Killing Leon: Resident Evil Raccoon City’s “new direction”

By Stephany Nunneley
13 April 2011 10:55 GMT

While Captivate was dominated by Street Fighter X Tekken’s first showing last week, Capcom’s other most valuable legacy IP also bared new fangs. There are no good guys here, Leon.

RE: Operation Raccoon City

Slated for Q4 2011 on PC, PS3, Xbox 360.

TPS single-player, co-op, and four-player online.

Reinterpretation of RE2 events from 1998.

Objective: Suppress evidence of infection and kill Leon Kennedy.

Producer: Masachika Kawata; Assistant Producer: Mike Jones.

Slant Six co-developing.

When information on a Resident Evil multiplayer-shooter started leaking last year, the internet sniffed at both the idea of such a heavy action game and why a Canadian-based developer known for the SOCOM series was involved in such a lauded franchise as Resident Evil.

Don’t panic. All this and more was explained during Captivate in Miami last week, and we were able to speak with producer Masachika Kawata and the game’s assistant producer, Mike Jones, and were given a thorough demonstration.

Trust us: it’s nothing like Left 4 Dead.

New gameplay, new approach

At it’s heart, Operation Raccoon City is still a Resident Evil game, despite the fact players will be participating in a team-based, third-person shooter. It still has zombies running around all over the place; it still has a creepy atmosphere; and it stars the Umbrella Corporation as well as the familiar US Spec Ops.

Even some of the bio-organic weapons created by Umbrella make an appearance – such as the Hunter and Tyrant – so RE fans will be on firm, familiar ground right from the start. It’s only the gameplay that’s changed.

“This is going to be a new and different Resident Evil,” said producer Masachika Kawata through his translator.

“We wanted to take the RE franchise in a new direction. It’s going to have a unique style of gameplay you haven’t seen in the series thus far.

“Obviously, this a RE title first and foremost so we are going to try to hold on to those cornerstones. The scary atmosphere, the creatures you are familiar with are all there, but we have changed the gameplay to be a sort of third-person shooter evolution of the spectrum of gameplay present in the game over the last decade or so, and this is going to be a true TPS gameplay experience.

“Leon, which you saw in the teaser trailer, is in there, so is the Tyrant. It takes place in 1998 in the Resident Evil time line of RE2 and RE3 so you are going to see all kinds of creatures and characters you have not seen in recent history come back to life in this new game.”

“This is going to be a new and different Resident Evil, a true TPS gameplay experience.”

In addition to evolving the gameplay, Capcom also went back to a little more of the grit and gore in past RE games, and brought back to Raccoon City the violence and darkness inherit in the series.

“This is obviously an extremely important franchise to us, and this tile is the newest installment in the franchise, so we are taking it very seriously, but we are also trying to take it in a new direction,” said Kawata.

“The first big challenge we faced was creating a true TPS gameplay experience in the RE universe. The second big challenge was obviously weaving the backstory while keeping with the canon and letting you play as the bad guys – something not possible in RE history.

“To do this, we partnered with developer Slant Six due to their long history with online gameplay and co-op gameplay. We are looking forward to this continued collaboration to bring you something new.

“When you are creating a third-person shooter, there are obviously a lot of different choices the developer has to make in terms of controls and how the game feels. With Raccoon City, the team decided that jumping was not important to the game – but there’s still a lot of other stuff you can be doing at one given moment.

“Jumping was just not something we felt was needed,” explained Kawata. “Also, from Slant Six’s perspective, if you are going to create a shooter, having your guy bunny hop all round – it’s just not that cool. So they didn’t think it was really necessary. There’s a lot of different ways to think about it, but we just didn’t include jumping.”

All the actions and the motions shown to us during the demonstration of the game are yet to be finalized. Capcom said it is “getting really close, but it is something that’s going to get better with time.”

So, on that note, let’s first get acquainted with the story and characters you will be playing in Raccoon City, as well as some of the weapons each will have at their disposal.

Characters and weapons

Our demo introduced us to four of the new USS characters: Vector, Spectre, Beltway, and Berta. Each one has its own role to play using the game’s squad-based combat mechanics, and each also has his or her own specialty and preferred weapons.

Vector’s specialty is recon, evasion, camouflage, stealth, the cover rifle and mimicry – this attribute was one of the many available abilities chosen by the demonstrator.

