Friday, 3 April 2015


 In which Capcom get desperate and
recycle the box art from Condemned 2: Bloodshot.

Developed and Published by Capcom.
Released throughout March 2015 (download version), end of March 2015 (disc version)
Available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360.
Version reviewed:  PlayStation 3 (disc)

It's been pretty difficult to talk about Resident Evil lately.  The more time passes, the less fond memories I seem to have, and there seem to be fewer and fewer people around who actually want to hear about it.  Whatever happened to all the enthusiastic gushing about dogs through windows and tangled conspiracies?

...okay, a succession of duff games on the trot is what happened.  Like most major publishers these days, Capcom couldn't just leave Resident Evil to BE Resident Evil, because succeeding within a niche somehow wasn't enough.  It had to be a shoot-em-up with online components!  And microtransactions!  And a dedicated multiplayer mode!  But don't forget it's meant to be scary, too!  We'll put that somewhere between 'mud physics' and 'protagonist junk size' on the priorities list.

Even so, it wasn't all bad.  Somewhere between the glitchy nonsense of Operation Raccoon City and...the also glitchy nonsense of RE6 came RE Revelations, and it was, mostly, good.  The gunplay was still in the mold of the unloved RE5 but the all-too-human enemies had been swapped out for intimidating bullet-sponge sea monsters, the pacing was slowed down and atmosphere turned up...other than a lack of obtuse door-lock puzzles, it felt like the old days were clawing their way back.

And now here comes Revelations 2.  Is this the promised land?  Do we finally have the game we can point at and say, "yes, THIS is what Resident Evil should be?"  Short version, no, we don't.  But it's not all doom and gloom just yet.

 Hilarious though it sounds, the torch is your best
bet against these bruisers.

The plot this time sticks us back in 2011, and starts with series veteran Claire Redfield being abducted from a fancy party along with Moira Burton - daughter of Barry from the first game - and others belonging to the TerraSave relief group.  They all wake up on an unknown island, carrying high-tech bracelets and, more upsettingly, a new virus that reacts to the victim's fear.  Watched at all times by a shadowy 'overseer', Claire and Moira pair up and struggle to find a means of escape.  Then, sometime later, Barry himself arrives on the island, following an S.O.S from Moira, and attempts to follow their footsteps - accompanied by a very strange little girl called Natalia.

To say much more would be unforgivably spoiler-y.  For what it's worth, I'm very split on the narrative of Revelations 2.  On the one hand - the bad hand - I'm not yet convinced it works, even by the series' loose standards of logic.  There is an explanation given for why the main villain cares so much for keeping everyone scared, but it doesn't cover why she needs all her 'test subjects' infected and ready to turn into psychotic beasties at the drop of a hat.  In fact, that seems entirely unhelpful toward cultivating a fixed test environment.  Also, why were these specific people captured, especially when (mild spoiler) the one person the villain really needs is already on the island?  But, on the more positive hand, the character interactions and development are above the series' norm (not saying much but I'll take what I can get), and there's plenty of nods and tie-ins to RE history; while not a direct follow-up from any one game, there's bits of RE5 and Revelations 1 in there, Barry himself has been MIA almost since the first game, and if you keep your ears peeled (and can, uh, translate Russian) there's even a tip of the hat to the Damnation CG movie.  If nothing else, Revelations 2 will make for some fascinating reading when it's eventually added to Thomas Wilde's series plot summary.

 Rest assured, Barry doesn't need 3 shots from a Magnum
to kill 1 zombie in this game.

In gameplay terms, Revelations 2 is a hybrid of its immediate predecessor and RE6.  The latter title finally brought regular joystick movement to the series and that's stuck here; they've also borrowed the 'evade' button but limited it to just a quick duck in the specified direction, rather than the tumbling roll and optional shoot-from-the-ground business in 6 which, let's be honest, was never much use anyway.  The over-the-shoulder gunplay and melee knifing remain unchanged, as does movement speed and context-sensitive object-hopping and whatnot.  The inventory system has been rejigged again, since you can pass items between both characters a la RE5, but thankfully you've got more spaces and a bigger window to work with than in that game so things aren't nearly as fiddly.  In fact, this is likely the best inventory since the RE4 suitcase setup.

What isn't so impressive is the stealth mechanics.  These are limited to the normal tricks found in most shooters - crouch-walk to minimize sound, melee enemies from behind to insta-kill them silently - and in the Claire/Moira sections they're an optional extra at best.  However, they dominate the proceedings in the Barry/Natalia missions, and while the use of the (mostly) non-combatant Natalia as an early-warning scout is quite clever, the fact is that stealth kills are just too damn easy to pull off.  The notion of being forced to creep around monsters that are too tough to face head-on sounds great for a horror game on paper, but in reality you're only creeping because your magic knife does 5000% extra damage when used from behind and that doesn't make you feel 'vulnerable' in any sense.

There's also a newfound focus on...crafting?  Maybe that's giving it too much credit - this isn't anything to trouble DayZ or whatever's the new trendy thing on Steam Greenlight.  It's simply a matter of making certain necessary supplies by combining items commonly found laying around - which doesn't sound much more complex than mixing herbs, but there is a certain trade-off to think about, as some items have multiple uses.  For example, if you've just found a tin of alcohol (don't drink it, you fool!), you can combine it with an empty bottle to create a molotov cocktail, or with a cloth for a disinfectant (new healing item used to cure the 'gunked' state, where enemy slime covers the screen...ew).  There's no guarantee you'll find another alco-tin immediately, so you have to weigh the options and guess which you need more.

