The Way of All Flesh: Resident Evil: Revelations Review

All it's missing is the nude briefing scene...

All it’s missing is the nude briefing scene…

There has been only one constant in the Resident Evil series; everything else has, at some stage, been cast aside in the name of progress—from the tank controls of yore to the high focus on tension and pacing of Resident Evil 4, both of which were cast aside just as easily as the tank controls to make way for the co-operative gameplay of Resident Evil 5. But convolutedness has never been left behind. It has taken on many forms in the series, from the character switching of Resident Evil 6, to the setting switching of Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, and rarely does it make a great deal of sense—if any at all—no matter what form it takes on.

Revelations continues in this tradition, telling its story in anything but chronological order, and swapping at the drop of a hat not only between characters, but settings as well. And somehow it all comes together—it almost makes sense. Indeed, it might just be the most coherently told story that the Resident Evil series has had thus far, and certainly it is the most overt.

Although Resident Evil has always had heady themes lurking beneath the surface, they have generally been covered up well either through sheer action hero bravado or utterly nonsensical, comical storytelling and production values; anyone for a Jill sandwich? But in Revelations we get some surprisingly cutting commentary on The War on Terror that does little to disguise its themes and intentions; it’s not exactly The Power of Nightmares in videogame form, but the sheer blatancy with which it expresses itself is almost shocking.

One can only speculate that the candid nature of the commentary might be present due to a focus on the Japanese market; Revelations was originally a 3DS game after all, and handheld consoles are generally held in higher regard in the Japanese market than in the rest of the world. Two of the newly introduced characters also seem to add to weight to this theory: Jessica Sherawat would not look out of place in a JRPG—or a maid cafe for that matter—and Raymond Vester looks far too much like Carrot Top (or more conservatively, Conan O’Brien) to have been designed with the Western market in mind.

Paul Eiding has a little more luck than David Hayter, playing the character he is famous for and loves outside of even Metal Gear Solid!

Paul Eiding has a little more luck than David Hayter, playing the character he is famous for and loves, even outside of Metal Gear Solid!

As irrelevant as all of the above might sound (this is a Resident Evil game after all!) bear with me. The unchronological nature of the story is put to clever use, splitting up the sections of gameplay into bite sized portions that can often be enjoyed in only fifteen minutes; some sequences are as brief as five. This is a handheld game after all, but it is handled so expertly that momentum is almost never lost—indeed, often this fragmentation is used to build momentum.

For example, at one stage the situation looks hopeless for our two protagonists (Jill Valentine and the new to the series Parker Luciani who has anything but an Italian accent): enter a divergent gameplay sequence in which you play as their would-be-rescuers; rushing to save them from their impending doom. It works as a way to cut up the gameplay, but it also adds tension and intensity to proceedings; more than if it were to simply follow the one perspective in chronological order and have Jill and Parker’s inevitable escape shown immediately after their predicament had been revealed (pending conflict resolution of course).

It’s smooth and it flows, and the convolutedness of a Resident Evil narrative fits it perfectly, allowing the twists and turns; the betrayals and surprises to be played our far more seamlessly than in previous Resident Evils where everything had to be heard second hand from a villain or two. But this sense of smoothness and flow doesn’t stop at the structure of the gameplay; instead, it permeates every aspect of Revelations’ design.

An important change is that long, mechanically verbose traditional Resident Evil puzzles have been done away with. If you come across a door that cannot be opened, you’ll still have to go looking for the key, but you won’t have to waste time playing around with a ridiculous puzzle involving pedestals and priceless, china plates. Instead, you just simply move from room to room, eking out the key without delay.

That’s not to say that puzzles have been done away with entirely. Given that the setting is on a decades old ship, there’s bound to be issues with the wiring, and when there is, one can simply flip open the circuit board and fiddle around with a tile sliding puzzle—connect the circuits and make sure that the leads aren’t crossed. It’s a little like Ghostbusters, and it’s also as easy as it sounds. It provides a slight dampening to the pace, but not a frustrating one as was sometimes the case in previous Resident Evil titles.

Sure, unlike in some of the more ridiculous Resident Evil puzzles of years gone by, there’s little satisfaction in connecting the circuits (it’s hardly A Virus Named Tom), but the benefits to the overall pacing of the game outweigh the satisfaction of being forced to scour every nook and cranny of the environment for those priceless china plates.

The same sensibility applies to the controls. Yes, finally you can not only strafe, but shoot as you move as well! Though, there is still a slight awkwardness present when playing with a keyboard and a mouse. The aiming is poorly calibrated with the slower settings being impossibly slow, and the high settings nothing short of ridiculous. The middle setting almost hits the mark with speed of mouse movement, but not with sensitivity as the lethargic give and take of analogue stick control is carried over to aiming with the mouse—slight movements of the mouse barely register, which is an issue when lining up the perfect shot.

The Genesis scanner also reveals handprints, but they're generally where one would expect to find them as can be seen here.

The Genesis scanner also reveals handprints, but they’re generally where one would expect to find them as can be seen here.

And lining up the perfect shot is important. Going for the weak spots on enemies can mean the difference between life and death; or at least that’s how it feels. Revelations sees the return of the scarcity of ammo from Resident Evil 4; or rather, the illusion of it. The amount of ammo you receive is perfectly balanced (and often you get a ludicrous amount of the stuff, lulling you into a false sense of security before you almost lose it all in the blink of an eye/boss’s weak spot) so that although you’ll very rarely actually run out of ammo, very often you will be frighteningly close to running out, and thus forced to fight tooth and nail; even though the truth is that another cardboard box of buckshot is just around the corner. Obviously, it’s little more than smoke and mirrors, but magic is spectacular; even if it isn’t real.

