Resident Evil Revelations, a kind of remake of the earlier 3DS game for HD consoles and PC, comes with a promise to return the franchise to its old-school survival horror roots. But that’s a promise that’s been broken before by this series. More than once. As a huge fan of the Resident Evil games before this console generation, I went into it with a little scepticism.
They’ve revamped things quite considerably since the original 3DS outing. Newly robust Raid Mode (the co-op, wave-based mode), characters and a new enemy type are added, along with a new unlockable difficulty level that mixes up enemy locations and equipment drops while adding a whole lot more virally-infected nasties into the environments.[drop]Obviously, visuals are remarkably improved on an HD console. While it’s certainly not the best looking game you’ll have seen this generation, the environments are well constructed and textured enough that this definitely doesn’t look like it began life on Nintendo’s limited-resolution handheld. Unfortunately, the T-virus-powered enemy designs are rather uninspired and barely react to the somewhat flimsy attacks, from firearm or melee.
The myriad incremental improvements made since the 3DS version, and the ability to use a full sized, ergonomic controller with two sticks (by default – I’m not forgetting the 3DS’ Circle Pad Pro add-on) almost certainly make this the version of the game to play, for Resident Evil fans who have yet to experience it. The Wii U version contains some nifty GamePad additions, too, if you want maximum inclusion and can choose your format. But it’s not without its problems.
Although visually sound, those environments are starting to feel a little dated in their geometry. There has to be a certain amount of leeway given to a videogame in recognition of the fact that the suspense of our disbelief allows us to give ourselves up to the experience. Enjoy it for what it is, rather than pick holes in it. But the number of corridors or pathways blocked by an ankle-height obstruction – or a trio of flimsy crates – is grating.
Being forced to loop through a longer – but still narrow and linear – pathway, only to emerge on the other side of a couple of cardboard boxes that your hard-as-nails protagonist could have simply stomped over, feels very old-fashioned in 2013.
The writing, too, is embarrassing. The script seems like an unimaginative translation from the original Japanese. That might not be an issue for many, after all the original Resident Evil games were infamous for their often bizarre scripting and delivery, but it feels a little lazy, given the magnitude of the franchise now. The voice acting is dire, too.
“Me and my sweet ass are on the way!”
And there it is. That single line of dialogue sums up much of my very early experience with Resident Evil Revelations: out-of-place, awkward and without class or imagination. It came as my character was suffering the indignity of a contrived set-piece that lacked any kind of feeling of threat or urgency. He was disabled, with his back to the wall of a little arena-shaped area where enemies could emerge from the tunnels and advance on him. It was proper, old-fashioned videogame stuff. Nothing wrong with that, used sparingly.[drop2]He had fallen down here with maxed-out ammo for his handgun, as part of a cut away scene. He almost immediately began to complain that he wouldn’t have enough ammo to hold out until his partner arrived to save him from a broken leg and repeated waves of enemies. Ammo wasn’t the problem, of course, there’d been several crates of the stuff moments before he fell off the ledge. Slightly vague aiming and hit-detection were a greater concern than how quickly he’d burn through ammunition.
That line was delivered, in a moment of supposed peril, by your female partner as she descended into the arena with you. It kind of sets a tone for much of the game. In the first couple of Resident Evil games, ported over from their original Japanese, it was quirky and kooky. But the franchise is a global smash hit now, they can afford a scriptwriter and some real actors.
Perhaps its not the fault of Capcom’s seminal horror series that much of it feels so tired and clichéd now. Perhaps that’s an unavoidable symptom of everything else in the genre mimicking what Resident Evil managed so adroitly in days gone by. But the fact remains that, as the widely-accepted standard-bearer for survival horror, Resident Evil isn’t doing enough to keep up its end of the bargain.
The oft-repeated claims that the latest Resi title is “returning to its roots” would perhaps be admirable if it meant more than repeating elements that once were fresh. But it doesn’t. Several most recent Resident Evil games have simply tried to repeat the methods and the types of setting that we’ve seen before in the series.
Revelations isn’t much different, at least in the early stages. It takes some of the characters that Capcom recognises have a fan-base and stuffs them into a situation that Capcom thinks it can equate to Spencer Mansion in some way. Then it gives you locked doors, green herbs, some degree of ammo scarcity and increasingly predictable jump scares. Revelations certainly feels closer to the series’ beginnings than the fifth or sixth outings – and it’s a whole different proposition to Operation Raccoon City, of course – but it still doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel like they love the Resident Evil series quite as much as I did.
Revelations feels like game design by checklist, for a franchise that is scared to try anything new and has lost confidence in its own ability. That’s fine, if you want a Resident Evil game that’s quite similar to the last few but with environments more similar to the first two. But I think that misses the point. Who wants a game that’s using all the same tricks and tropes of its predecessors? Genuinely returning to its roots would, I believe, mean returning to the innovation and the imagination that existed in those earlier Resident Evil games.
Scare us again, Capcom, not by setting up another entirely predictable jump scare – this time in HD and with Dolby Surround Sound – scare us by giving us something we really didn’t expect. Scare us by remembering not just what you did to scare us all those years ago and repeating it but by rediscovering the knack for new and imaginative approaches to survival horror. That would be a genuine revelation.