Developed and published by Capcom
Rated M for Mature
Available on PS4, XB1 (reviewed), PC, PSVita, PS3, Xbox360
“Oh goodie, another Resident Evil game,” I thought, cynically and bitterly recalling the years of betrayal the series has committed to the lauded lineage of Resident Evil 4. “Time to be disappointed again!” I mused as I input the code for the first episode of the 4-part series.
Like a horror movie franchise, Resident Evil hasn’t been good for ages, with whole console generations going by without a worthy title. When the first Resident Evil: Revelations was released as a side project and lauded as a return to form, I knew the series was in trouble. A handheld only game that was eventually ported out of sheer desperation for goodwill, Revelations struck me as a massively overpraised game. It certainly wasn’t shit, but it failed to be as good of an action game as RE4 or as good of a horror game as the original. When your product is outclassed by a game that came out 12 years ago, I really fail to see how that is a successful return to form. The game was so massively mediocre that it really does more to show how far the series had fallen than actually bring it back to a respectable position.
So, keep in mind I might be succumbing to the same low expectations that those who first played Revelations did, but I actually really liked the first installment of Resident Evil: Revelations 2. Brief and a bit inconsistent, the game tries to do something new with the series and boldly changes up the co-op gameplay we have all grown so used to. It isn’t a perfect game, and given the scant 2-hour length, the flaws stand out much more prominently, but despite all of that the pros in the end outweighed the cons, and I find myself moderately excited for the next installment.
I should get out of the way right now that players looking for a good horror narrative probably shouldn’t look towards Resident Evil. For as long as the series has existed, the story has been universally accepted as incomprehensible nonsense. There’s always some baddie with some virus doing some bullshit that doesn’t make any sense but for some reason is a Bond villain style imminent threat to the world. Even my beloved RE4 had a plot revolving around an evil spider lord of rural Spain using the President’s daughter to infiltrate the White House with head-exploding parasites in order to conquer the United States. Yes, that was the plot. Yes, I know you don’t remember that, and you don’t because that is not the reason anyone ever plays a Resident Evil game.
Still, for those of you keeping track of whatever the fuck is going on in this universe, Resident Evil Revelations 2 (Episode 1) is the 10th main series title and 20th title released in the franchise. The first Revelations took place between RE4 and RE5, while this takes place between RE5 and RE6. As far as I can tell, it is only a sequel in name to the events of Revelations, but considering how little has actually been told in the story so far, it could be a prequel to 28 Days Later for all I know.
It is a bit of a moot point to go over the plot anyway since like I said, not only does no one care, but it isn’t entirely out yet. It does lead out with a “next week on…” TV style teaser, and it does look like cool things happen, so maybe this will be the first Resident Evil with a decent plot. What we do know so far is that there’s a torture island where a mysterious Kafka-quoting mad dictator holds dominion over a series of mutants who all wear bracelets that measure their fear, so it isn’t likely, but crazier things have happened. It also seems like they hired writers for this game, which is a plus, because the dialogue of Resident Evil games has always been notoriously bizarre. They actually make fun of it twice in just the first episode, which was great for fans like me.
The game actually kind of smacks a bit of fan service all around, returning series favorite and bad quote master Barry Burton along with series redhead Claire Redfield. It doesn’t feel nearly as pandery as RE6’s ensemble cast, with banter between the characters feeling natural. Characters say things that seem real for their personalities: Barry’s teenage daughter, Moira, is a bit more flippant; Claire is more hardline, but with a caring side; and Barry is a kindhearted father who is more concerned with saving his daughter than reeling at the horror around him. It is refreshing to hear characters say things that make sense in a Resident Evil title, and I don’t think too many people will miss the endearingly cringe-worthy one-liners.
On the gameplay side, however, I’m not so sure about all of the changes. Resident Evil has been mostly a co-op experience since RE5, and even in RE4 and Revelations there were teamwork elements. However, in those titles, your partner was more or less identical to you. Sure, certain characters had different melee moves or special weapons, but Sheva and Chris were both two zombie shooters shooting zombies in Africa. I remember preferring to play Chris mostly because I would equip the stun button and roleplay as Juggernaut, but the concept of a “bitch character” has been around since co-op games began. Being Player 2 has for a long time meant Luigi, Tail, Sheva, and the battletoad without the sunglasses.
Never has that been more prevalent than here. Holy shit, have a friend around who lost a bet, because playing the secondary characters in this game is unbearable. In each of the two teams, they have a sniper-like arrangement where one plays spotter and the other plays shooter. Considering how few sniper spotter sims there are out there, I bet you can gather which of those is the desirable position. In the Claire and Moira campaign, Claire does the shooting and Moira is on “flashlight duty.” She states that she “doesn’t like guns ever since the incident,” instead preferring to be basically defenseless. She does get a crowbar that can be used to open doors and execute enemies, and her flashlight can stun foes if pointed at them for long enough. Still, it seems like a flimsy excuse for the girl on the zombie murder torture island. I’m pretty sure your standards and preferences fly out the window the moment a spike-covered flesh beast lunges at you from a dilapidated prison cell. Still, they have a decent synergy, where Moira keeps enemies stunned so that Claire can knock them down and Moira can execute them.
Barry, on the other hand, has a companion named Natalia. Natalia is a little girl. I’m not talking teenager status; she is something like 8. Barry has mastered the ancient art of shooting guns and using a flashlight at the same time, so that puts Natalie on “pointing duty.” She has the magic ability to see the zombies through walls, so she just… kind of points at things. She can pick up bricks to meekly toss at zombies, causing them to fall down in a comically unreal fashion. It looks like when a toddler whaps someone with a sword and they stutter for a second and pretend to die because it’s all make believe and little Jimmy needs to feel like a brave knight.