Sam Fisher never had to put up with some teenage brat
swearing in his ear...uh, at least not until the later games where he got a daughter, anyway.

Graphically...well, as stated at the top of the page, I've been playing the PS3 version, which is obviously not top-of-the-range and so I can't comment on how good the game looks at its best (these pics I'm using appear to be from the higher-end version, if that helps).  On PS3, Revelations 2 looks...okay.  It's about on par with the Revelations 1 console port; sometimes the models look a bit better, but then equally you might come across some substandard textures that knock it back down - there's a backdrop of 2D trees after you first exit the 'penitentiary' with Claire and Moira that are laughably poor, for example.  It's certainly nowhere near as nice as RE6 was, but it's functional and the designs are strong enough to rise above the occasional murk.  Audio-wise, the sound effects seem to be mostly borrowed from past titles but still sound 'right' so, no complaints there.  The voicework is on the upper end of the scale for the RE games; while I do miss Alyson Court's Claire (meaning there are no longer any recurring RE characters with a single VA across all appearances), Barry has just the right mix of worn-down desperation and dad jokes, and Marcella Lentz-Pope manages to make even the clumsiest of Moira's expletive-laden rants sound natural.  I'm also 90% sure that's Mary Elizabeth McGlynn as the overseer, because her voice just sounds way too Nina Williams to be a coincidence.

On the aural downside, the music is...well, it exists, I guess.  But I couldn't really say much more than that.  The only pieces that stood out were the main menu and 'Previously' recap tunes, both remixed from their Revelations 1 equivalents.  In the actual game proper, the music doesn't really make any sort of impact.  Which unfortunately feeds into a larger problem: the atmosphere.  There just isn't very much of it.  It's difficult to explain precisely why - on the surface, the environments you journey through are unpleasant enough to be unnerving, and, y'know...full of monsters.  But they just don't fill you with dread like they should, y'know?  There's very little in the way of ambient sound, something that Revelations 1 did pretty dang well with the Queen Zenobia (the constant creaking as the ship rocks on the waves, the pattering rain on windows etc.), nor is there much in the way of jump scares.  Over the course of 8 hours+ (my first runs are never fast), I was surprised by a grand total of 1 enemy.  Every other monster's appearance was signposted, even the ones that were actually invisible.  It's very difficult to be scared of something when you already know it's there, y'know?

The blobby thing there is one of the invisible things.
Learn to hate them now for future reference.

But to get back to something positive, one major thing Revelations 2 gets absolutely right is puzzles.  They're back!  I mean, they're not total brain-strainers, but they follow the classic RE patterns in that they involve multiple locks coded to items that severely stretch the definition of 'key', have hints left in nearby readable files, and - most importantly - they will kill you to death if you screw them up.  Deathtraps, man.  I love deathtraps in these games.  Also nice is that they often require some creative use of both player characters to complete - and don't worry if you can't/don't want to find a co-op partner, as you can switch between characters with a single button a la RE Zero, which is certainly not a mechanic I expected to see used again (but am more than happy to welcome back).  The one niggle I have in this regard is a prolonged sequence of box-shoving from Barry's section of Chapter 3, which isn't very clever and drags very badly, but the rest is gravy.

Away from the main campaign, there's a few other activities to distract you.  The main focus is Raid Mode, returning from Revelations 1, which I haven't actually had the chance to sample yet.  Woops.  What I have tried are the 2 spin-off chapters that fill in a few of the blanks from the story, both of which add some interesting new tricks to the core gameplay.  'The Struggle' is centered on Moira, and feels mostly like extended Raid missions with time limits and specific enemy numbers to overcome, though it adds another layer with its ration system.  Basically, you have limited continues in this mode, and can only restock them by taking meat from slaughtered wildlife (not enemies - things like rabbits, rats and so on).  If you die with no rations left, you can forget about continuing from a checkpoint - you're gonna have to start the whole game over from scratch.  It's a nice idea, though the abundance of wildlife makes rations a bit too plentiful for a serious challenge.  'Little Miss', of course, is focused on Natalia, who remains an absolute non-combatant; instead of fighting, your goal in this mode is to proceed without being spotted, and even one enemy noticing you will send you back to the last checkpoint.  While I disparaged the game's stealth mechanics previously, they work a lot better in 'Little Miss' where you don't have a superpowered knife or even Natalia's usual brick-throwing to fall back on, and it's overall a more interesting diversion than 'The Struggle'.

"RARGH!  I will destroy you!  So long as you stay on my right,
because these eye-worms are buggering my peripheral vision..."

Overall, as I said, Revelations 2 isn't quite what I wanted.  It's not the crystallization of the first Revelations' promise, nor is it the ideal foundation for RE's future.  But at the same time, it's not a disaster either.  Rather, it's a game that clearly started with a lot of promise and has some great ideas - many of which happily have come to fruition - but it forgot a few important details along the way.  Rather unfortunately, one of those details was 'be scary'.  Even so, when the time comes for Capcom to start churning out another RE game (like they aren't already...), I hope they look back at what Revelations 2 did well, as the basic combat, inventory, and environmental puzzles are all absolutely worth building from.  It's a 7.5 out of 10, and here's hoping a potential Revelations 3 manages to glue together both 1 and 2 into a truly amazing whole.

What d'you think the going rate for ceiling spikes is among interior decorators?

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