Resident Evil: Revelations’ seafaring setting may bob and weave like a luxury cruise liner should, but beyond the nautical accessories that dress the Queen Zenobia’s corridor walls, this is a game that feels much more familiar than its crafty subtitle would lead you to believe. A high definition port of last year’s Nintendo 3DS exclusive, Capcom’s latest attempt at steadying its sinking series’ course practically pines for the success of previous entries. That’s evident in every inch of the adventure’s presentation – the luxurious antique ballrooms of Raccoon City replacing the sundrenched squalor of Resident Evil 5 and the incomprehensible flamboyance of its successor. But with the franchise seemingly lost like a castaway, is this spin-off even worth dipping your toes into?
It certainly feels much more focused than the recent Resident Evil 6. Relieved of the colossal expectations that its numbered forerunner faced, this is a much more concentrated effort from a team clearly operating on a much stricter budget. The three-pronged approach has been dutifully cast overboard, swapped in for a more cohesive affair built from the blueprints that creator Shinji Mikami laid. And for the most part it works, successfully ratcheting up the tension in spite of the dreadful voice acting and implausible premise upon which the oceanic adventure is based. But it also feels creaky like a retired a naval ship, serving as yet another reminder that this series simply must reinvent itself if it intends to keep its head above water.
The plot is as confused as the Capcom shareholders staring at the franchise’s capsizing sales, and takes place shortly after the formation of the counter-terrorism group known as the B.S.A.A. You’ll spend most of your time staring at the figure-hugging wetsuit of veteran zombie slayer Jill Valentine, but there are also playable cameos from the muscular Chris Redfield and more. In pursuit of an antagonistic organisation known as Veltro, the duo’s tasked with unmasking the truth behind the collapse of a contemporary conurbation known as Terragrigia. This provides the backdrop for hours of cringe-inducing cut-scenes, in which the scriptwriters wrestle with their own predictable plot twists in order to deliver a story arc that’s barely comprehensible.
Still, it’s charmingly delivered in small chunks – a hang-up from its handheld origins – and just about manages to acknowledge its own idiocy. The voice acting is stilted in a PSone-era kind of way, and there’s just enough sexual innuendo and silliness to keep you hooked, even if you’re not always entirely clear what the thrust of the storyline is anymore. “You should have worn your thermal underwear,” states a lethargic Chris Redfield in one sequence, when his pouting partner Jessica tells him that she’s cold. It’s both awkward and enjoyable at the same time, which is a commentary that can be applied to the overall experience.
Combat prescribes to the Resident Evil 4 format, though ammunition is in much shorter supply. You can overcome this by using the Genesis – a kind of scanner – to root through the environments for hidden objects, though the tedium of this mechanic will leave you favouring tense shootouts ahead of laborious pixel hunts in vapid grey corridors. And this is actually a good thing, because the game is undeniably at its best when it’s making you sweat. Fighting three insidious monsters with a single clip of ammunition will pump the blood around your body faster than a glimpse of the protagonist’s posterior, and you’ll come to really appreciate these early nail biting face-offs as you trudge blindly through the action-heavy final third of the game.
The transition from portable to PlayStation 3 has been well-realised, but the game never really looks like a native console release. There are some nice clothing textures, undone by muddy environments and pre-determined lighting effects. The comatose environments bring a real flat feeling to the presentation, even if the art direction is generally quite strong. It doesn’t help that the game forces you to backtrack with more frequency than it should, prompting many rooms and corridors to blend together, short of a few standout areas such as a steamy dining room and a barnacle-infested swimming pool.
The sprinkling of set-pieces and boss fights are similarly uninspired, predictably requiring you to engage in rote rails sequences or focus your firepower on illuminated weak spots. Many of these encounters include instant-death scenarios, which are sure to leave you cursing if a camera hiccup leaves you standing too close to a charging enemy. Still, the action is underpinned by a neat upgrade system that sees you discovering and attaching gear to your weaponry in order to earn some custom combat upgrades, and there’s a ‘New Game +’ option and increased difficulty setting to keep you engaged beyond your initial six hour playthrough.
If the single-player represents the main buffet, though, the new Raid mode is the refreshing after dinner palette cleanser that will keep you coming back for more. This inspired adaptation of Mercenaries can be played alone or in two-player co-op, and assigns you with snappy combat-centric missions based on linear environments taken from the main campaign. The hook here is the constant progression loop, with BP acting as a superficial currency that will allow you to invest in increasingly devastating firearms. The unpredictable nature of the random shop introduces some interesting quandaries – do you cash in early, or wait for something better to show up – and the increased pace of the action makes it quite a moreish distraction, in spite of the slightly sloppy targeting mechanics and woefully repetitive enemy types.
Resident Evil: Revelations is a predominantly safe spin-off that’s neither a ship wreck nor a titanic success. It sits somewhere above mediocrity, delivering an occassionally tense survival action experience that’s undone by its overwhelming predictability. There are some neat moments on offer, and the Raid mode is a surprisingly enjoyable addition, but it’s a largely forgetful title, lost in a sea of much more memorable adventures.