With the main, numbered Resident Evil series bringing diminishing returns with each iteration, can Capcom’s first sequel to it’s really rather good 2012 3DS spin off, Resident Evil Revelations, build on the strengths of that game to deliver something worth of the title “survival horror”?
Game: Resident Evil Revelations 2
(Review code provided by Capcom)
It’s been a very long time since a horror video game has given me a “Nope!” moment. Let me define such a moment for you. It is that time when, while playing a game, you get such an undeniable feeling of dread, a feeling that something is about to happen, something that you’re certain you don’t want to happen but you know that to progress with the game, you’re going to have to make it happen. And that when that moment happens you get such a strong urge to turn the console off and plunge yourself back into reality. The last game to give me a “Nope!” moment was probably the GameCube remake of Resident Evil. I can remember it well – it was in the Aqua Ring section – I knew that there was something in that water and I DID NOT want to go in there. But I had to. If I wanted to finish this stupid game I absolutely had to. Resident Evil Revelations 2 gave me a “Nope!” moment. Then it gave me a few others. Then it gave me the long fabled “Hell Nope!” moment. That’s right, kids; Resident Evil has remembered how to be scary again.
The story of Revelations 2 continues the first games focus on bioterrorism, opening with Claire Redfield and her team at Terrasave (“Because terror doesn’t always have to end with ‘ism’!”) being abducted by a mysterious armed force. Waking in a creepy, decaying penal colony with strange devices on their wrists, Claire and her team must find a way off the abandoned island, all the while being tormented by the “Overseer”, an unseen woman with a seemingly infinite army of undead and mutated creatures. Help, however, is on the way from former S.T.A.R.S agent and father to one of Claire’s team, Barry Burton, who is speeding to the island to save his daughter and her colleagues.
Similarly to the first game, Revelations 2 is told in an episodic format and is, primarily, a downloadable title. Split across a four part campaign with two “extra” side story episodes, the game is being sold on Playstation and XBox digital channels in a choice of flavours – buy each chapter separately (£5 for main campaign chapters, £4 for the extra chapters) or get a season pass for £20 which includes all six chapters as well as an extra character for Raid Mode (more on that later). Head over to your favourite bricks and mortar or online game outlet, however, and you can pick up a disc based version of the game which contains all of the above PLUS additional costumes and characters for Raid Mode. Off the bat this is a fairly strange and confusing mix of pricing options, each with their own benefits and savings. Buying the chapters separately would cost you £28, £8 more than the season pass which also bundles in additional content. Factor into this the DLC available for Raid Mode and you have a strange way of selling a game. While I understand that we are in the age of the digital download, and have no issues with delivering a game episodically (the episodes were originally released a week apart) it seems a little incredulous that Capcom would also offer each episode separately for no apparent benefit. Buyers of Episode 1, however, do have the option of picking up the season pass at a discount, so there are some advantages to be found there.
Anyway, enough of the negatives, what of the game? Well, as I said previously, Resident Evil Revelations 2 is a scary game. It’s been a long time since I’ve said that about a Resident Evil title, possibly since Resident Evil 4 on the GameCube, but the series has been on somewhat of a decline as far as horror goes, pushing more towards being a straight up action series. Resident Evil 5 seemed content at simply throwing swarms of enemies at the player while Resident Evil 6 with its linear gameplay and jumbled narrative was just a big hot mess. Revelations on 3DS made positive steps back to the series roots with a gradually explorable location and smaller, more focussed enemy encounters and, to some extent, Revelations 2 follows on from that. The opening act of Episode 1 in the Penal Colony where the player controls Claire and Moira Burton is a taut and oppressive affair, and the player is quickly brought up against some of the nastiest foes in the game. It’s a steep learning curve which includes some light puzzle solving but, by the time the two finally escape into the island proper you’re left breathless at the sheer intensity of the encounters. Conversely, the last half (each Episode starts focussed on Claire and Moira) which stars Barry and the young girl he makes friends with on the island, Natalia, is a slower pace focussed more on stealth and slow moving but still deadly enemies. These sections are tense in a different way, with Natalia using her “Zombie Sense” to pick out enemies for Barry to creep up on.
