For better or worse, Resident Evil is an almost completely different game series to what initially defined it. In a recent article for Den Of Geek, I didn’t so much bemoan this as question Capcom’s attempts to present Resident Evil: Revelations 2 as a long-awaited return to survival horror. Putting aside my indignation at Capcom, I thought it seemed fair that I review Revelations 2 without my pedantic genre goggles on. It’s not survival horror, It’s not scary; I’ve accepted these facts and I’m moving on.
Besides, with a focus on asymmetrical co-op gameplay, parallel storylines and the curious decision to release the game episodically, there was enough here to arouse my curiosity, so I intrepidly plunged into the action-horror world of Rev 2.
In the first episode of Revelations 2, Claire Redfield and Moira Burton get kidnapped from a corporate-looking party hosted by the do-gooder organisation, TerraSave. They wake up in cells in an abandoned research lab somewhere in possibly Russia, and are mysteriously released by a disembodied female voice that seemingly wants to torment them. You control these two first, before playing through the same level six months later as Barry Burton (of “Jill Sandwich” fame) and a mysterious young girl called Natalia, who are searching for Claire and Moira.
The design of the lab is generic – all murky lighting, rusty control panels and sacks of things hanging from ominous ceiling chains. While this level felt acceptable to run through once as Claire and Moira, I was ready for some new scenery by the time I got started as Barry and Natalia. It was not to be though, as Barry and Natalia spend the first half-hour of their campaign retreading Claire and Moira’s footsteps – before finally veering off into the woods. I’m happy to give Rev 2 the benefit of doubt here, but this felt like lazy design on Capcom’s part, and I’m hoping to see the two story forks diverge more in subsequent episodes.
Revelations 2 has the same stiff gameplay that’s embodied the Resident Evil (more like Rigident Evil) series since the pivotal fourth entry. Rather than running and gunning, you stand (or walk very slowly), shoot a bit, do a 180-degree turn, run away a bit, then 180 back and continue shooting. While this gameplay is neither natural nor elegant, it has a certain rugged old-school charm, and feels more suspenseful than the safety-first gun-and-cover mechanics that are de rigeur today. Crucially, the gameplay is spiced up by giving you sidekicks to control.
Both sidekicks – Moira and Natalia – have distinct and crucial roles to play. Moira wields an enemy-blinding flashlight and is also pretty handy with a crowbar, while the eight-or-so-year-old Natalia can see zombie outlines through walls (you know, like every protagonist of every major action-adventure game out there). She’s also capable of taking out zombies with a brick, which somewhat undermines the game’s intended illusion that she’s some kind of embodiment of youthful innocence.
Nevertheless, the team gameplay works well, and playing single-player, I found myself switching between the characters regularly to try out the most effective combos against the zombies.
Even though this system works fine in single-player, it’s clearly made with multiplayer in min as human characters inevitably make better use of the characters’ abilities than the AI. I commend Rev 2 for keeping split-screen alive in the online era, but then immediately revoke it for the PC local multiplayer fiasco, whereby Capcom advertised a local multiplayer mode for the PC version which didn’t make it into the final game. Following a fan backlash, a plucky modder has taken it upon himself to add the co-op mode, and Capcom is now apparently working on adding an official co-op mode itself. Luckily for Capcom, the episodic release schedule of Rev 2 means it has several weeks to make amends before reviewers make their final judgement on the game.
As you shoot, kick and brick your way through the levels, you earn experience points that can be used for extra abilities, such as charged melee attacks, damage modifiers, and improved special abilities. This is a good system in principle, but subsequent episodes will tell whether it’s been implemented in such a way that it won’t overpower your heroes – a problem I encounter all too often even in great games like Far Cry 4 and Shadow Of Mordor.
True to the series, there are plenty of extra costumes, statues and unlockables in Rev 2, as well as an arcadey Raid Mode, in which you blast your way through zombies to the sound of dance music. It all feels very Tokyo-game centre, and isn’t to my tastes, but those chasing unlockables and high scores are sure to find some extra hours of entertainment here.
Completing the main campaign episodes also unlocks two bonus episodes that focus on Moira and Natalia, both of which add some much-needed narrative depth that the main episodes lacked. Natalia’s nightmarish pink-hued dreamworld is particularly intriguing. In it, Natalia must sneak past monsters accompanied by an alter-ego in search of her talking teddy bear friend called Lottie (the letters from Lottie, which muse in Lottie’s high-pitched cartoony voice about tearing out her own eyes and thinking she “might be dying” are wonderfully sardonic). While not offering much gameplay interest, I’m intrigued to see how these atemporal extra episodes fit into the Rev 2 narrative.
What I’m yet to understand about Rev 2 is the purpose of its episodic structure – a format which usually requires some strong narrative glue to hold it all together. When I spoke with one of the product managers at the Revelations 2 preview event, he said that he wanted players to feel similarly about its heroes as people do about the characters Game Of Thrones or Breaking Bad – where viewers/gamers are suspensefully waiting to revisit the fictional world week in, week out, to see what befalls the characters they’ve invested so much time in.
But Resident Evil’s strength never lay in its storytelling. Yes, there is fondness in the gaming community towards the characters, but it’s for goofy things like Leon’s ginger curtains and Barry Burton’s lost-in-translation one-liners. Rev 2 continues in this tradition – with many jokes nostalgically referring back to the older games – but in a narrative sense I just don’t care about these endearingly schlocky characters like I do about Tyrion Lannister, Jesse Pinkman, or Walking Dead’s Clementine. Having come to the end of the first episode, I suspect this format may be a little redundant, and Rev 2 could equally well have been a fully game without the ‘Up Next’ and ‘Previously On’ gimmick. But then again, I’m curious whether Capcom can prove me wrong.
The rigid gameplay of Rev 2 has its appeal, and is bolstered by its unique co-op focus. It provides a solid foundation for Revelations 2 to grow on me if the PC multiplayer issue gets sorted, the levels diversify, and the storyline picks up. There’s a lot to clean up, but there’s plenty of time for the game to do it.
Stay tuned for my review of Resident Evil: Revelations 2 Episode 2 – Contemplation next week.
Resident Evil: Revelations 2 – Episode 1 is out now for PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.