For the Resident Evil series, 2012 was a year of quantity, if not quality. Resident Evil 6 was mediocre at best, and Operation Raccoon City was widely panned. An action game at heart, the former distorted the gameplay tropes of the series as much as any T-Virus variant distorts human biology.
The 3DS-exclusive Resident Evil: Revelations represented the exact opposite – it played it safe, embracing everything that had come to define the series. Although it did nothing revolutionary, Revelations was heralded as positive iteration. Its console port doesn’t deserve such lofty praise, but it’s still a solid title in its own right.
In archetypical Resident Evil fashion, the foes here are bioterrorists. A city called Terragrigia – a sort of hippy Atlantis that runs on solar power – is assaulted by a shadowy organisation called Il Veltro using lizard men of all things. The player character is Jill “Master of Unlocking” Valentine, who along with series newcomer and fellow Federal BioTerrorism Commission employee Parker Luciani, is investigating the SS Queen Zenobia in search of series regular Chris Redfield and his partner Jessica.
While the tale that Revelations tells is not good even by Resident Evil's low standards, the game's setting holds more promise. The Zenobia's mucky bunks, shelves, crates, and decrepit toilet cubicles provide plenty of corners around which grotesques can lumber. But most of the time – aside from the occasional crashing wave – the setting could just as easily be a military facility, or space station, or haunted warehouse. Sections that harken back to the early mansion-based Resident Evil titles make for a nice change of pace, but elsewhere things are pretty nondescript.
Gameplay is traditional Resident Evil, with the exception of an item called the Genesis scanner. A hand-waving gadget, it can analyse enemies and the rooms they occupy for information and items, but it’s a tedious chore to use. Scanning enemies fills a meter, and once it hits maximum the player is provided with a single delicious healing pill. It makes no sense, but at least dead enemies yield less information than living ones, which adds a small risk-benefit element to proceedings.
The game’s AI-controlled friendlies are a strange inclusion, as their presence removes much of the game’s tension. While Revelations skimps on the ammo, allies possess unlimited – yet ineffective – munitions. It’s common to kite a creature around as it is peppered ineffectually by a companion, assuming they aren’t attacking a wall.
The companions add nothing to the story or atmosphere; their presence is redundant, perhaps symptomatic of the series’ identity crisis as an action-horror hybrid. To spice things up, occasionally players will find themselves in the combat boots of different operatives including Redfield and Parker. However, these sections are weak detours not because Jill is even slightly compelling, but because this shift invariably takes place in more linear ears, with less enemy variety.
The Resident Evil series seems to redefine the word “zombie” every fortnight. In Revelations, they fit into an aquatic mold: skin is noticeably damp, and lamprey or squid-like appendages and barnacle structures replace insect-inspired claws and hooks. There are ravenous fish that move frighteningly fast on land, and demonic horseshoe crabs that stalk the player in the water. Body horror is emphasised here, with most enemies resembling twisted versions of human reproductive anatomy; which is rather unsettling.
More to the point, each enemy moves and attacks in a unique way. The more humanoid of the creatures sway their heads in a satisfactorily creepy way that makes headshots much tougher, while others lumber in slowly but possess one-shot power. Revelations is too late to write the mutant textbook, but the variety here keeps the combat fresh throughout. And it's the combat that is the campaign's greatest asset. The tight over-shoulder perspective from later Resident Evil games is present, and the player cannot run particularly quickly, which multiplies the sense of tension. Outside of battle, simple, contrived puzzles serve to break up the pacing.
These richly-designed enemies form the backbone for the game’s Raid mode. Similar to the Mercenaries mode from earlier games and horde-style affairs from other shooters, Raid is a wave-based survival mode that allows cooperative play over online. It’s a lot of fun, and represents the most engaging parts of the singleplayer campaign in distilled form.
The Resident Evil franchise largely abandoned its survival horror roots long ago, but Revelations shows that is precisely where its strengths lie. Despite this port being the inferior way to experience the game, it is nonetheless an adequate entry in the long-running series and in survival horror genre. When was the last time gamers could say that about Resident Evil?