We should talk about the two character model here. This was first introduced, in a way, in Resident Evil 4 and became a series mainstay from Resident Evil 5. Despite allowing for an interesting co-op experience, the system has been quite derided over time for stupid AI partners who steal items, get themselves into danger and generally make the single player experience somewhat miserable. Revelations 2 fixes this by greatly improving the partner system. In both acts, the characters are split into a firearms specialist and a melee specialist with a more passive ability – these are Moira and Natalia. Moira is armed with a crowbar and torch which she can use to blind enemies and reveal secrets, while Natalia can throw bricks as well as use her aforementioned senses. Puzzles which require players to switch between the two characters are welcome and add a sense of danger when you have to leave the unarmed character behind momentarily.
Tension is further ramped by the game not pausing when the inventory is accessed, a feature used to great effect in ZombiU for Wii U and one which works very well here with the games stripped down interface. If I could find a negative with the interface, however, it is the map. At intervals in the game you find maps in the world which allows you to view a mini-map of your current location, but does not allow you to see that in full screen. For many areas this isn’t such an issue as they are fairly self contained, however for twisting, maze like environments like the Penal Colony and the Town which you enter in Episode 2, this can lead to you getting turned around quite easily. Without a full map to plan a route using, this can lead to one or two navigational frustrations.
Okay, let’s talk enemies, often the make or break of a Resident Evil game. In this game we predominantly have a combination of infected humans and old school zombies. You find the former in the Claire campaign and they are, frankly, terrifying. Their appearance is like something out of a Clive Barker story, all barbed wire and blades pushed into flesh, frothing anger and speed. Out of the gate, Revelations teaches you to be afraid of anything that moves. Barry mainly goes up against the zombies which feel slightly less intimidating being rotted hunks of flesh, modelled nicely in the style of 70’s exploitation movie ghouls (think the films of Lucio Fulci). They drag their heels and are slow but make up for it in numbers requiring a deal of stealth through these sections of the game. All in all it’s a good mix with some surprises coming through the story which I won’t spoil.
Controls feel good – the series has long adopted an over the shoulder third person camera over the old style fixed viewpoints and it seems to come together better in Revelations 2 than it has in past games where the controls felt a bit stiff. If anything they’re slightly floaty here and I often found myself overshooting things like ladders and levers. Visually the game is pretty but certainly feels like a bridging title, coming out as it has on both last and current gen machines. The current gen versions suffer from a few low-res textures and simple models, but make up for it with a full 1080p resolution and smooth 60FPS (although the PS4 version suffered from some optimisation issues at launch, these have now been ironed out in a recent patch).
Let’s talk about Raid Mode now. This is a side mode in addition to the main campaign and takes the form of an attack run through a linear level. You run, you shoot, you get experience and, after the level, you bank any items you looted from chests in the level and upgrade your character with the experience you gained, adding new item and skill slots. It’s a bit of an RPG lite shooting gallery and it’s an awful lot of fun, playable both in single player and co-op modes both on and offline. In fact, the addition of offline multiplayer in Raid and Campaign modes is a breath of fresh air as more games abandon split screen in favour of online only multiplayer and, let’s be honest, selling more copies of the game. Screen Share on PS4 also let me try out split screen with a friend who wasn’t even in the same room (thanks, Ben!) which was an incredible experience.
Raid Mode, however, comes with the unfortunate associate with what now seems to be customary “In App Purchases”. While these are not as egregious as they are in other titles, their presence here leaves a bad taste. If you die in Raid Mode you can use a “Respawn Crystal” to come back to life in the same stage without losing progress. You can earn these crystals by playing daily challenges, or you can buy them via in game transactions, something I feel has no place in a retail title. It’s a shame, but introducing a pay to win mechanic in a game that you’ve already asked people to pay for cheapens the experience a bit. It simply should not be there.
Resident Evil Revelations 2 is a great game. The story, while somewhat cheesy, is less overblown and gung ho than the recent numbered elements, it treads a line between action and puzzle solving elements and reintroduces some genuinely scary moments to the franchise and it does so at an affordable price. Unfortunately, odd decisions in the retail model (why offer each episode individually?) and the introduction of IAP transactions leave a bit of a bad taste. If you can get past these, though, and you’re a Resident Evil fan, you should totally play Revelations 2.