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Resident Evil: Revelations

16:1501/06/2013Posted by Chris BraithwaiteOne Comment

The Resident Evil series has been on a downhill trajectory since Resident Evil 4. This generation’s entries to the series have eschewed most of the survival horror that the series is known for in favour of action. However, Resident Evil: Revelations promises a return to the survival horror roots of the series. Does Revelations fulfil that promise? Well, no…but we’ll get to that in due course.

From a presentation perspective, Revelations is pretty good (given that it’s a HD remake of a 3DS game). The graphics are surprisingly tidy, although you won’t be mistaking it for a AAA console release. The abandoned cruise ship Queen Zenobia, where you’ll spend most of your time, has a number of memorable settings, and is generally accompanied by appropriately creepy or action-packed music.

There’s a good variety of well-designed enemies, employing a wide range of tactics. A neat dodging mechanic allows you to escape danger at times, but it’s tricky enough to pull off that you can’t rely on it. Enemies take a pleasing amount of damage, which means (especially early on) that wise use of your ammo is important. In the early going, it isn’t rare to kill the final enemy of a section with your last remaining bullet.

As you explore the Zenobia you’ll uncover new weapons, all of which are effective. You’ll find a host of upgrade parts, ranging from simple (increased damage) to creative (make sniper rifles more powerful, but only at close range). The beauty of the upgrade system is that no upgrades are permanent, so you don’t need to worry that you might find a better weapon or upgrade around the corner. The promise of upgrades should keep you poking into Zenobia’s darkest corners for the full duration of the game.

There’s even an excellent rail-shooting section for one of the boss fights. I’ve never been a fan of rail-shooting, but this one is cinematic, strikes a good balance of being challenging without feeling unfair, and is long enough to begin to feel gruelling without being so long that it becomes boring.

So those are the good parts. The natural expectation is that having covered those we’ll move onto the bad parts, leading to a conclusion that Revelations is a sub-par game. However, there aren’t any particularly bad parts, and it’s certainly not a bad game. It’s just not a particularly good one either. It’s just average.

The problem that plagues Revelations is that even the even the highlights are marred by negatives that drag them down and preventing from reaching any lofty heights. Take the presentation for example; the Zenobia has a range of good areas, including the opening one: dark corridors, claustrophobic cabins, grisly corpses, half-glimpsed enemies, falling air vents, lit only by Jill Valentine’s torch. But there are an equal number of generically dull environments (especially an almost inexplicable laboratory). The music might be generally strong, but the sound effects are poor, especially guns, which sound hugely underpowered.

Graphically, the game is fine most of the time, but there are moments that betray Revelations’ handheld origins (particularly during cut-scenes). Also, during inevitable “this part of the ship is flooding” sections, weaknesses of the engine become apparent. Console gamers have come to expect such set pieces to be dynamic, desperate escapes as your environment changes around you. In Revelations, they aren’t. You’ll get told that the room is flooding, but the water sure doesn’t look like it’s rising.

While early on weapons and enemies are fantastically well-balanced, as you progress upgrades make your guns more powerful and ammunition becomes less scarce. Machine guns in particular, with some judicious upgrades, can become ludicrously overpowered. Enemies look good, but while they might be able to take more damage as you progress, that doesn’t ramp up to anything like the same extent as your firepower. By the end of the game most enemies go down with minimal fuss. The rail-shooting boss fight is fun, but the other boss fights are crushingly dull. The final boss fight, in particular, is horribly repetitive (make sure you bring a shotgun to that one).

In the end almost every aspect of Revelations ends up at sauntering down the middle of the road, with one very notable exception: the survival horror. This brings us to Revelations’ main failing: it just isn’t scary.

This starts with the enemies. They look good, take decent damage, but they don’t ever strike fear in you. Most enemies’ attacks are weak, but you’ll usually kill them before they get near to you anyway. If you do get hurt, green herbs are potent and plentiful. You’ll die on occasion, but you’re unlikely to ever be scared.

The Zenobia doesn’t help. An abandoned cruise ship has tonnes of potential for creepiness, but Zenobia never sets you on edge. It doesn’t help that the plot often transports you away from the ship to events elsewhere. These intervals relieve whatever meagre tension might have been created. Horror environments work best when you don’t get any respite; when you’re fearfully peeking around every corner, you know the environment has done its job. The Zenobia never gets you doing this, but even if it did the story structure would relieve that tension anyway.

The plot, by the way, in classic Resident Evil style, is ludicrous. It starts with a bio-terrorist attack to objections to a utopian city’s self-sufficient use of solar power (because who likes renewable energy, eh?), and it doesn’t get any smarter. It would be possible to forgive the trips off the Zenobia if they led to the revelations promised by the title, but they don’t (unless we’re talking about a mid-game twist that you’ll guess within the opening hour).

One sequence around the halfway mark demonstrates how little Revelations seems to understand horror. You need to chase down a monster that has the key you need, through the initial corridors and cabins, the strongest horror environment in the game. You press forward, knowing that every corner, every door, every shadow could be an opportunity for your quarry to turn the tables on you. Until you notice the stunningly obvious audio cues well in advance of that ever happening. Any hint of surprise is gone: you just walk until you hear the requisite sound effects. And if you miss them, don’t worry, because you won’t take any serious damage.

This had potential to be a truly memorable sequence, and it became just another corridor crawl. That really sums up Resident Evil: Revelations as a whole. Given Revelations’ billing as a return to the series’ survival horror origins, the total absence of horror and stunning ease of survival is a fundamental flaw. It’s a flaw that it could have been overcome if the rest of the game was top-notch. But the rest of Revelations isn’t a good game. It’s a game with good elements that get cancelled out by poor elements, with no horror beats to improve it, leaving an average game.

Really, the only thing that makes Resident Evil: Revelations notable is the apparent lack of knowledge of what makes a game scary. That’s a charge that couldn’t even be fairly levelled at the current-generation entries into the series but, sadly, it’s one that’s fair to level at Resident Evil: Revelations.

Game reviewed on PlayStation 3; copy provided by Capcom UK

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