Early on in Resident Evil: Revelations you happen upon an ominously locked door, chained shut and secured with a massive padlock. A single laser-aimed bullet shoots the lock off and the door blasts open, Resident Evil 4-style. But what awaits inside is actually much more reminiscent of Capcom’s very first foray into the world of survival-horror. The hulking bio-organic weapon that smashes his way out is gruesome enough, but it’s the tragic monster’s diary that resonates the most. Charting the once-human’s journey from self-imposed isolation, to infection and eventually madness as the zombie virus takes hold and causes a second person to grow out of his shoulder, the diary recalls one of the original Resident Evil’s most chilling documents and ends on a line almost as iconic as the classic ‘itchy, tasty’. Capcom has finally returned to its roots… Sort of.
The combat mechanics may fit right in line with modern Resident Evils but it’s clear right from the off that Capcom is keen to recapture the tone of its series early years with this hybrid offering; from the interior locations designed to evoke Raccoon City’s Spencer Mansion, to the voice acting so hackneyed it must be intentional. Original protagonists Chris and Jill return, alongside a whole new cast of BSAA members so STARS-like you can go through all the pleasure of guessing who’ll die, who’ll betray you and who’ll go on to become the new recurring villain of choice all over again.
Capcom even makes a modest attempt to recreate the structure of its first survival-horror. The self-contained nature of the Queen Zenobia, the ship that Jill and new partner Parker are charged with exploring, makes for a great non-linear playground, with grand halls to revisit, dauntingly familiar corridors to trepidatiously backtrack through, and enticingly locked doors that eventually spill their secrets. And while some areas, like the on-board shopping plaza, offer up the sort of non-linear arena combat typified by Resident Evil 4’s opening village, others are more like the hallway the zombie dogs leap into in Resident Evil, scaring you with the idea of what might happen as much as what does.
Even when you think you know a previous area, the designers change things up to make revisiting them interesting. Sometimes it’s a trick as simple as introducing new enemies, other times the game goes as far as to flood an entire section of the ship, calling upon Jill’s newfound Lara Croft-alike swimming ability and transforming areas into 360-degree rooms where threats can come from any direction. Puzzles, meanwhile, are admittedly lighter than in previous games and now more self-contained – such as the electrical rewiring minigame used to open locked doors. They’d be just as suited to Professor Layton as they are Revelations, but do feel right at home on 3DS’s touch screen.
New to the series, and perfectly in keeping with the blend of old and new design influences is the Genesis device. Not the sort of gizmo you’d use to bring Leonard Nimoy back to life, the Genesis is a handheld scanner used to analyse enemies and search for hidden items. The former use fits in wonderfully with the modern style action. Rewarding you with a green herb if you manage to scan enough enemies, it’s especially powerful against living things, filling up its meter much quicker if you scan a monster before killing it, and therefore creates a nice risk/reward mechanic as each slow scan leaves you vulnerable to attack. The tension it creates is palpable, but this is a device that serves ponderous play equally. Almost every room contains secret items, ammo and even handprints, linked to the in-game Achievement system, that can only be revealed by the scanner. It’s a nice mechanic that encourages more careful exploration of the environment than would otherwise be necessary.
It’s remarkable just how well each new addition allows Capcom to perform its delicate balancing act between old and new Resident Evil styles, which bodes well for the future direction of the series. But that’s not to say that Revelations is a complete success. Far from it. One of the biggest flaws is the episodic nature of the experience. Broken down into chapters of about 15-30 minutes in length, Revelations almost feels as though it was designed for the attention span of the average iOS gamer. Its bite-sized chunks of gameplay are well meaning in their consideration for handheld gaming but simply make for a shallow experience in practice. As for the plot recaps between each episode, they’re patronising at best, tedious at worst and ultimately unnecessary given the dearth of interesting narrative.
More damaging is the way in which the perspective cuts between the three groups of playable characters. It may make sense to offer a variety of play styles and plots, but constantly cutting away from the main quest – Jill and Parker’s exploration of the Zenobia – shatters immersion and breaks the contiguous level design that made the original Resident Evil so compelling to explore. The episodic structure, quite frankly, feels cheap. And it’s a problem only exacerbated by the tiring repetition of the same few enemies used throughout the game, the general lack of strategy or skill needed to take them down and the generally uninspired boss battles that leave you assuming there must be more left to play, just as the credits prove otherwise.
Handheld editions of big console titles often feel like straight to video sequels – looking the part but lacking the polish – and Revelations is no different. It nails the atmosphere in its hybrid design, but those crucial sparks of brilliance that make the series so great, no matter which of its eras you prefer… they’re as rare as a single use rocket launcher.