Resident Evil 5 is the best-selling game in Capcom’s revered franchise despite being arguably the least popular in the eyes of its most hardcore and vocal fans. With each release the series appears to ditch more and more of its defining conventions in a bid for accessibility and wider appeal. It presents a bit of a dilemma for both series stalwarts and Capcom itself: big publishers aren’t really in the business of developing titles for niche audiences. And if there’s one thing that flies in the face of the fundamental tenets of survival horror, it’s accessibility.
Capcom does appear to acknowledge the concerns of long-time fans, though, and Resident Evil: Revelations makes an admirable attempt at compromise – to be all things to all people. But as a stab at a middle ground, many of the fan-requested elements have only a shallow implementation here.
Revelations does much well, though, and should rightfully be commended as one of the best titles available for the 3DS right now. The MT Framework engine does Resident Evil proud on Nintendo’s flagship handheld. Although its smaller displays are more forgiving than a larger, HD display, the visuals and presentation of Revelations are up there with those of its most-recent console counterpart, Resident Evil 5. At times, the environments are suitably creepy, and a genuine effort has been made to recapture the mood of the classic titles. This is further enhanced by the 3D aspect, which really does help to draw the player in, especially when cranked up to maximum settings via the in-game menu. It’s surprisingly immersive gaming given the humble display size of the 3DS.
It’s also the first game released in this territory to take advantage of the Circle Pad Pro peripheral. It’s a surprisingly pleasant experience, with the Circle Pad Pro truly bringing the precision, power and even the comfort of a console-style controller to the 3DS.
Resident Evil: Revelations is a side story that takes place between the events of Resident Evil 4 (a much revered reinvention of sorts for the franchise) and Resident Evil 5. The latter game attempted to build on the foundations of its predecessor, but Capcom only served to anger a large proportion of long-term fans with the additions and changes it made. Most notably, Resident Evil 5 was panned for moving away from the darkened, Gothic-inspired locales the series made its name on (taking place in a fictional African nation, mostly in broad daylight) and for a perceived shift of focus to the action aspect as opposed to the horror. Despite the screams of bloody murder from the vocal faithful, it sold by the truckload.
In Revelations, Capcom has attempted to appeal to both camps by incorporating elements of both styles of gameplay. But the end result is still more likely to appeal more to action-shooter aficionados than survival-horror stalwarts. The two styles are not blended together to find a happy medium, but rather played off against each other. And while the action side benefits from this approach, the survival-horror massive is left somewhat shortchanged.
The Revelations demo recently teased us with possibility, hinting at what many of us craved: an eerie, dark environment ripe for exploration, with key hunting and puzzles aplenty. But the extent to which this is realised in the full game is a little disappointing. There are certainly moments that hint at what could be, but these aspects are seldom, pared back, and ultimately a casualty of the game’s fragmented nature.
Revelations adopts an episodic model that sees the action jump around between characters and between points in time like a particularly hyperactive JJ Abrams TV series. It’s interesting at first as it mixes up the environments, frequently freshens up proceedings and presents players with a “Previously on Resident Evil: Revelations…” recap (as also employed by Alan Wake). In this case, though, the constant character swapping and flashback sequences serve to break up the consistent tension that’s so crucial to a good survival horror.
Each “episode” typically consists of two “scenes”, in which the player’s perspective generally switches between one of about four main characters. Aside from staples Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield, they’re all new entrants into the series. As a general rule, when it switches from Valentine’s perspective, players can expect an action-heavy sequence, although her sections later dissolve into such also. Additionally, given the action skew, ammunition is never really in short supply. And with ammo scarcity being one of the staples of the classic survival-horror style, the atmosphere suffers here. I rarely went into a skirmish feeling ill-equipped.
The new characters are mostly shallow action-game archetypes. Additionally, Revelations also introduces a bungling duo that serves, somewhat unnecessarily, as comedic relief. It’s executed rather poorly, and needless to say, falls particularly flat in a title with a horror pedigree such as Resident Evil.
Revelations’ story is relatively self-contained, featuring surprisingly few references whatsoever to other entries in the series (outside of the inclusion of Redfield and Valentine and the chronological first appearance of the BSAA). As mentioned, it jumps around between characters and features the occasional flashback in a bid to deliver a storyline in the vein of modern television dramas such as Lost and 24. Subsequently, it takes a turn for the fairly ridiculous in the latter stages, and while it’s a satisfying progression (that takes in the region of 10 hours to complete), it does feel out of step with the rest of the series’ canon.
The game’s episodic nature also means the adventure is compartmentalised and constrained by bite-sized portions of gameplay. This is all well and good for most any other style of action game, particularly on a handheld. But it means that the player is never presented with an environment with the exploratory scope of Resident Evil games past. There are keys to be found and the odd puzzle to solve, but they’re all encountered in a rather linear, untaxing fashion. Subsequently, there’s nothing resembling the sense of achievement found in previous games in the series.
From an action perspective, though, the choices Capcom has implemented in Revelations are mostly for the better. Players can now simultaneously shoot and move (slowly), which, despite some early scepticism, ultimately proves a welcome addition. Item management couldn’t be simpler (which, again, some purists will see as a negative) with limits imposed only on the amount of ammunition, grenades and health aids that can be carried. And a newly refined weapon-upgrade system is more stripped back than that of recent offerings, but effectively affords the player a more versatile arsenal. Upgrades that offer such perks as increasing damage or the rate of fire can be swapped between weapons at your leisure.
Raid Mode is a novel innovation on the Mercenaries Mode of old. Players (solo or cooperatively via local wireless or online) can clear environments of enemies, earn points and upgrades, level up and unlock new characters. There’s also a loot element to Raid Mode where fairly unique weapon customisations can be unlocked, and while things start easily enough, help will soon be required. It’s easily the most well executed extra mode for a Resident Evil title yet, and unlike Mercenaries Mode, something I’ll personally return to often.
Despite some issues, Resident Evil: Revelations is a damn fine demonstration of what the 3DS is capable of, and can be acknowledged as the best action game currently available on the handheld. However, where it falters slightly is as an ambassador for a return to former glories for the Resident Evil franchise. The game’s best moments hint that a perfect marriage between the franchise’s adopted perspective and traditional survival-horror elements is possible. But these moments are few and far between amongst the relatively straightforward action sections. So while the end result is still an extremely fun and satisfying game, there's a sense that a golden opportunity has been somewhat squandered.