Coming out for the PC, Xbox 360, and the PS3, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is set to bring gameplay features never before seen in the Resident Evil series. What was once a more methodical, slower-paced, single-player experience of the 90’s has become a more exhilarating, faster-paced, team-based experience of today. Third-person shooter purists will be pleased with what Slant Six Games has done to make the game more exciting and action-oriented; Resident Evil fans will be tickled with a sense of nostalgia. After getting some hands-on time with the game, I’m eager to see its full release this winter.

The game revisits the events in Resident Evil 2; the T-Virus has infected Raccoon City and the Umbrella Corporation has ordered a team to destroy all evidence of their involvement with the epidemic. To make matters more interesting, the U.S. Government has quarantined the entire city and has dispatched its own team of soldiers to uncover the source of the mysterious outbreak. In the middle of all this are two protagonists with whom we’ve grown familiar: Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield. However, neither Leon nor Claire will be at our disposal; players will have a chance to rewrite the history of events in Raccoon City as they take control of one of Umbrella Security Service Soldiers.

The game is a squad-based shooter that can be played individually with an AI controlled squad or with up to three friends. As you progress through Raccoon City, you’ll have to deal with both the rampant zombie outbreak and the U.S. Government’s elite soldiers. As I played through the co-op campaign it became immediately apparent that communication and coordination were paramount to successfully traversing the streets of the city. Zombies were seeping out of every pore of the city; it was nearly impossible to find any respite. U.S. Government forces were attacking from the street, building balconies, etc. with assault rifles and sniper rifles; fending off zombies while avoiding the red tracers from enemy soldiers made for a harrowing experience. Luckily my character handled competently enough to deal with both threats.

There is a cover system that works relatively well, allowing you to more adequately deal with government soldiers shooting at you from afar. I noticed that there is some kind of progressive damage system for the enemies. Shooting them enough times in the chest causes them to clutch their torso and limp towards you, steadily, shooting their assault rifle in one hand. The effect is very similar to past Resident Evil games, when your character would begin to limp and move more slowly after taking enough damage. It’s a nice touch.

Not only are you trying to pick off soldiers, the zombie horde is constantly at your back, sides, everywhere, so there is this persistent interplay between dealing with the up close zombie threat and the more distant and more precise government soldiers; balancing your attacks is key to survival. Getting up close to the zombies gives you the option to melee, sometimes initiating a brutal execution. When getting up close to government soldiers, you have an option to disarm, triggering a quick animation of your character finishing off an attacker. In one instance, I ran up to an unsuspecting government soldier, ripped his gun from his hand, dropped him to his knees, put my handgun against his face, and dropped him. Pretty damn brutal.

There are a couple of interesting gameplay additions that are new to fans of the series and will prove to up the tension in this already action-heavy title. If you are nailed with enough bullets, you will begin to bleed, attracting the zombies in the immediate area directly to you. I found that running away and picking them off from afar to be the best option in these situations as attempts at melee proved ineffective as the horde simply overwhelmed me. If I happened to get overwhelmed, I stand the chance of getting infected. Once infected, I have 25 seconds to find an antidote before I succumb to the infection and become one of them. Should I fail to find an antidote, I’m free to attack my former teammates as a zombie, until they kill me, in which case I’d respawn. It’s an interesting addition and reinforces the importance of teamwork and the futility of being a lone wolf.

For the most part, the controls felt solid throughout the demo, though it could use some polishing and tightening. It isn’t as fluid a third-person experience as, say, Gears of War, but you feel incredibly more agile than you did in Resident Evil 5. One other thing I noticed was the up-close melee attacks. Using the melee option on multiple enemies in short succession could feel laborious at times; the scripted animations felt long and sometimes far removed from the immediate action, leaving you more vulnerable to other enemies in some cases. However, these are very small gripes in an otherwise very enjoyable gameplay demo.

From a gameplay perspective, Resident Evil has really evolved from its humble beginnings. Playing the original Resident Evil, now, is an exercise in frustration. Basic functions like moving your character and combating zombies required button presses you would never see today in a third-person game. Resident Evil 4 remedied that and really moved the franchise forward, making character movements and combat significantly more manageable. It seems that Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City has made the successful jump to more fast-paced, action-oriented third-person shooter. It feels like a good compromise between the fast twitch action of the Left 4 Dead franchise and the more deliberate shooting of Resident Evil 5, with a standard third-person cover system to boot. With some additional tweaking, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City could be high on my must-play list this holiday season.