And so the Resident Evil franchise lurches out from the hastening shadows of irrelevance with even keener action flick aspirations and a name like an Animal Crossing sequel. The scares are gone. In its place comes cover shooting, bullet sponge soldiers, perks and non-canon character killing. Oh, and a high-tech team of badasses.
Becoming too farfetched is hard in a series that's seen S&M giants and zombie sharks, but this is a very shooty take on the 1998 urban outbreak that characterised Resident Evil 2. Rather than unwieldy S.T.A.R.S. agent, you're one of six Umbrella Security Service (USS) officers charged with clean-up. All the clichés are covered - sharpshooter, demo guy, medic, assault class - and they're all upgradeable. Earn points in levels to unlock abilities and a basic arsenal of weapons, though sadly for such an elaborate premise everything's lacking in imagination. Four Eyes the scientist can 'program' other zombies to fight for her, surveillance wizard Spectre can see through walls, and Vector the recon's got invisibility powers. The rest, of them, sadly, just have health and damage boosts. Please see Modern Warfare 3 for advice.
But it's not MW3 this is trying so hard to emulate. It's Left 4 Dead. Valve's shooter, though, was more than just a city filled with freaks. There was all or nothing co-op, memorable characters you could pick out in a horde, crescendo moments, perfectly paced scares and distinctive environments. Operation Racoon City fails to understand the nuances that make a zombie blaster great, simply deploying you in tensionless levels and hoping you make your own fun.
Which is hard. Your first mission, for instance, is to secure the deadly, eyeball-on-your-shoulder G-Virus from William Birkin's bio lair. In Valve's hands this would've been an exhilarating trip through research labs and workers' personal quarters, nuggets of story suspended in tubes and scrawled on walls. With Slant Six Games it's a samey facility connected by featureless tunnels. Forty-five minutes of it. Occasionally something large will crash through a wall and chase you down a corridor, and there's a frantic few seconds before a security door opens, but it's mostly tedious cover shooting with boring peek-a-boo soldiers.
Environments improve. There are hospital visits (balloons and mouldy cake in the foyer suggesting you just missed the party), sojourns down wrecked streets and past overturned ambulances, and through foggily dense graveyards, though constant darkness is more annoying than eerie. Shadows do not equal atmosphere. Simply put, for a series that was once the de-facto horror franchise, there's zero scares. With three buddies and a deep bag of weapons and tricks, there's little danger. Firepower ruptures the atmosphere, and zombies, whether slow or speedy, are more annoyance than threat.