Over the past decade, the Resident Evil series has changed significantly. Sensing the need to evolve its iconic franchise alongside modern gaming, Capcom made several alterations to the formula, adjusting elements that were in dire need of an upgrade. However as time went on, it became increasingly apparent that Resident Evil was changing in one particular way that few fans wanted. The franchise had shed the very concept that made it so popular in the first place. Gone was the idea of survival horror, of attempting to overcome great odds with few resources in terrifying situations. Resident Evil Revelations attempts to steer its series back towards its roots, to recapture an atmosphere of terror that slowly slipped away as the franchise aged. The game's quest to reconcile its classic and modern legacies mostly succeeds, setting benchmarks for the Nintendo 3DS while still struggling in some key respects.
Revelations is without a doubt the best looking 3DS game so far. In fact it's difficult to see anything that will best Capcom's efforts anytime soon. Incredible character models, creature designs, environmental effects and lighting create spectacular settings for some of the franchise's most memorable moments. Stopping to admire some of the stunning graphical work proves almost as routine as stopping to line up a shot or scan a room for secrets. That the game is paced and purposefully crafted to pull you into its world makes the visual reward that much sweeter.
The excellent graphics pay off time and time again, particularly as the game hurls you towards confrontation with horrors new and old. The majority of the game takes place on the Queen Zenobia, a cruise ship that is perhaps the best setting for a Resident Evil game this side of the Arklay Mansion. Corridors are plentiful, dark, twisted and claustrophobic. In other words, they're the perfect environment to make you paranoid. You'll slowly edge around corners, hitting the reload button to make sure your guns are ready at a moment's notice. You'll carefully check each and every room, making sure you haven't left a thing behind. You'll trek backwards through a map to find a weapons customization box to make sure your equipment suits your needs and play style.
Sound design isn't always appreciated enough, but between Revelations' excellent music and brilliant effects, mention must be made. Capcom has mastered the ability to play up a soundtrack when appropriate, sometimes completely cutting to isolated noises in order to focus a player on something truly haunting. Everything from the howl of the wind to a twisted, grotesque plea from a man that has clearly become a monster… all of it is so perfectly executed that it contributes just as much to this memorable world as the brilliant graphics. In fact in some ways the audio outdoes the visuals, which suffer from some frame rate consistency issues.
Capcom has once again eschewed zombies in favor of the Ooze, a pale, amorphous race of bio-organic weapons similar to the undead in their unyielding thirst for your life. Though Ooze move slowly like their brain-eating cousins, their ability to essentially flow out from any opening at any time adds a new layer to the game's tension. You'll often assume a narrow corridor is safe so long as the path in front of you is clear. But what if the way you just came is suddenly unsafe? You didn't miss something - a threat simply exists where one didn't before. The twist is brilliant, one that creates uncertainty where none existed - a fantastic evolution of Resident Evil tradition.
Revelations doesn't shy away from establishing its mood quickly. Blood oozes from grates, innocents are killed and eaten before your eyes, and the entire ship feels like a tomb, a haunting shell of a place designed to be an entertaining distraction from the pressures of real life. Add in impressive boss fights, the newly-added Genesis scanner, which rewards you for exploring your surroundings, as well as an emphasis on inventory conservation, and you have one of the best-designed and most authentic Resident Evil games in some time. All of this is packed into this portable adventure without feeling too archaic or overly-crowded, which is quite the accomplishment.
What holds this game back from true greatness is that it doesn't understand its strengths. Revelations arranges itself into bite-sized chapters. Reaching these milestones will usually pull the focus away from the cruise ship setting, changing characters and gameplay as well. While these alterations are at first refreshing, they eventually become dull. They simply aren't executed as well as the ship segments. What once was a thrilling descent into the twisted madness on a ship devolves into mindless shootouts with undead dogs and reptilian Hunters. Adding to the frustrating new scenarios is that over half of the game's lead characters aren't very interesting. In fact some of them are outright idiotic and irritating.
Things don't necessarily get better as Revelations moves along. The game is at its best when you don't know why things are happening. You're just trying to get the hell off a ship and find your friend. As you progress through the game's dozen or so hours of campaign, Capcom slowly pieces together its puzzle, which turns out to be almost comical in its ludicrous concept. Mind you, this is absurd by Resident Evil standards, a series so hilariously insane that it takes actual research to keep everything sorted in your head.
Control might be an issue for some. Capcom attempts to offer a variety of options to match different interests, but due to its classic design, the game still plays best with its beloved and hated stop-and-shoot "tank controls." Balancing that rather archaic concept are strafing, dodging and a limited "move and aim" mechanic, which allows you to walk while pointing your gun if you keep your sight fixed in one spot. Support for the Circle Pad Pro has been added, which allows for twin-stick controls. As far as movement is concerned, this arrangement is considerably better. However, odd sensitivity issues can make aiming far more difficult. It was a real shame to see such a perfect answer have such a significant flaw.
Then there's the issue of AI. For the vast majority of the game, you have a computer-controlled ally to help you fend off the forces of evil. Attempting to avoid some of the pitfalls of Resident Evil 5, your partner won't drain your resources or take any from the environment, depriving you of critical ammo and herbs when you most need it. That said, that benefit comes with a bizarre design choice - your partner doesn't hurt enemies to any appreciable degree. The fact that the game is far scarier when you're left to your own devices only serves to emphasize how useless your ally truly is, and how poor of a choice it was to saddle you with one in the first place.
Capcom wisely left co-op play off the table when it comes to the core story-based campaign. However a carefully designed Raid Mode allows up to two players to link up locally or online to progress through the campaign's various locations, albeit with twists to the traditional formula. Rather than simply recreate the exact settings of the story mode, Raid will put enemies of varying power and ability in the path of players as they try to simply get from Point A to Point B. Clearing a map rewards points, which can then be exchanged for various weapons and items at a store.
That Capcom allows pedometer-earned 3DS Play Coins to be exchanged, and also bestows Raid points to players who progress through the main story, shows the developer was committed to making this mode a significant addition to the game. All in all, the mode is extremely compelling if you want to play a fast-paced action game set in the Resident Evil universe. Those who accept that premise will find a great deal of depth here, particularly as they acquire various weapons and spend time customizing them.