The last few years may have seen the gradual watering down of the Resident Evil franchise, but it’s also motivated Capcom to make a significant effort to try and make up for that. The Resident Evil HD remaster that released last month marked the beginning of a sea change for the publisher, and now Resident Evil Revelations 2 is here to keep that momentum going.
It’s worth mentioning that aside from a few mechanics that should be familiar to those who played Revelations, this is less of a sequel and more a brand new experience. The story, setting, characters, enemies and even the delivery method are all completely different.
This four episode-long first season is very much an experiment both for Capcom and the series. Despite its recent missteps, Resident Evil has more than enough clout that I’m sure Revelations 2 will be followed by a wave of other episodic horror games, should this work.
A growing number of developers have already begun adopting the episodic approach made popular by Telltale’s The Walking Dead series, including the two-part DreadOut and three-part Quadrant. This is an especially good fit for the horror genre, which is perhaps best consumed in terrifying, bite-sized chunks.
The first episode, Penal Colony, doesn’t waste much time getting interesting. It opens with Claire Redfield and Moira Burton — Barry’s daughter — who get abducted by a mysterious organization that seems to be monitoring the effects that fear has on people who have been infected with something that works similarly to the T-Virus.
Claire and Moira’s half of the episode took me about 45 minutes to complete, and that includes the time I spent wandering about using Moira’s flashlight to find hidden items (more on that later). Much of its running time is spent following the duo as they try to escape an unbelievably gross prison complex that has been overrun by humanoid monsters.
It’s a creepy set-up, albeit an uninspired one.
I was worried Revelations 2 would employ too many of the same cheap scare tactics as The Evil Within, and this episode confirmed it may indeed be a problem. The three episodes we have to look forward to over the coming weeks may keep this from becoming a consistent issue, but it’s definitely present in the debut episode.
The problem is that grungy, dark and gore-spattered environments just aren’t scary. A dirty, abandoned prison complex that’s filled with horrific monsters and piles of bloodied corpses is an effective setting for a haunted house, but it doesn’t really work for video games anymore.
The same goes for the enemies, which bare more than a passing resemblance to the Haunted from The Evil Within. They’re deformed and mutilated, impaled by spikes and wrapped in what looks like razor wire. This mostly applies to the basic baddies — the stronger enemies tend to be slightly more visually distinctive.
That said, they are fun to fight. Even with the occasional aid of my AI-controlled sidekick, I had trouble dispatching even small groups of enemies. The AI issues that have plagued the series since Resident Evil 5 persist in Revelations 2, they’re just less noticeable now that Capcom has made them supporting characters.
Moira and Barry’s partner Natalia make up for their not knowing their way around a gun by having skills that make them useful outside combat. Both can sense and highlight hidden items in the environment, replacing the Genesis device from Revelations. Moira can also bludgeon enemies with a pipe or brick, and Natalia can sense nearby enemies by crouching.
Control can be switched between Claire and Moira or Barry and Natalia on the fly. I suggest making use of this to scour environments for items. Trust me, you’ll need them.
Penal Colony’s second half takes about as long to finish as the first, and follows Barry and his newly acquired companion, Natalia. One of the more intriguing story hooks revolves around Barry and Moira, the estranged daughter he’s trying to save. Their troubled relationship is one I’d like to learn more about.
There are a lot of good ideas crammed into this episode. As excited as I was to see Claire and Barry again, the renewed focus on bringing back and/or tweaking some of the better parts from earlier Resident Evil games before being discarded or ruined in recent installments was the most refreshing thing about it.
The alarmingly addictive Raid mode is back and it’ll only get better with the additional characters and maps that will come with each new episode. Like before, the mode can be played online with a friend. The treasures that Resident Evil 6 did away with are also back, and they’re joined by hidden emblems, co-op, weapon upgrades and character skills.
Character skills have evolved into a full-on skill tree, complete with dozens of abilities that can be purchased. Most provide passive improvements to your character, while others can be a little more substantial. The Change-Up skill, which increases weapon damage following a weapon switch, would be an example of the former, while the latter might include Unholstered, which allows the AI-controlled characters to use their weapons.
As our introduction to the series, this episode has to do a number of things for it to be considered successful. New systems and mechanics need to be explained, the story needs a hook to draw us into its new world, and it needs to do those things while at the same time leaving us with enough unanswered questions to keep us coming back.
On those terms, Revelations 2’s debut is, for the most part, a success.
The Final Word: Resident Evil Revelation 2 may have an uninspired understanding of what’s actually scary, but it makes up for that shortcoming with welcome twists to familiar mechanics, a stronger narrative and a ton of content that comes packed into each episode.