These days, Resident Evil feels like the video game equivalent of the Alien film franchise: a venerable name that’s lost a bit of shine with a few indifferent recent outings, but still a property respected enough to draw plenty of attention when a new entry comes along. The latest effort to try and restore a bit of lustre to the old girl is Resident Evil Revelations 2, an episodic game releasing on a weekly schedule that once again takes players back to deal with virology gone very, very wrong.
Episode 1 kicks off with recurring series protagonist Claire Redfield at a work party for her employers, NGO “Terra Save”; an organisation that describes itself as “the unflinching mop that sops up the evils of bio-terrorism and chemical warfare!” So far, so Resident Evil, but there’s a sense of self-awareness here that hasn’t always been a feature of the series, and the game continues in this vein of seeming to embrace and celebrate some of the cheesy elements of titles past.
There’s barely time for the game to introduce Claire’s young co-worker Moira Burton (estranged daughter of series mainstay Barry Burton) before paramilitary types swoop in on the party and kidnap everyone. Claire and Moira awaken in a dank and dark cell block in an unknown location, as a sinister voice begins talking to them about fear through bracelets newly surgically implanted in their wrists. Must be time to start filling some mutants full of lead, then.
Playing any previous Resident Evil game since 4 (or recent Resident Evil-inspired offspring like last year’s The Evil Within) will provide an idea of basic gameplay: third-person creeping about and blasting various nasties with a fairly limited supply of ammo, the odd locked door that necessitates a fetch quest of some kind to open, and the occasional super-mutant (often with a power tool) to deal with. It’s a system that still works pretty well, even if you wish sometimes that after a lifetime of mutant battles, Claire would just learn how to dive-roll.
Where Revelations 2 changes it up a little is that there are always two characters, and players can swap between them in most situations at the press of a button. In Claire’s case, the profanity-spouting Moira is along for the ride. Clearly in service of story, Moira refuses to use a gun, but she can swing a crowbar, and more importantly she carries a torch which she can use to dazzle enemies and pick out hidden items. The latter is particularly important to survival as finding these extra supplies keeps Claire topped up with ammo, health and secondary weapons like molotov cocktails. For this reason, players might find themselves navigating more often with Moira and switching to Claire when some fighting needs doing - not least because the setting is seriously dark and when the AI controls Moira it has a tendency to be somewhat inconsistent with the torch, making running face first into a wall as much a hazard to Claire as any mutated prisoner.
The narrative in these first two episodes is derivative. It’s sometimes hard to be tough on any game for being unoriginal – especially when originality is not really the point – but the basic plot set-up and grimy, rust-flaked environment will be so familiar to players of previous Resident Evil titles (and indeed other horror-themed games) that it can feel like déjà vu.
That isn't necessarily always a bad thing – the thrill of trying to reload your shotgun before a slavering multi-limbed killbeast can get within flailing distance may be familiar, but it’s still a thrill – but one thing it does kill stone-dead is any real sense of scariness. The patterns, enemies, and plot - at least in these early chapters - are just too familiar to surprise, and any sense of apprehension is gone when it’s easy to predict when jump scares will happen, which doors will open to disgorge enemies, and which bits of monsters to shoot.
Things perk up a bit though when Barry shows up trying to find Moira as the lead player character in the second half of the episode. Barry’s concerned-dad-commando character is pretty endearing – he’s got a bit of a Liam-Neeson-in-Taken vibe – and he even takes a couple of amusing digs at some of the famously terrible lines that he’s uttered in past games.
The second episode sees a new enemy type and weapons emerge, but in ways that wouldn’t be uncommon at a similar point of a non-episodic game. Environments, too, will stay extremely familiar to Resident Evil vets, as both sets of characters fight their way through a ramshackle village. The serialisation has certainly been implemented effectively in the first two episodes.
It's plain that Resident Evil: Revelations 2 isn’t doing anything new – far from it – but the early going points to a solid series outing that will please fans of the series and the genre.