No matter what the level, your friend will either be appointed to the hell of flashlight duty or the 9th circle hell of little girl duty. I do not see how they thought this would be fun. I have yet to see how the characters evolve, so maybe the little girl gets eye lasers or something, but until then the function of Player 2 is to highlight hidden items and collectibles. If you remember Revelations, there was this really annoying mechanic where you had to take out a camera to scan a room and find hidden handprints and items. It was easily the most annoying part of that game, and they made it an entirely what one of the characters does.
The worst part is that you absolutely have to subject someone to this for the game to be at its best. If you do not, players have to switch between the two characters constantly. That fluid Moira stun so Claire can knock them down and Moira execute combo is really fucking awkward when you have to wait a second every time you switch between the two. If you played RE5 or 6 solo, you will remember the frustration of having a teammate use all of your handgun ammo or healing you when you are at almost full health. Well, don’t worry about that now because Capcom solved that by having your teammate do nothing. Seriously, they will not shoot. You actually have to unlock an ability for them to “use their gun while not player-controlled. It will not use ammo, but at significantly reduced damage.” So, in order for your teammate to be useful, you have to unlock a skill. Problem solved.
I also find their decision to make the game episodic questionable at best. Other than Telltale games, the only other horror game I remember being episodic was Siren: Blood Cures, and it was a bad decision there as well. Alan Wake went for an episodic feel with “previously, on Alan Wake” intro sequences, but that game was kind of going for a stylistic “The Twilight Zone” feel, so it kind of made sense from a narrative standpoint. That being said, the game didn’t actually come out in episodes, which was a correct thing to do. The reason horror shows tend to be self-contained narratives in every episode is because horror requires a constant ramping of tension towards a specific reveal or showdown. TV shows need to resolve a thing every week, or the episode feels like just wasting time. Shows like “Black Mirror” or “The Twilight Zone” understood this, which is why each episode is a new story that is self-contained. If you break it up between weeks, a lot of the tension is lost. If I am compelled to see your game through, I don’t understand why you would tell me I have to wait until next week to keep going. You only risk me losing interest.
There’s also a whole bunch of “Day 1 DLC.” Costume, characters and weapons for the game’s arcade mode and extra lives are available for purchase right off the bat. Most of it is for the game’s “Raid” mode, which is an arcade style series of gauntlets where you level up characters from completing arenas. It is reminiscent of the “Mercenary” mode of previous titles, but far more robust. There is vastly more content in the raid mode with a hundred levels to get across 6 characters. 2 of those characters are DLC, which is stupid, but I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what there is to unlock for free. It is staggeringly robust for an alternate game mode.
The problem with it is I don’t at all feel compelled to play it. The reason that the Mercenary mode of RE4 took up so much of my time was that it was an awesome addition to an already perfect product. It was so much icing on the red velvet cake of the main story, and everything was unlockable through skill and persistence. It never felt like a grind to get through it all. Looking at all the levels and arenas and achievements in Raid mode is impressive but feels more like a grind than a polished product. I won’t really be able to accurately judge it until everything is out and I put more time into it, but unlike the Mercenary mode, I do not feel myself compelled to see what it has to unlock.
That all being said, the atmosphere and environments are spot-on. Feeling more like Resident Saw, the insane torture chamber that is the Cell Block level sets a chilling tone for the rest of the game. While RE4 set a tone of being a foreigner in an unfamiliar place, this sets the tone of walking into the middle of an already devolved apocalypse island. There is already a mad kind of logic and order to it, and you are just beginning to experience it. It masterfully sets a tone, something that RE5 and 6 absolutely failed at.
The game also moves away from the loot drop system of previous games successfully. One of the major problems I had with RE5 and 6 was that boss fights would often conclude without a reward. One of the most satisfying features of RE4 was looting a fat sack of gold off of a dead boss, providing tangible reward for the challenge. Revelations 2 takes a different approach, rewarding exploration rather than straight combat. Enemies no longer drop loot, but killing them all is often required for full exploration of an area. Using the support character’s search function becomes crucial to fully loot an environment, allowing for a different kind of two-tiered reward system. You not only get rewarded for the combat, but then for proper examination of the surroundings.
From the minutia standpoint, the inventory system is nice now. Items can be traded instantly and are large enough to accommodate a large arsenal without being too easy to stockpile. Puzzles were a bit too easy to figure out, but since this is the point of the game where things are supposed to be easiest, it makes sense. There was only one point that I got stuck, and it was only because I figured out the puzzle before I had been prompted to. There was a gate locked in chains, and a crane positioned beside it with a stack of logs. Obviously, I’m supposed to smash the logs into the door to open it. After getting to the controls, it tells me I have to turn the power on, and there’s a giant red cable leading from the crane to the cabin across from it. I understand I have to go to the cabin. There is a fence in the way. It shows on my minimap that there is supposed to be a gap in the fence. I can see the place on the fence that is a slightly different color, clearly going to break. I try stabbing it, throwing grenades at it, shooting it, looking for boxes to climb over it. Nothing works. Then I go to the gate and inspect it, only for Barry to explain to me the puzzle and the wall to trigger to break open with enemies. If the game doesn’t let me progress because I figured it out too fast, it needs to get on my level.
So, with all that out of the way, expect me to update you on the next few installments in the weeks to come. I won’t score it until I have the whole thing, but the game is budget priced and much better than the recent releases. If you want to look at it as a $7 demo, then I guess that is kind of true, but the amount of content the Raid mode provides is well worth the asking price. At $25 for the whole package, it’s hard to say no to this. Consider this a tentative nascent recommendation. It has yet to significantly let me down, which is saying a lot for this series lately.
Look for a review of Episode 2 next week.