With great success comes great compromise. Capcom popularized a genre with Resident Evil, and its sequels made many a merry gamer with their idiosyncratically garnished blend of what Simon Pegg’s Tim Bisley best described as “a subtle blend of lateral thinking and extreme violence.” As time wore on, though, Capcom began to worry that their formula would soon begin to wane and tweaked the ratio, upping the action at the expense of the horror upon which their series of zombie-starring games was founded.
This, of course, led to Resident Evil 4, unquestionably 2005’s game of the year, though subsequent efforts have leaned more and more towards the general market with an abundance of gunplay and the lifting of mechanics from considerably more popular franchises. It saddens me to say that Resident Evil’s just not my baby any more. It belongs to everyone, now. Imagine, then, if you will, my absolute delight at the prospect of a Resident Evil game that was being pitched by its developers as a return to a purer horror, and the extent to which that was multiplied by the realization that Resident Evil: Revelations is largely compromise-free, and no less successful as a result.
The 3DS port is perhaps doomed to some degree of dismissal from the outset by the sorts who can’t see something being developed for handheld consoles they don’t own as worthy of their time. Capcom, obviously does not agree, as reflected by their full-retail price point which in turn made the game’s debut at the top of the charts all the more surprising. This is reflective of Resident Evil’s stance within the gaming community at this stage in the 21st Century.
No longer the sole reservation of dedicated franchise nuts, it IS a series that can sell on name alone. It is with some small amount of glee, too, that I welcome this news of the game’s success, as it presents for the most part a Resident Evil that aesthetically hearkens back to the series’ glory days with a comparative drought of ammunition, a concentration on atmosphere and a delight in making players retread ground to make the most of its technical limitations. It’s like handing your friend who’s just been to his first AC/DC concert a copy of Powerage and saying “yeah? Well get a load of THIS”.
This might make me sound like a curmudgeon, so let me clarify. I love Resident Evil 4. It is arguably my favourite game of all time. Resident Evil 5 was enjoyable enough when played with a friend, too. Resident Evil 6 (the latest in the franchise’s main sequence) was less enjoyable, for me at least, but it’s off the back of its success that this game’s popularity has sprung. What Resident Evil: Revelations does so well is dress the skeleton of the earlier games in shiny new skin, making (for want of a better cliché) for the best of both worlds. At one stage, Jill comments that “running around in circles seems to be what this job is about,” at once acknowledging the series’ infancy with an uncharacteristic knowing and addressing newer gamers’ potential concerns about its proliferation of backtracking.
Coming back to what I said earlier, Resident Evil: Revelations DOES send you hither and thither in search of keys and the like for locked doors you’ve passed by earlier, but it’s a very clever use of the relatively limited amount of space for which the game was originally designed. That’s not to say the game is small – its ship, the desolate and frequently terrifying Queen Zenobia, is massive – but it lacks the expansive lush terrain of more recent home-console bound offerings. There is no savannah through which to drive a jeep here, but you’ll not miss it, either.
The actual gameplay ought to be familiar to anyone who’s dabbled in action territory before, but for those of you chancing across this review with next to no experience, you take on the role of one of a pair of three sets of agents, playing your way through a mystery involving genetically modified monstrosities whose wretched bodies you’re expected to fill with bullets under the guidance of the fabulously-named Clive R. O’Brian (think a cross between TV’s Columbo and Metal Gear’s Roy Campbell and that’s it – got it in one). Thankfully, there’s a total lack of the QTE moments Capcom have been shoehorning into their games of late, which is another boon for Resident Evil: Revelations’ strive for purity, particularly as an action game. Yes, I’ve been harping on about how it’s less like newer titles in the series in certain regards, but you’d have no play in your gameplay without an abundance of slithering things to dispatch and the game certainly doesn’t disappoint in featuring its creatures.
You’ll meet a number of ridiculous characters along the way, from the loathsome Jessica to the admirably quirky Raymond (think a cross between Jim Carrey after the brainbox vortex explosion at the end of Batman Forever and…er, nothing else, he’s just exactly that, and you’re two for two…) and all manner of equally ridiculous exposition (such as the line “This is where I found that dummy of Chris. Where’s the REAL Chris?”) and action (if you want to, you can punch an oversized reptilian Hunter square into the jaw…).
There’s a fair amount of scares to be had from the Zenobia’s intrinsically claustrophobic setting, and if you opt to play the game on its highest difficulty (labelled ‘Infernal’ to dovetail with its barely-coherent ambition to mirror Dante’s Divine Comedy) it’s fit to replace The Evil Dead as the ultimate experience in gruelling horror. Its every corner is a fresh new hell. Do try it. You’ll get your money’s worth and no mistake.
Another new feature is the game’s borrowing of the Detective Mode feature from Rocksteady’s Batman games. If you’re so inclined, you can scan each and every area in the game for hidden items and collectables. It’s mostly unnecessary, though the cribbing from Arkham Asylum has become almost mandatory since its 2009 release, and it does provide a reward for dedicated but struggling players in its dispense of healing items when certain targets are reached.
Structurally speaking it’s pretty interesting, too, in that its narrative leaps about from one point to another to cover just about every side of the story. The pre-chapter ‘Previously On’ recaps feel superfluous, particularly when they appear directly after finishing the sections they cover, but it all adds to the game’s exaggerative sense of appeal. Recent Resident Evil games have left me cold because they’ve tried too hard to be like everything else. Resident Evil: Revelations is guilty of plagiarism, too, but its more akin to cannibalism – it owes its entire sensibility to the delirious off-kilter flavor which populated its most fondly-remembered classics.
So: is it any good? Yeah. It’s damn good, in fact. I went into it a little skeptical, mostly because of my wariness following Resident Evil 6 but also because, yeah, there’s a little home-console snob in ALL of us and I couldn’t help thinking it wouldn’t be worthy of the conversion. Boy, was I wrong. Without overanalysis, I straight-up enjoyed Resident Evil: Revelations more than anything since Resident Evil 4 was released, but when I really think about it, it’s the little things – the return of the save boxes that force you to really consider how to arm yourself, the barely-justified design of a cruise ship like a 1930s mansion or the pulp fiction of its characterization and narrative – that ensure its place as a keeper, both as a fan of the series from its inception and as a fan of good games, period.
This review is based on the XBOX 360 version of the game.
3DS' little game that could makes good on its leap to home consoles, showing up the last three current-gen Resident Evil games as the clear standout in its class. Tense, tight and with welcome silliness, it's Resident Evil as you remember it and proof that going back is sometimes the way forward.