As uncomfortable as it eventually became watching a beloved series like Resident Evil stumble these past few years, there’s something to be said about its willingness to adapt. Unless there’s a massive dip in sales, it’s rare for a popular franchise like this to try something different. Capcom has had a worldwide presence for decades, so it’s easy to forget they’re still very much a Japanese institution, and with that comes a strict adherence to traditions.
This stubbornness can make inspiring change a deeply frustrating thing, but Resident Evil Revelations 2 is proof that it’s possible. We only need to be loud enough.
Revelations 2 continues the progress started by the ridiculously good Resident Evil remaster by inching the franchise even closer to its roots. Resident Evil is gradually re-adopting the concepts that were responsible for its early success as its publisher has begun the long process of realigning it with what fans of the genre want.
Horror is more popular now that it has been in some time, and you only need to look at its cyclical nature over the last two decades to realize there’s a solid chance the momentum it’s built up over the last few years won’t last much longer. That is, thankfully, a problem for our future selves to cry about, so let’s instead talk about Revelations 2.
Since its solid debut, we’ve enjoyed a weekly drip-feed of content that’s managed to build one of the more intriguing stories in the series’ history. The writing is more good than bad, and with it, Capcom has gone a long way in remedying a problem that’s lingered since 1996.
I had given up on expecting anything more than B-movie writing in Resident Evil. These low expectations made Revelations 2 taste all the sweeter, because it’s successful in ways that these games haven’t been in quite some time. It’s still far from perfect, but the more competent storytelling gives me hope that they’ll find a better hook for Resident Evil 7 than the series of explosions that made up the last three games.
Capcom’s decision to take the episodic approach with this had the potential to backfire. Had they been okay with only copying the formula Telltale made popular with their episodic games like The Walking Dead, even the most stunning of cliffhanger endings would not have been enough to carry interest from the first episode to the fourth.
The decision to release all four episodes a week apart kept this from becoming a problem, and it also made sure people with terrible memories, like me, were never given enough time to forget what happened in the last episode. This approach kept Resident Evil fresh in our minds until the next episode was ready to pick up where the last one left off. It was the video game equivalent of a TV mini-series, and it’s my hope that more developers of episodic titles will learn from this.
The renewed focus on several survival horror staples also made this a more effective horror game. Actual strategy is required whether you’re playing as Claire or the moderately more capable Barry.
This means conserving resources, and since that can only be achieved through the liberal use of each character’s partner — who comes with a nifty ability that lets them seek out and highlight precious hidden items — a feature that might not have been fully utilized otherwise becomes a real life-saver.
Resident Evil isn’t necessarily known for having a particularly competent AI, and Revelations 2 doesn’t even try to fix that. This might’ve been a serious issue, but it’s rarely more than a nuisance since the supporting cast are basically Genesis devices — the gadget that located hidden items in the first Revelations — who can also clumsily bludgeon some fools when the situation grows dire. Capcom essentially hid the bad AI by making them more useful to the player. It’s crude, but it works.
Puzzles and atmosphere also make their mostly triumphant return. The key word there is mostly, because while I did enjoy many of the puzzles, they’re a mixed bag until later into the season where they get more clever. The atmosphere is also considerably spookier than recent Resident Evil games, even though it suffers from a lack of inspiration. Or, maybe it’s too much inspiration that’s the problem, since Capcom’s idea of what’s scary seems to have been inspired by The Evil Within.
As important as the story is here, a considerable investment has been made to make sure players would have something to do between the release of new episodes. Ever since Resident Evil 4 first introduced the wave survival mode Mercenaries, Capcom hasn’t stopped improving on it. Clearing arenas of their monster hordes solo or with a friend has always been addictive, but some clever tweeks make its latest incarnation way more enjoyable.
The basics are still here, they’ve just been given an RPG twist. You choose your character and the load-out you’ll use to mow down copious amounts of ugly monster butts before choosing a mission. Each mission takes an environment from the campaign and populates it with familiar foes and a time limit. Once the time is up, the XP that’s rewarded following each monster massacre can be used to improve your character and their arsenal before you move on to conquer the next.
General skill and resourcefulness are as important as they ever were, and the inclusion of weapon mods and character skills will make sure players who aren’t particularly gifted at monster genocide still feel like they’re making progress. Getting rid of characters with predetermined load-outs to make room for the array of customization options also lets us form a more personal connection to the mode, and that feeling of actual visible progress is a great incentive to maintain interest.
Online co-op seems like a natural fit for all of this game, but that may be a feature Capcom is save for the totally hypothetical sequel. For now, the campaign is limited to couch co-op while the Raid mode is playable both locally and online. (Note: online co-op is currently only available on consoles. It won’t be an option on PC until the feature is added on March 31.)
As a first stab at experimenting with episodic delivery, this is a success. It does a lot of things right, and it’s just clever and refreshing enough for me to be willing to forgive its few frustrations. Capcom has the beginning of something special on their hands, and the sooner they realize it, the sooner we can start referring to this game as the first season of many.
The Final Word: Resident Evil Revelations 2 has a stereotypical understanding of what’s scary, but its surprisingly solid storytelling and a fantastically meaty Raid mode make this one a must-buy.