Mimicry allows Vector to take on the appearance of enemies within the environment. Active camouflage resembles the stealth mode the Predator uses in all its movies and games. For demonstration purposes, Vector used the assault rifle to blast enemies to bits.

Spectre’s specialty is infrared vision and surveillance. He can see humans as a warm red color. The zombies are outlined through this mode as well, but are not the same color as humans, and more or less resemble the background (because they’re dead, obviously). Spectre can also provide special information regarding the environment, and make use of mini maps.

Beltway’s specialty is frag mines, stun grenades, and using heavy weapons. Basically, just blowing shit up.

Bertha is the team’s medic. Her abilities revolve around healing and status ailments. She can cure sickness when zombies have vomited on you, and provide adrenaline shots to make you move quicker and produce greater damage. When Bertha shoots you up, your gameplay screen turn a bluish hue and you go nuts, slaughtering enemies left and right. When the adrenaline wears off, the screen goes back to normal, and so does your character.

“We have flipped the script on the playable characters, so this time you won’t be playing as the nice hero character trying to survive because now you are the bad guy,” said Kawata. “Going in there trying to cover up secrets with your special training – you know what is going on. You can cut through zombies and B.O.W.s without thinking too hard about it.”

Weapons shown were your basic types, ranging from an assault rifle, cover rifle, pump-action shotgun, machine gun and sub-machine gun. Kawata assured us there will be “lots of ways to kill people,” and the weapons on display during the demo were just a few of many. There were plenty of open slots: it looked like anywhere from 20-30 options were possible.

Killing Leon

When Kawata and his team decided to create a new Resident Evil title, they wanted to do something fresh, but at the same time revisit events which may or may not have happened during the T-virus outbreak in Raccoon City during 1998.

“We really wanted to try something new, challenging and something different,” he said. “Also, looking at it from a marketing perspective and what’s popular in the market right now, TPS games are extremely popular. It’s a wonderful genre, and its something that Resident Evil has touched the edges of but we never really jumped in with both feet into a modern TPS.

“It just made sense to marry a squad-based, really action-focused, third-person shooter in a RE setting. [The idea] was very compelling to us, and so it made a lot of sense.

“As creators, we didn’t want it to feel like a RE game in terms of the appeal; we wanted to create something that felt completely different. It feels very different, but it still makes sense in terms of the genre of the setting.”

That’s fine and dandy, but there may be some RE fans out there who have a bit of a problem with one of the main objectives: killing Leon Kennedy.

“We really wanted to try something new, challenging and something different.”

Back in 1998, when Operation Raccoon City takes place, Leon is a rookie police officer for the city, whose first day finds him confronting a town overrun by zombies. Players grew fond of the fella, as he and Claire Redfield worked together to escape the city alive despite being side-tracked by Ada Wong, B.O.W.s and Umbrella’s underground laboratory.

If we were to kill Leon, this means he never went on to join the US Secret Service and save the president’s daughter in Resident Evil 4.

“There are more forces at work here than just the USS in Raccoon City,” said Kawata. “We’ve also got the Spec Ops guys, and its a concern because there are a lot fans of Leon out there. If there are people out there who just really, really don’t want Leon to die, then all we have to say is they should really root for the Spec Ops.

“There’s a big nuclear missile, you know, that wipes out Raccoon City in September 1998, and we’re not looking to completely change the history, so the story doesn’t really extend past RE2 – it’s just that timeline where the game takes place.”


The demo Capcom showed us at Captivate was just a prototype, so the map shown may not be included in the final game. We were shown two different gameplay modes: the main campaign mode and Versus. More game modes will be included, and the prototype gave us a good idea of how Capcom is blending RE history and atmosphere, gameplay and characters, along with Slant Six’s experience with online.

Raccoon City can be played in single-player, co-op, or four-player online.

“There’s definitely a strong single-player mode included in the game,” said Kawata. “It’s the same game you enjoy with friends in co-op play, but if you are playing by yourself, the other members of your team be controlled by AI. It’s the same story and scenario.”

Players have the ability to zoom into FPS view or can just continue aiming in over-the-shoulder play typical of a third-person shooter.

You can also perform multi-directional attacks and brutal kills, as well as go into cover while moving, and pop in and out to make shots, just like a military-style FPS only with a RE flair. You can perform blind fire, and throw grenades while in cover.

