Thursday, April 12, 2012

3DS review: Resident Evil Revelations

Acting as a bridge between the events of Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 5, the highly-anticipated Resident Evil Revelations primarily follows Jill Valentine and her new partner Parker Luciani as they investigate the terrorist group known as Veltro. Jill and Parker are informed that their director, Clive O'Brien, lost contact with Chris Redfield and his partner Jessica in the middle of the ocean, onboard the cruise ship Queen Zenobia. As Jill and Parker soon discover, the ship is infested with zombies that look very different from those in Raccoon City. These infected individuals, known as Ooze, are a grey-blue shade and their skin has been layered over with what looks like putty or clay. Jill and Parker must move quickly if they are to find Chris and Jessica, and unravel the mystery of who is the face behind Veltro as well.

The touch screen menu acts as a sort of simplified take on Resident Evil 4's attache case. You can stock up on herbs and grenades all you want, provided you can find them as they tend to be sparse in the many areas of the cruise ship. There are only three slots for firearms, and players will have to choose an approach that best fits their style, with handguns, rifles, machine guns, shotguns, and magnums all being obtainable over the course of the game. Any guns not on-hand can be stored in a case which can be accessed in certain rooms spread throughout the ship. The resource management aspect is a large part of what perpetuates this Resident Evil's sense of tension, and players will be wise to explore areas off the beaten path to make sure they all well-prepared for the increasingly difficult horrors that lie in wait.

New to Revelations is a scanning device which allows players to detect otherwise-hidden items and ammunition, as well as a few difficult-to-locate enemies. Its primary purpose, though, is to grant players a chance to scan enemies, rewarding them with another herb if they manage to scan a sufficient number. Scanning live enemies will speed up this process considerably, but also has the potential to place Jill in temporary danger, since the scanner's range is limited. It proves a useful means for stocking up on herbs when the count is low, but the potential seems largely untapped. The stylus is also used in a few puzzle sequences that lead the gameplay to feel a bit more varied and interesting.

Enemy designs appear as slight variations on the same general zombie early on, with a standard enemy being followed up with one that is lethal at close-range and another that fires projectiles. As new areas become unlocked, new threats are presented. In partially flooded sections of the Queen Zenobia, Jill and Parker must be wary of fish-like monsters that will lunge out of the water to kill them almost instantaneously. During flashbacks to the Terragrigia Panic (a key plot point that is referenced a number of times), Hunters charge in packs as players provide cover for wounded allies. The boss fights divide into two categories: the legitimately scary and incredibly tense, and the epically-scaled with a higher degree of challenge. It would be a shame to spoil the best of the bunch, but I think it fair to say that the environment can make all the difference in taking on these more powerful baddies, and subsequently having the crap scared out of you.

The Queen Zenobia is comprised of many different areas, from the atrium that basks in a golden glow, to the casino with its flashing lights, to the industrial piping of the lower levels. Most areas are interconnected in some way, and while there is some backtracking to be done, it is never in the style of Metroid. Each area is designed with at least one room to act as a sort of central hub, and though it may not strike players as obvious right away, this saves a lot of time in revisiting old areas in order to access new ones.

Chris shares the spotlight during a sizeable portion of the latter half of the game, while the rest of the cast is comprised of almost entirely new faces. The company of Parker's former trainee Raymond Vester is most welcome, while FBC chief O'Brien fits into his shoes as a commanding figure well enough. The odd couple, Quint and Keith, only play a significant role during a very few key moments. While Quint's obsession with computers and quirky mannerisms can come across as annoying, his behavior is a welcome break from the general 'evil mastermind' or 'heroic badass' formulas that the series has gravitated toward so frequently in the past. The only character in the lineup likely to annoy the hell out of players is Jessica Sherawat. She is obsessed with two things for the duration of each stage of her mission: Chris, and her own existence. She constantly talks about her fit figure and a desire to follow Chris through treacherous areas, then complains when enemies attack. Also, she downright sucks when it comes to providing any sort of assistance. On the flipside, Revelations does well to avoid cheesy one-liners, with only a very few exchanges interrupting the flow of an otherwise well-written dialogue.

Outside of the main story is Raid Mode, a new take on the arcade-style bonus game that Mercenaries was bred from. Instead of managing ammo and items as enemies attack in waves, Raid Mode foregoes any and all emphasis on chaining combos in order to maintain the focus on survival. One enemy after another must be defeated as players make their way through the halls of the ship. Defeating all the enemies in an area will unlock the key needed to access the next section, and ultimately the end goal. The same enemies from the campaign await players, with some variants mixing up the predictable. Smaller enemies might not be able to take many hits before they fall, but their speed and stature can make them difficult to hit. Large enemies move slowly but can take many hits before they are defeated. Players can choose from Jill, Parker, or Chris at the outset, and will unlock new characters as they level up with each new area completed.

While the cast and new T-Abyss virus hold ties to the games that precede Revelations in the Resident Evil timeline, it stands strong as its own individual narrative. With key twists and turns along the way, the story plays out in a very suspenseful manner. Whereas Resident Evil 5 aimed more toward the action side of the spectrum, Revelations presents a balance of the survival-horror and action in the same way Resident Evil 4 did; there are some sections that will require players to stave of hordes of the infected, but by and large the game is concerned with having its characters explore the narrow passages of the Queen Zenobia. The lighting effects and hauntingly gorgeous soundtrack set the creepy tone immediately, and from graphical standpoint Revelations is easily one of the best looking games on the 3DS, if not one of the best looking handheld games ever made.

A few shortcomings hold this handheld Resident Evil from achieving perfection, such as the confusing nature of how the dodge mechanic actually works (even by the end of the game it seems like luck holds greater influence over Jill's ability to dodge enemy attacks than a quick response from the player). The frame rate tends to drop noticeably, if only for a few seconds, when loading new areas of the ship via the connecting hallways. But taking into consideration the polish over nearly every other element of this ten-hour experience, Revelations is a title that puts many a full console retail release to shame.

My rating: 9 (out of 10)

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