Can you say collector's item?
The original Resident Evil signified a turning point for survival horror fans, as both window-breaking zombie dogs and insta-death Hunters remain fond if not terrifying memories for many young PlayStation owners. But with two successful sequels soon under Capcom’s belt, the company licensed out their beloved moneymaker for several unique spin-offs. Resident Evil: Gaiden for the Game Boy Color was one of the first, released to hopes that we might appreciate carrying zombie-killing action in the recesses of our pockets. Not even the inclusion of fan favorite protagonists Leon and Barry, however, could redeem this shining example of bargain bin shovel-ware.
Now if you’re a frequenter of the Resident Evil series, you’ll also know that cruise ships aren't exactly a strange location for a biohazard outbreak. Both the terrible Resident Evil: Gaiden and the mediocre Resident Evil: Dead Aim set their plots within archaically designed, seafaring vessels, so I’m here to dispel any doubts about Revelations.
The visuals make for the sharpest-looking handheld game I've ever seen, and the narrative remains exceptionally coherent given the franchise’s odd history. In the overall timeline, Revelations occurs between the events of Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 5, not long before Jill’s capture by Wesker. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here, several of the BSAA's founders, including Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, take center stage to investigate possible outbreaks of the new T-abyss virus.
Chris and Jill, however, have not been partnered together. While the former enjoys the stinging cold of frostbitten mountains, the latter explores Chris's sudden kidnapping aboard a hijacked sea vessel, the Queen Zenobia. Also, both protagonists have a new partner – Jessica and Parker respectively – who played witness to the downfall of Terragrigia, a secluded island in the Mediterranean that sustained its inhabitants off solar power alone. The keywords there lie in the past tense. Shortly after its establishment, Terragrigia's populace was decimated my Hunters, and the city was commissioned for a solar frying (think of burning ants with a magnifying glass, on a much larger scale). Now, one year later, the organization responsible for the event appears to have resurfaced, threatening to unleash the T-abyss into the world’s oceans.
To alleviate potential concerns, Capcom has resigned your partners to more of a support role. Their bullets do little beyond stunning enemies, but at least they won't be absorbing all your health items.
The misfortune that ensues parallels an expertly paced narrative. The game’s episodic structure alternates mainly between Jill’s and Chris’s scenarios, leaving the fate of either character unknown until the next act. Jill’s adventure feels more traditional survival-horror too, with respect to the ominous atmosphere and lingering tension. Coupled with the Zenobia’s dark, shadowy setting, the masterful audio experience weakened my will to brave the next corner on a handful of occasions. In one particular chapter, you’re pursued by another survivor’s undead partner, and her screams sent literal shivers down my spine. Anyone who loved RE5's underrated Lost in Nightmares DLC should feel right at home. Meanwhile, Chris’s time spent rescuing his colleagues contains the same adrenaline-pumping shootouts of recent Resident Evil fame.
The developers also rectify an issue I took with Resident Evils 4 and 5. During my journey through villages, marshlands, and underground laboratories, I was showered with ammunition; so much that I often spent more time managing what I should keep and what I should discard than I did combatting enemies. I never worried about the next boss encounter, as expending 30-plus magnum rounds became highly unlikely. On the contrary, Revelations runs the gambit of ammo scarcity, where each box of shotgun shells seems like a godsend. I even forced myself to flee and conserve precious handgun ammunition, rather than back myself against a wall during several skirmishes. The challenge only increases during Pro difficulty, however, in which many more enemies spawn than you can possibly defeat, but a New Game Plus minimizes those woes.
Thankfully, you receive the Genesis scanner to help uncover the Zenobia’s hidden secrets. Scanning marked targets reveals otherwise concealed ammo, herbs, and weapon upgrades. Enemy types can be examined as well, like in-the-field biological research. That means flesh-hungry piranhas, blood-thirsty wolves, imposing Hunters, and unfortunate cruise ship passengers (identified as Oozes) all contribute to the Genesis’s research percentage. Once the counter reaches 100 percent, you obtain an arbitrary health reward. Still, the scanning remains completely optional, as any and all research is purely self-incentivized.
