Remember the first time you saw the licker in Resident Evil 2? The masterful foreshadow by the window; the ominous drip-drip from around the corner; and the searing CGI reveal. There have been few better enemy debuts; it was like Resident Evil in microcosm - scary but enticing, suspenseful but completely enthralling. Resident Evil: Operation Racoon City has lickers too. Their reveal is a little less artful, though. Instead of one marauding hellspawn, approximately 14 million are hurled at you and your four-man squad of generic dullards, and they're about as intimidating as a washing-up sponge. And that, sadly, is Operation Racoon City in a nutshell.
Quite why this game even exists is a bit of a mystery. Surely nobody out there is demanding a creaky Left 4 Dead rip-off set in a cardboard-box recreation of the Resident Evil universe, but that hasn't stopped Capcom from diluting and cheapening its strongest brand. At least the premise developer Slant Six has conjured up is decent enough: you play as one of the Wolfpack, an Umbrella-owned taskforce charged with cleaning up the mess left behind by the proper Resident Evil games. So you've got to sort out what happened in Raccoon City after Resident Evil 2, for example, or bolt around the Spencer mansion's contractual appearance while shooting zombies in the face.
From the minute it starts, though, the sheer ugliness of it all sent my top lip curling towards my nostrils in apathetic disappointment. The opening cutscene - a very, very serious chat in a lift - could have come from any game in the last 10 years. It's the type of videogame dialogue that's so hard to watch you spin your character around in circles to dull the pain. A few minutes later and you're dumped in a nondescript lab, cover-shooting nondescript spec-ops troops with a nondescript assault rifle, eruditely named the 'Assault Rifle'.
Occasionally the game does start to feel like you're actually in Resident Evil, albeit a version of Resident Evil knocked up by GCSE students for an end of term project. Business does pick up when the shufflers start bursting through doors and the little crusty dogs start nipping at your throat, and there's actually some fun to be had blasting off limbs and running about like an idiot. And with this being ostensibly, and fundamentally, a game for four players, there's some laughs to be found smashing through its grey corridors with three mates and a good sense of humour.
Playing on your own is pointless, so don't do it. Your squadmates aren't even idiots; that would suggest they have even a smattering of intelligence. These leatherclad chumps just don't care. It kills the game stone dead - they're incapable of aiming, will heal you once in a millennium and the game simply doesn't allow them to revive you, ramping the difficulty and frustration factors up to unplayable levels. Even with buddies, this is one frustrating arse of a game at times. Smashing through zombies and soldiers with your mates is fine, but there are so many stupid design choices that suck the fun out of proceedings keeping a team of four from disassembling in abject fury is harder than dealing with the bloody G-Virus.
While Resident Evil Operation Raccoon City purports to be a squad shooter, it barely is. Yes, there are four of you, and yes there are ways you can help each other out, but 90% of the action is crowd control or following the little Umbrella icon that tells you where to go next, even though you spend most of your time in corridors. The different Wolfpack members have names like Bertha and Vector, but they're basically the same person. Yes, you can unlock vastly pointless upgrades, but all you need are a steady supply of first-aid sprays and a gun.
In fact, some of the upgrades do more damage than good. Our 'recon' trooper, Vector, can unlock a motion detector. Not only does it barely do anything of use, it emits a kind of unrelenting Zelda-beep, albeit with the audible twang of a sickly robotic baby wailing. It's far scarier than any of the zombies, and indicative of how flimsy Operation Raccoon City's squad play actually is. It's almost pitiful that a once-pioneering series is chasing that Left 4 Dead buck with such a lack of confidence and a second-rate execution; it's virtually criminal for the franchise that basically gave birth to the videogame zombie as we know it.
In fact, Operation Racoon City's best features are the stuff not yanked wholesale from Left 4 Dead. Every nod to the 'proper' Resi games raises a smile, from the moonlight sonata chirping piano to the giant statue in the town hall, and the game elicits a knowing chuckle every time a familiar enemy type makes their first appearance - before the hell of actually trying to shoot a hundred of them dawns on you, anyway. There's also the three-way action to think about, with zombies, spec ops and your boys all hacking away at each other. Nothing that's not been done much better in Halo ten years ago of course, but still a series first.
Joining the rather laborious campaign are a smattering of multiplayer modes which are about as fun as you'd expect from a shooter that's completely lacking in personality and identity. You can pick from a selection of 'heroes' from the series' past, but like everything in the game, once the nostalgia wears off you're left with a weary and unremarkable shooter that's not going to be troubling the big players in online murderfun any time soon. Having zombies trudging around is novel, but surely not enough to keep anyone captivated for more than a few rounds.
If you are going to play Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, and the series' popularity suggests plenty will, please make sure you're with three friends who love this universe as much as you do. If you can manage to stomach the stupid dive function which uses the same button as interacting with the environment, meaning you're constantly throwing yourself headfirst into green herbs; if you can stomach the wretched boss battles that feel like they've been lifted from a PSOne game; and if you can stomach the hideous dialogue and turgid story, then there's just enough Resident Evil in-jokes to justify smashing through it. Just. Under no circumstances, though, should you go anywhere near this alone. When tackled with three AI buddies and a prayer, never has the name Biohazard felt more apt.
Version Tested: PlayStation 3