After 27 entries in a little over 21 years, Capcom’s Resident Evil franchise has proven to be not only one of the most prolific in video game history, but also one of the most varied. Running the gamut from true survival horror to psychological thriller to straight-up dumb action movie, the series has never been afraid to take a left turn every now and then. The result is a franchise that actually has quite a bit in common with Final Fantasy – both love to change up casts, venues, and even core gameplay mechanics, while leaving intact all the intangibles that let you know you’re still playing the same series you grew up with. Whether you’re slinking through a secluded mansion full of undead with nothing more than a sliver of health, three bullets and a prayer in your heart that a typewriter is around the next corner, or pile-driving zombies into the pavement while airplanes explode and buses crash into buildings, Resident Evil is always, invariably, Resident Evil. Some installments are more ambitious than others, and do more to pull you out of that feeling of familiarity. Some are merely content to coast on that familiarity, happy to simply give long-time, die-hard fans more of their favorite horror fix. Resident Evil: Revelations falls into the latter group.
Set between the events of Resident Evil 4 and 5, Revelations finds cast regulars Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield teaming up to stop the bioterrorist organization Il Veltro from releasing a deadly virus into the world’s oceans. Taking place primarily on a seemingly abandoned cruise ship known as the Queen Zenobia, with globe-trotting flashback sequences interspersed throughout, Revelations features a wonderfully creepy setting that, when it works, delivers a feeling of isolation unmatched by any other entry in the series. “Ghost ships” aren’t exactly a novel premise, but the concept is so ubiquitous in modern media simply because it’s so effective. Unfortunately, that atmosphere is regularly undercut by the aforementioned flashbacks and gameplay mechanics introduced to mitigate the hardware limitations of the game’s original platform, Nintendo’s handheld 3DS.
For example, new to the series is the Genesis system, a sort of multi-tool that allows you to scan biological life forms and locate otherwise unseen objects in your environment. This was initially introduced to reduce computational overhead; certain objects do not appear on-screen until they have been located and scanned with Genesis, which allowed Capcom to create greater level detail without having to constantly render every single object you could interact with. For a handheld system like the 3DS it is actually quite the elegant solution to a genuine problem, but it is completely unnecessary on a platform as powerful as the PS4. The fact that it was not revamped at all for this release speaks volumes about the care put into this latest version. It’s particularly problematic as it’s one of the primary means of acquiring the tools and items you need to stay alive, such as bullets and herbs, meaning you will spend an inordinate amount of time walking into an area, holding L1 to bring up Genesis, scanning the room, picking up anything you find, and then walking into the next area to do it all over again. It’s a tedious process that saps the game of any tension or momentum.
The frequent flashback levels typically don’t involve using the Genesis at all, and fall more towards the action end of the Resident Evil spectrum, playing more like Resident Evil 5 than any other game. You’ll often find yourself stacked up against hordes of Bio Organic Weapons (known in game as B.O.W.s) and generous amounts of ammo scattered throughout with which to dole out hot-leaded justice. These sections are fun, and usually better paced than the main narrative, but that also means they almost always feel horribly out of pace. The constant shift between skulking through a zombie ship, hunting down clues, and blasting through waves of monsters in a mad dash to safety is jarring, to say the least.
The dated visuals don’t fare much better, either. There is some increased visual fidelity, here, but it really just highlights the general emptiness of the game world, the lack of detail becoming more apparent the clearer everything is, and the bigger the screen. Graphically, Revelations looks like a really fancy 3DS port and nothing more. Worse, the game still utilizes all the same load points of the original, often interrupting cutscenes or coming at other ill-advised moments. Granted, the load times are much briefer, often only a second, but that only serves to remind how unnecessary they are now. There are maps in Uncharted 4 bigger than every level in Revelations combined, full of detail and short on load times; there is no reason why a Resident Evil game in 2017 needs up to three loading screens per area.
It is important to remain cognizant of the fact that most of these issues are simply vestiges of the game’s handheld origins, and that once you get past them you’re left with a pretty typical Resident Evil experience (or two pretty typical Resident Evil experiences, one much like the originals, the other closer to the action-filled games of the PS3 era). The now-standard, updated tank controls that first appeared in Resident Evil 4 are mostly intact, and still mostly functional as well. You’ll find the usual assortment of pistols, submachine guns, grenades and gadgets at your disposal, which you’ll use on the Queen Zenobia to dispatch B.O.W.s one (or sometimes two or three) at a time. Your character is still slower and clumsier than any highly trained agent should be, but so are your enemies. You’ll occasionally come across specially locked doors requiring the correct symbol or artifact to open, or randomized puzzle locks that require you to align nodes on a screen to open. There’s a good balance, on the ship sections, between puzzle solving and combat.
Surprisingly, the best part of Revelations may be in its alternate Raid Mode. Played solo or cooperatively, Raid Mode lets you blast through previously played levels in an arcade setting as quickly and efficiently as possible. Through this process you can obtain custom parts that provide rare upgrades to weapons allowing you to deal damage more effectively in the future. It’s a great way to kill 20 minutes when you’re not looking to settle in for a long gaming session, especially if you can find a partner to team up with. Doing so will not be easy through public matchmaking, or so it seems, as this reviewer was not able to find a single online game through matchmaking throughout the course of the week. To get the most out of Raid Mode, you’re advised to bring your own friends.
When you get right down to it, Resident Evil: Revelations on PS4 is a game purely for the die-hard fans, the people who grew up on Resident Evil, have come to love it for all its faults as well as its many virtues, and are quite content to simply dive back into the universe and revisit old friends, but even then only if you've missed the first two releases of this game; there's very little that's new here. If you’re a newcomer to Resident Evil, this is not the place to start. Go with this year’s Resident Evil 7 if you’re looking for something innovative, modern and terrifying. If pure action is what you’re after, the remastered editions of Resident Evil 4 and 5 are much easier recommendations.
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