There seems to be two distinct groups when it comes to Capcom’s Resident Evil franchise. One is firmly in the ‘modern’ camp, those having cut their teeth on the amazing Resident Evil 4 and its emphasis on action over exploration and (its true) zombies. The other, in which I increasingly find myself, longs for the return of survival horror in the truest sense; a world in which ammo is scarce, enemies rotting, and a green herb could mean the difference between life and death. No disrespect towards the modern games, but it’s a little hard to get terrified at chain-wielding infected Europeans riding motorcycles while you blast them away Call of Duty-style.
Resident Evil: Revelations, the first full game in the series for the 3DS, offers up a bridge between these two worlds, and is easily the most genuinely scary RE experience in years while still retaining a modern sensibility and production values.
Set between Resident Evil 4 and 5, Revelations recounts the events just after the creation of the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance (BSAA), with the narrative that alternates between popular characters Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield. The majority of the game takes place on the Queen Zenobia, a cruise ship stranded in the ocean on a dark and very stormy night, which may have played a key part in the solar destruction of the ‘floating city’ of Terragrigia to combat a bioterrorist attack by the secret organization known as “Il Veltro”. Yes, a plot involving international bioterrorism and archaic language is boilerplate territory for this franchise at this point, and real fans won’t be surprised to see a host of new characters sporting strange hairdos and high school personalities running around and spouting passages from The Divine Comedy (Dante’s Inferno) like it was the most natural thing in the world.
The emphasis on a return to survival horror is apparent from the get-go, and a cruise ship is an inspired setting, with tight confines and claustrophobic hallways making things feel more like Dead Space than a modern RE game. You’ll traverse long passageways, pick up herbs, read notes and logs, solve mini-puzzles, and even fend off the occasional T-Virus monster while trying to stay alive. There’s several nods to the original game, and don’t be surprised if you have to empty a few bathtubs and reach into dirty toilets to get where you need to go. Heck, even the omnipresent wooden box makes a return for easily storage and retrieval. Not only that, but finding spare parts let you augment and upgrade weapons like handguns, shotguns, and machine guns along the way, though you’re limited to carrying just three at a time, with Jill being the only character that can switch weapons in the campaign.
Aiming your aiming changes the perspective to first-person mode that rewards accuracy and precision, just as with Dead Space, making every shot count. While there’s not much in the way of variety in the monsters you’ll encounter, they’re well animated and put up a decent fight as they ooze from openings and slash about. Finishing melee attacks and dodges help conserve ammo, but so will simply turning tail and running away when necessary (again, just like the original game). Other times extreme combat takes over, with plenty of moments when you’ll need to stand your ground and simply survive, which are often the most frustrating parts of the game, as limited ammo and hordes of enemies clogging the screen can make aiming more difficult than it need be. Not just that, but get yourself injured and your screen becomes an opaque mess, limiting visibility and your chances of making it out alive. Thankfully, a fully 3D map helps, but expect to read “You Are Dead” more than a few times.
Revelations looks absolutely incredible, easily the most visually-impressive game yet on the 3DS, falling somewhere between RE4 and RE5, which is an incredible accomplishment for the handheld. Character models are highly detailed and animated extremely well, and the frame-rate is typically solid (except in those minor pre-level loading scenes). Capcom even included three levels of 3D to help players adjust to this world (normal, strong, very strong), which is a slight improvement over Nintendo’s stock 3D slider switch. The same goes for the audio work, which is just as critical as the visuals in bringing this ghoulish adventure to life, as you’ll often hear enemies slobber before they lunge and try to eviscerate you into mincemeat. The voice-acting is typically great, on par with RE5’s, though you’ll still hear plenty of that patented RE absurdity sneak in (“me and my sweet ass will be right there!”), with constant chatter from everyone. Hey, it’s a Resident Evil game – you go with it. It’s a shame that the many CG movies were presented in low-resolution, but I guess we should be happy they took the trouble to render them at all.
For all its throwbacks, Revelations controls much like RE5, with a behind-the-back perspective and laser sight to help make pinpoint attacks count – especially useful as precious ammo is severely limited. Gone is the clumsy Final Fantasy-style menu system of RE5 (thank goodness), replaced by smart use of the 3DS’ face buttons and touchscreen for instant action when you need it most. Herbs and melee attacks are simple to use and execute, and being able to use the bottom screen for micro-management was in itself a ‘revelation’ for the series (pun certainly intended). Speaking of new additions, you’re finally able to move and shoot while aiming somewhat, albeit in limited fashion. While the game controls fine using the stock 3DS buttons you’ll want to attach the new Circle Pad Pro for a superior experience, as the second analog nub improves the experience tenfold; those coming from the home console world will be more than happy here, and let’s hope more games utilize this great little attachment soon.
A big disappointment is the lack of co-op during the campaign, which would have been a nice carryover from RE5, especially given that you’re partnered throughout. Capcom compromises with Raid mode, a cooperative survival that lets you and a friend (local of online) blast through waves of monsters through the campaign’s levels with no time limit. You’ll get to use characters from the campaign, each with their own attributes and abilities, and like the previous 3DS RE: Mercenaries, battle points are awarded based on progress and accuracy and can be used to unlock or customize weapons. Of course, you’ll have to unlock Raid mode by playing through (most of) the campaign first, but that shouldn’t be a problem for the more serious RE fans out there.