Titanic ain’t got nothing on Zenobia.
I find it somewhat serendipitous that Capcom just announced the Sony exclusive characters for Street Fighter X Tekken as I write this review, for it provides me an interesting juxtaposition to observe. If you followed the recent news for that game, you would have seen that the SF X Tekken Mega Man is the fat '80s box art version.
Both the Resident Evil and Mega Man franchises are in a precarious position these days, as fans clamor louder and louder to make their demands known—and Capcom has thus far turned a deaf ear. In the case of Mega Man, all the fans really want is just to have Mega Man back in his tried-and-true form. But the Big C’s attitude of late, coupled with the recent character reveal, have amounted to a big old middle finger.
With RE, the fans want a break from action-horror and a return to survival-horror. While the news about RE6 make the prospect dubious for that game, the good news is that they’re at least delivering the survival-horror goods in the here and now with Resident Evil: Revelations. It doesn’t quite maintain the same tense level of dread throughout, but when it does—and it does for the bulk of the story—the game is fuckin’ scary.
You’ll spend the bulk of your time controlling series favorite Jill Valentine as she explores the Queen Zenobia, an abandoned cruise ship which was the last known location of her old partner Chris Redfield. Everything about the game is RE through and through, from the grotesque monsters and relentless bosses to the good old cheesy dialogue: “Jill! Where are you?” "I… I’m in a room, I think!”
In some ways, Revelations even surpasses the old-school REs. You could make a very solid argument that the huge husk of a ship is the spookiest setting Capcom’s come up with yet, even more so than the Arklay Mansion. Something about the creaky, rusty shell of a once lively ship and the oppressive, claustrophobic passageways that offer the threat of a watery grave—as well as a bloody one—just sends shivers down the spine. On top of that, hunching over a handheld in the dark with headphones on heightens the tension far more than a big screen and booming speakers.
That scare factor wouldn’t be as oppressive, of course, without some superb graphics and sound direction to back it up, and that’s where Revelations really shines. These are easily the best visuals (from a technical standpoint) on the 3DS so far, landing somewhere between RE4 and RE5 on the graphics scale. The frame rate keeps up for the most part, but it does stutter while loading large areas behind particular doors and during autosaves. But these moments can be forgiven since they rarely happen during combat. The fact that you get a nice view of Jill’s ass most of the time instead of Chris’ roided-out backside certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
The sound direction really deserves special mention. The music is sparse, mostly relying on the ship’s unnerving creaks and groans, the characters’ echoing footsteps, and the ooze monsters' hungry growls to keep you on edge. This Hitchcockian approach to subtle horror through the environment always out-scares the sudden-monster-pop-out technique (of which there are still ample moments). In one of the most stellar examples of horror that I’ve seen in the past few years, a recently infected comms officer drawls his “mayday… mayday” chant like a mantra as you approach his position, overwhelming all other sound until the shit inevitably hits the fan.
The controls are what you’d expect from the modern REs. The game is compatible with the Circle Pad Pro, but I didn’t have access to one for the review. I imagine the twin-stick-style controls would be spiffy with a Pro, but the standard controls work perfectly well. The only odd stumble I noticed was that the touch-screen HUD has some noticeable lag time in reflecting your ammo as you discharge or acquire those precious bullets.
The 10-12 hour story mode is broken down into episodes. Most episodes consist of a flashback or “meanwhile” gameplay segment that highlights other characters in other locations before getting back to the Queen Zenobia. These other segments also tend to feature more action-heavy scenes a la RE5. It can be a nice break, but most players will just be eager to get back to the ship ASAP. Each episode starts with a ridiculously cheesy Previously on Resident Evil Revelations montage, like the game was a '90s TV show, and recaps the events you literally played in the previous chapter. It’s kind of funny, mostly silly, and entirely superfluous.
The convoluted plot isn’t one of Revelations’ bright spots, but it’s satisfying enough in its own ham-fisted ludicrous way. The fault is more egregious, however, in all of the new characters that are introduced in this game. Despite being deeply involved in the affair, Jill and Chris end up more like bystanders to a plot that revolves around Parker, Raymond, and Jessica and their intertwining pasts. These newcomers aren’t offensive or unlikable for the most part, but they certainly aren’t memorable. A lot has also been made of the obnoxiousness of BSAA agents Quint and Keith, and while I wouldn’t prefer to play as them, they’re not so bad that their few segments are unbearable.
Despite lacking the now standard Mercenaries mode (I wonder why), there’s still quite a lot of replay value after clearing the story once. In addition to unlocking Hell difficulty for the story, there are also tons of unlockables for completing Missions, which can range anywhere from killing a certain number of enemies, to performing a bunch of dodges, to scanning all the enemies in the game.
But the kicker is Raid mode, which sends you back to revisit areas from the game in short stages that task you with simply fighting your way to the spinning gold goal at the end. Raid mode plays a lot more like an RPG, complete with life bars and damage numbers that pop up when you hit enemies. In addition, completing stages levels you up, allowing you to equip higher level guns to take into subsequent stages (better guns can be found in stages or bought from the shop). It’s a lot deeper than you’d expect at first glance.
On top of that, Raid mode can be played in co-op as well as solo. Hooking up with a friend or a stranger through Wi-Fi is a snap and makes it easier (and more fun) to blast your way through the progressively harder stages. With StreetPass enabled you can receive Raid mode missions, just like the story mode missions, from other people that award upgrades for your Raid mode equipment.
All in all, Resident Evil Revelations is one of the strongest entries in the series. For perspective, it took me almost two years to finish RE5 because I just wasn’t compelled enough to play it. But with Revelations, I couldn’t wait to get back to the Queen Zenobia in between play sessions. I’m crossing my fingers that when RE6 descends upon us, it plays a lot more like this one.