on the next series of The X-Factor. Come to think of it, "X-Factor" sounds like something The Umbrella Corporation might make. Wesker and Simon Cowell have a fair bit in common, after all - not least a tendency to be followed by dribbling zombies... wait, I'm getting distracted here.)
No, the out-of place ingredient is the Umbrella-sponsored death squad, a quartet of uniformed villains attempting to put a bullet in Leon's face (hey, who can blame them?). These guys are the anti-heroic stars of Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City.
In parallel with the way that Capcom is re-juking Resi's fictional history, the game itself is a distinct departure from the survival horror antics of the series' past. This is a fast-paced shooter built with co-op in mind: blast the zombies, press on to the next waypoint, and top-up your supplies with pick-ups you see along the way. Oh, and keep an eye out for cameos from old friends like Lickers, Hunters, and that Terminator-like trenchcoat guy who cropped up in the second game.
Left 4 Dead is the obvious point of comparison, but Operation Raccoon City feels closer to the Mercenaries mini-games of Resi 4 and 5. Happily, the action is a lot slicker than before. Our corporate fascist heroes have broken free of the tank-like handling that bogged down the action in the last few outings, to the extent that they can run and shoot at the same time. You can still set up cinematic executions - the aptly-named "brutal kills" - by battering zombies with a quick melee strike, but you also have the ability to use the walking dead as a handy meatshield. This last tactic comes into its own when you're fighting enemies with guns, which happens a fair bit, if this demo is anything to go by.
Yes, there's gun-vs-gun combat, but thankfully it makes a lot more sense here than in Resident Evil 5, which suffered something of an identity crisis in its latter half. Spec Ops troops (read: good guys) do pose a significant threat, but you tend to fight them alongside zombies and other bio-weapon monstrosities. The two factions battle each other as well as you, so the presence of gun-toting foes merely adds to the chaos, rather than turning proceedings into yet another weak Gears clone.
It's all rather fun, too. The playable characters boast a boo-hiss attitude and an appearance that borders on Nazi bondage, and these qualities make them far more fun to play as than Chris Redfield and his slightly grumpy sense of self-righteousness. The combat is frantic and easy to pick up, but also carries that crucial element that ensures disaster is never too far away - especially if someone starts dicking about with flash grenades. Teamwork pays dividends, and the character roster seems to offer a decent spread of variety in terms of load-outs and unique skills. I played as Four Eyes - a newly-revealed character whose special skill involves lobbing flasks of zombie-attracting pheromones. She's a scientist, but she's armed with a suppressed machine gun - which makes her at least four or five times cooler than most other scientists.
To be honest, my enjoyment of Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City far outstripped my initial expectations. It's a teeny bit silly, but it also appears to be a great laugh, especially when you're playing with friends who shout things like, "Help me! I'm getting licked by a Licker!" The game also features an evil medic called Bertha, and this on its own makes me increasingly happy the more I dwell upon it.
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is out for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC later this year.