Skills – such as mimicry and camouflage – have a cool-down timer. You can change your character, skills, weapon, and load-out during play.

Levels will be pretty expansive, with multiple paths – and, obviously, you’ll want to stick with your teammates because zombies will bust out of walls and trashcans. Some areas will be more dense with zombies and Spec Ops than others, providing plenty of hectic moments. Two enemy types in the environment at once – it’s crazy. You now have humans to contend with as well as zombies, humans shooting at you and throwing stun grenades – luckily, the zombies will also attack them as well as you.

Zombies are part of the game’s environment more than anything else in the game, and while you are indeed there to kill them, you can use them to your advantage. You can take them as meatshields, for a start. In addition, you can wound Spec Ops officers: if you shoot a human enemy he’ll start to hemorrhage; the smell of blood will attract the zombies.

However, the same applies to you. If you bleed, the screen will turn red around the edges. The zombies get thirsty and come at you more aggressively. Unlike other shooter games, your health does not regenerate on its own – this is Resident Evil after all – and you need to munch on herbs or use a wound spray to recuperate.

Watch on YouTube

RE: Op Raccoon City teaser trailer.

“Basically, the best situation for you as a player is being able to take those zombies and not have them as a hindrance, but actually have them help you out in the objectives,” said Kawata.

Players will come into contact with enemies and information missing from RE games in recent history, like the B.O.W.s Tyrant and Hunk.

Hunters are also present, and they will pretty much kill anything, so watch your back, because, like a jockey, they’ll ride you like a horse in the Kentucky Derby. More B.O.W.s are expected to be added, but Kawata wouldn’t elaborate further.

When watching the demo, it was obvious the USS could cut through zombies with relative ease. If this had actually been RE2, it wouldn’t have been so easy. You can dismember the undead and perform headshots, like already mentioned, but the system has been expanded so you can do multi-directional attacks. You can snap a zombie’s neck, throw him to the ground, and perform different melee moves on not only the zombies but military characters as well.

You’ll earn points for every enemy you kill during play, as well as points for how you go about it. For instance, you get points for hemorrhaging an enemy, and more points should a zombie swarm-kill them as a result. Points for headshots will net around 15; a player kill is worth 10 points; and a zombie kill is 1 point – so, using your skillsets and different tactical ways of play will net more points.

Checkpoints are inserted in the maps, and safe rooms allow you to gather more ammo, switch weapons, grab grenades and boost health.

All in all, the game is about making moment-to-moment decisions on whether to kill zombies or just try to survive as you make your way to the checkpoint before time runs out.

Versus Mode

The co-op mode shown pitted the Spec Ops against two USS characters: Bertha and Spectre. Versus mode is USS against Spec Ops, zombies and B.O.W.s. Layers can also adjust tactics, and the game is basically team deathmatch gameplay. While only co-op was shown in this mode, there will be 8v8 online included.

Zombies and other creatures perform interrupts, so it’s not just you against other folks with guns, making it just as hectic as the campaign mode.

“We have tried to take our beloved Resident Evil franchise and protect all the cornerstones that makes it RE, and create a true TPS experience in the world and that means things are going to get interrupted, things are going to happen.”

Comparisons to Left 4 Dead

After reading about all the different gameplay elements, the zombies, the weapons, the safe rooms, and all the rest, it would still be easy to compare Operation Raccoon City to Left 4 Dead. Kawata, who is an admitted fan of Left 4 Dead, doesn’t agree.

“Left 4 Dead is really, really awesome and extremely focused and very, very simple in a lot of ways,” he said. “The fun of that game is defeating lots and lots of enemies that come at you quickly.

“It wasn’t really a touchstone for this game though, as the gameplay in this is focused more on strategy and using the zombies as part of the environment to complete your objectives. It’s tough to draw a comparison there with Left 4 Dead; certainly they appear similar, but they are quite different games.

“In terms of playing with the zombies instead of as the zombies, basically the main thing we wanted to do was use the zombies in a completely different way. In both RE and L4D, the zombies are your enemies, but in this game, the zombies and the monsters are technically your enemies but more of an obstacle that is present in the game or something that is useful to complete your objective.

“In this game, the main point is to kill the Spec Ops characters, so that’s something where we felt there was a lot of possibility and it does really feel very fresh and different than anything else we’ve seen in other shooters.”

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is slated for a winter release on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360.

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