The Genesis scanner also reveals invisible enemies.
For the sake of completing the game with limbs intact, however, I suggest you take a breather to hunt for hidden weapon components. Instead of purchasing upgrades at shady merchants, you equip new parts at scattered storage crates. All the typical upgrades, from increased stopping power to faster firing rates to extended clips, apply. Given the ammo shortage, it’s reassuring that I can arm my shotgun with a 40% boost in firepower and save a few shells.
Weapon customization factors not only into single-player, but the cooperative multiplayer too. Raid Mode functions like Mercenaries from Resident Evils past, only with the annoying time limit and combat arenas happily removed. Rather, players progress through several different campaign levels without the narrative hooks, and each of the half-dozen playable heroes specializes at reloading certain firearms faster, so it’s best to swap characters with an array of pistols, shotguns, rifles, or magnums to better suit their stats. With 50 levels of unlocks and the prospect of earning random weapon drops at the conclusion of each chapter, I reveled in tackling every challenge with a teammate in tow. The 3DS’s Street Pass feature further adds to the replay value through unique mission objectives. Across the various stages, I encountered tougher minibosses designated by the name of a prior co-op partner – like Boss in my case – that granted extra experience for their deaths.
But for all the steps forward, Revelations still takes two steps back. Voice acting has never been the most lauded feature in the franchise’s repertoire, so it comes as little surprise that half of the character cast drove me insane! I’m namely speaking of Parker, but fellow BSAA agents Quint and Keith are equally unbearable. Parker’s heavy accent and Quint’s high-pitched whining compelled me to stick the stylus in my ears. So halfway through the game, I’d suffered enough of their English dialogue and promptly finished the single-player in Japanese, whose voice actors I found to be less grating.
I also wish I could give a more definitive analysis of Revelations' 3D, but I found myself succumbing to nausea after extended periods of crossing my eyes – a problem with myself. Although the game offers three levels of extra dimension for people that really want the characters to pop, the resulting decline in quality does the visual fidelity injustice. Shadows that already appeared pixelated in 2D really mar an otherwise beautiful presentation with the absence of anti-aliasing.
The touchscreen finds little use outside of rewiring circuit boards.
To offset these shortcomings, I give my biggest compliment to the controls. Anyone that dabbled with Resident Evil 4 will sense the instant similarities, though players can now strafe while aiming, if they forfeit camera movement. These default controls are not to be blamed on the developers, but on the limitations of the hardware. A third option combines movement and aiming at the expense of targeting with the face buttons.
Moreover, snapping on the Circle Pad Pro allows buyers to both maneuver and shoot (a first for the series), but that will cost you another $20. Regardless, there was no moment while playing Revelations where I regretted not utilizing the spare peripheral. Players will get the same tense, albeit action-filled experience with or without the additional stick, but I strongly encourage the financial investment. Interacting with the environment or lobbing grenades with a single shoulder button press feels more natural and comfortable for my larger hands. And as a video game set on a ship lost at sea, underwater swims are understandably present, yet the controls handle surprisingly fine. The real problem here is their frequency. These submerged sequences become far too common nearing the finale to be a welcome change of pace.
For relevance, however, the Circle Pad/3DS combo rivals the original Game Boy in weight and the upcoming PS Vita in length. This negates the 3DS’s portability, the whole advantage to owning a handheld system, yet I level my only minor complaint against the attachment’s second circle pad. The device exhibits a bit more resistance while aiming, effectively producing two different sensitivities.
These gripes do little to weaken my argument for checking out an unexpected, though needed, surprise for 3DS owners. Supported by fantastic visuals, eerie audio design, tight controls, and a rational narrative, Resident Evil: Revelations represents a flagship title that any fan should possess. If you remain one of the many unsatisfied with your 3DS purchase, I recommend at least a rent. Revelations isn't perfect, but only just.
Release Date: February 7, 2012
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign), 2 (Cooperative)
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS (Reviewed)