Resident Evil, like the undead foes of the series, refuses to lay down and die. Instead it limps ever forward, decaying titles dropping to the floor and making a mess of a once lovely carpet.
A harsh analogy but, hands up, since Resi 4 I’ve become jaded with the series, which for me has been obsoleted by this generation’s scariest scaries – Dead Space and Alan Wake. Like a zombie with no legs from the knees down, the Resident Evil has to work extra hard to stand up and be noticed.
Luckily Resident Evil Revelations, the series’ second outing on the 3DS, has legs that end more towards the ankle. This is a full package too, unlike the multiplayer-centric Mercenaries, and sits nicely between entries 4 and 5 of the main series, both canonically and in terms of design. If you can imagine what that would be like, you’re probably not far off. But, of course, I will be more specific.
First, the controls, which for better or worse are a defining Resident Evil feature. Whether their awkward and restrictive nature are necessary for that essential horror ingredient – vulnerability – has been and still is infinitely debated. Well, debate on, because they’re largely the same here, and are quite excellently designed for the 3DS. I had no hand cramp after a couple of hours of straight play. There is one caveat though: the addition of a dodge move, which can be used at any time. If you’re worried this is detrimental to “that” Resident Evil feeling of claustrophobia, it is. It’s a compromise between full versus limited control that feels like a shot in the foot from Capcom.
Where you shouldn’t be worried is whether the game’s definition of horror continues on the trajectory of Resident Evil 5. The action-game aspect is present, but is often restrained in favour of tense tiptoeing through sinister settings where something not jumping out and trying to kill you is just as terrifying as the alternative. Jill Valentine’s creep through a creaking cruise ship in particular is a close match for past glories. Tense exploration with that trademark lack of peripheral vision returns and it feels wonderful. The addition of a Batman-like object scanning feature makes you pay extra attention to these well crafted environments, adding a light RPG element with a risk/reward twist: scan enough objects for a health bonus, but if you scan the same thing twice you’ll be penalised. Scanning also reveals hidden, precious ammo stashes, an invaluable bonus for those who explore this new feature.
Where lessons haven’t been learned is in your accompanying characters, mostly in the problem that they fucking exist. Parker Luciana and Jessica Sharawat are the names you’ll soon be wanting to erase from your memory, and they partner with Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield respectively. The tension the game so tightly weaves is undone with every delivery of an entirely inappropriate ham-acted one liner. Horror is nearly always less effective with company, and with moronic company doubly so. It’s a frustrating and disruptive flaw.
My major issue, however, is one more fundamental than control quirks or whackadoo sidekicks, and one that there’s not really a way out of: the system the game is made for. It is a truly impressive game visually, perhaps the best graphics yet seen on the 3DS, but despite playing with headphones on for hours at a time, the smaller screen definitely hindered how capable the game was at scaring me. With so much visual impact lost, simply from the downsized display, not once did I feel overwhelming trepidation and not one hair on my body stood on end. The 3D, as is often the case, is very subtly implemented, and is not enough of an enhancement to make up for what has been lost.
That is not to say Revelations is a bad game, far from it; it’s just somewhat out of place. As a Resident Evil, it is well designed mechanically and visually, but with significant shortcomings that will be especially apparent to those who have been recently disappointed with the series.