Review: Resident Evil: Revelations
An extended version of this review has now been published over at Gameplanet.
Resident Evil 5 is the best-selling game in Capcom’s revered franchise despite being arguably the least popular in the eyes of its most hardcore and vocal fans. With each release the series appears to ditch more and more of its defining conventions in a bid for accessibility and wider appeal. It presents a bit of a dilemma for both series stalwarts and Capcom itself. Big publishers aren’t really in the business of developing titles for niche audiences. And if there’s one thing that flies in the face of the fundamental tenets of survival horror, it’s accessibility.
Capcom does appear to acknowledge the concerns of long-time fans, though, and Resident Evil: Revelations makes an admirable attempt at compromise – to be all things to all people. But as a stab at a middle ground, many of the fan-requested elements have only a shallow implementation here.
Revelations does much well, though, and should rightfully be commended as one of the best titles available for the 3DS right now. The MT Framework engine does Resident Evil proud on Nintendo’s flagship handheld. Although its smaller displays are more forgiving than a larger, HD display, the visuals and presentation of Revelations are up there with those of its most-recent console counterpart, Resident Evil 5. At times, the environments are suitably creepy, and a genuine effort has been made to recapture the mood of the classic titles. This is further enhanced by the 3D aspect, which really does help to draw you in, especially when cranked up to maximum settings via the in-game menu. It’s surprisingly immersive gaming given the humble display size of the 3DS.
It’s also the first game released in this territory to take advantage of the Circle Pad Pro peripheral. I won’t dwell on this other than to say that it’s a surprisingly pleasant experience all round, and truly does bring the precision and power of a console-style controller to a handheld.
Resident Evil: Revelations is a side story that takes place between the events of Resident Evil 4 (a much revered reinvention of sorts for the franchise) and Resident Evil 5. The latter game attempted to build on the foundations of its predecessor, but Capcom only served to anger a large proportion of long-term fans with the additions and changes it made. Most notably, Resident Evil 5 was panned for moving away from the darkened, Gothic-inspired locales the series made its name on (taking place in a fictional African nation, mostly in broad daylight) and for a perceived shift of focus to the action aspect as opposed to the horror. Despite the screams of bloody murder from the vocal faithful, it sold by the truckload.
In Revelations, Capcom has attempted to appeal to both camps by incorporating elements of both styles of gameplay. But the end result is still more likely to appeal more to action-shooter aficionados than survival-horror stalwarts. The two styles are not blended together to find a happy medium, but rather played off against each other. And while the action side benefits from this approach, the survival-horror massive is left somewhat shortchanged.
The Revelations demo recently teased us with possibility, hinting at what many of us craved: an eerie, dark, Gothic-style environment ripe for exploration, with key hunting and puzzles aplenty. But the extent to which this is realised in the full game is a little disappointing. There are certainly moments that hint at what could be, but these aspects are seldom, pared back, and ultimately a casualty of the game’s fragmented nature.
You see, Revelations adopts an episodic model that sees the action jump around between characters and between points in time like a particularly hyperactive JJ Abrams TV series. It’s interesting at first as it mixes up the environments, frequently freshens up proceedings and presents players with a “Previously on Resident Evil: Revelations…” recap (as also employed by Alan Wake). In this case, though, the constant character swapping and flashback sequences serve to break up the consistent tension that’s so crucial to a good survival horror.
Each “episode” typically consists of two “scenes”, in which the player’s perspective generally switches between one of about four main characters. Aside from staples Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield, they’re all new entrants into the series. As a general rule, when it switches from Valentine’s perspective, you’re about to play an action-heavy sequence, although her sections later dissolve into such also. Additionally, given the action skew, ammunition is never really in short supply. And with ammo scarcity being one of the staples of the classic survival-horror style, the atmosphere suffers here. I rarely went into a skirmish feeling ill-equipped.
The game’s episodic nature also means the adventure is compartmentalised and constrained by bite-sized portions of gameplay. This is all well and good for most any other style of action game, particularly on a handheld. But it means that the player is never presented with an environment with the exploratory scope of Resident Evil games past. There are keys to be found and the odd puzzle to solve, but they’re all encountered in a rather linear, untaxing fashion. Subsequently, there’s nothing resembling the sense of achievement found in previous games in the series.
From an action perspective, though, the choices Capcom has implemented in Revelations are certainly for the better. You can now simultaneously shoot and move (slowly), which is a welcome addition despite my prior belief that it was never really needed. Item management couldn’t be simpler (which, again, some purists will see as a negative) with limits imposed only on the amount of ammunition you can carry. And a newly refined weapon-upgrade system offers the player a more versatile arsenal. Raid Mode is a novel innovation on the Mercenaries Mode of old. Players can (solo or cooperatively via local wireless or online) clear environments of enemies, earn points and upgrades, level up and unlock new characters. It’s easily the most well executed extra mode for a Resident Evil title yet, and unlike Mercenaries Mode, something I’ll personally return to often.
Generally speaking, the action that Revelations serves up is intuitive and satisfying. But personally, I miss the bittersweet feeling of finally gaining entry into new, uncharted territory but not knowing if I was equipped to survive what was just around the corner. Clutching your hip, staggering through a newly unlocked door, you’d pray the handful of bullets remaining in your Beretta clip would see you through to a desperately needed green herb. It’s just not a feeling I really ever experienced in Revelations. I realise that I’m possibly in the minority (in the grand scheme of things), but I wish Capcom had played to its strengths here, focused its attention on Valentine’s perspective and presented an expansive, labyrinthine world of survival horror.
Despite my issues, Resident Evil: Revelations is the best action game currently available on the 3DS, and a damn fine demonstration of what’s it’s capable of. However, where it falters slightly is as an ambassador for a return to former glories for the Resident Evil franchise. The game’s best moments hint that a perfect marriage between the franchise’s adopted perspective and traditional survival-horror elements is possible. But these moments are few and far between amongst the relatively straightforward action sections. So while the end result is still an extremely fun and satisfying game, you can’t help but feel that a golden opportunity has been somewhat squandered.