While lockers must still be scoured for ammunition, herbs and upgrades, environmental scavenging is also streamlined. Instead of carefully moving along cabinets and desks to make sure that you’ve opened every draw and cupboard that can be opened, you can simply use the Genesis scanner—a Metroid Prime-style mechanic that not only reveals hidden items within the environment, but also scans enemies. Each scanned enemy adds a certain amount to a percentage counter; once you reach 100% you will automatically receive a green herb.

You can only carry five herbs at once; but you can always carry five herbs at once. Yep, even the inventory system has been streamlined: there’s no juggling of ammo and herbs, or even weapons. Instead, you can increase the maximum amount of ammunition  you can carry by finding ammo clips; you can always carry three weapons at once; and if you come across a new weapon and your three weapon slots are full, then the new weapon will replace the weapon you currently have equipped—that weapon will be automatically sent to the item boxes for safe keeping.

The same applies to upgrading weapons: you can remove weapon upgrades at will, so there’s no need to agonise over which upgrade to use; just whack something on and see if it works for you—if it doesn’t, just replace it with something else. Presumably these changes were all made with the handheld market in mind: you don’t want to get bogged down on a bullet train (those things are fast!) because you can’t decide whether to replace your machine gun with a magnum, do you?

But accessibility shouldn’t be a dirty word, and all of this streamlining has resulted in the first Resident Evil game to come close to matching the pace of Resident Evil 4 thus far; if not the extreme sense of tension that ate away at you as you played that masterpiece. And it’s because, despite Revelations’ return to a slightly less bombastic style than Resident Evil 5 and 6, Revelations is—deep down—an action adventure game and not a survival horror one; though nor is it a straight forward third person shooter in the vein of Resident Evil 5.

There are regular sequences in which you will do no shooting throughout the entire level. The gameplay here is used as downtime in the overall pacing arc, and as opportunities to expand upon the ever convoluting story. In that sense, despite the fact that there’s a whole lot less combat than in more recent Resident Evil games, it’s still not a return to the series’ roots. Instead, it’s a movement in yet another new direction, and it’s all—one assumes—thanks to the 3DS.

She'll be right.

She’ll be right.

But this isn’t the 3DS; this is the PC (or, if you prefer, the consoles; but why would you? You can use a controller on PC and happily enjoy the buttery smooth controls that a controller offers; if only button mapping could do away with d-pad weapon switching!—it’s just not a PC review if there isn’t some elitist spiel included) and on the PC we are used to playing games hours at a time, unencumbered by a bizarre public transportation system that not only arrives on time, but works in extreme weather—the magnetic tracks not beginning to melt when the mercury hits an unbearably molten thirty degrees.

Sure, the fragmented structure is designed for the handheld environment (complete with slightly annoying television show-style recaps of what just happened; thankfully these can be skipped) but, by the same token, the structure might actually be best experienced when played in longer sessions. You can glean a better sense of the pacing, and can easily appreciate just as much—if not more—on your PC at home as on your 3DS on the way to work.

To borrow the television show motif that is so successfully used to punctuate the story and levels, playing Revelations in longer sessions is a little like watching a television show many episodes at a time—of course a television show can be enjoyed just one episode per week, but if you become really obsessed with a show, isn’t it so much more rewarding to watch through the entire series in but a matter of days? The very fact that you’re experiencing something designed for stinted consumption in just a few gluttonous binges only adds to the allure. It helps that it’s not something we get to experience with any regularity on PC or home consoles beyond episodic games; and even they are generally presented hours at a time.

Some of the visual effects make good use of sensory overload.

Some of the visual effects make good use of sensory overload.

There is just one question that surrounds Revelations’ handheld heritage remaining: the visuals and the sound. We have long since passed the days of midi-bleeps and pixellated cabbage heads (although there is a carrot top in Revelations) of a bygone handheld era, but even so the 3DS’ visual and aural fidelity is hardly comparable to what we expect from our home entertainment. And even when taking into account the fact that Revelations has been polished to a preposterous sheen whilst being made ready for home consumption, there was always going to be a noticeable difference in fidelity when comparing Revelations to its home console—and especially its PC—counterparts.

Sure, characters’ faces look surprisingly good and textures are nice and crisp, but at the same time there is an extremely noticeable difference in rendering quality between faces and the rest of the character model, and for every high resolution texture, there is one that wouldn’t look out of place at 480P, but certainly does at a more reasonable; more modern resolution.

To make matters worse, there’s a certain degree of flatness to the visuals that renders characters weightless, and objects and environments without much of a sense of three dimensionality. Perhaps this is because the three dimensions were presented in actual 3D on the 3DS, or perhaps it’s due to the upscaling: if you’re taking something of low fidelity—even if you not only upscale, but remake parts of it—and display it at a higher fidelity, you’re going to be showing off all the flaws more clearly just as much as you will be showing off the best looking parts and newly-crafted improvements as well.

But even with that in mind, if you can get passed the fact that it’s not going to compete with the best looking games of today (and you should never have been expecting that in the first place), Resident Evil: Revelations is at times spectacular. Your arrival on the SS Queen of Zenobia is a soggy one that recalls Metal Gear Solid 2, and while it’s not presented with as much visual flair, the cold wind and water is tangible as the rain splashes on the slippery metal of the ship’s deck just as clearly as it does on Jill’s cold shoulders; not to mention the wind kicking up vicious, frothy waves that all but explode just beyond the ship’s railing.

And once you reach the more extravagant interiors of the ship (this is Resident Evil after all; any improbable setting can be hidden within another—you can even find state of the art research facilities inside old mansions!) that recall a very special setting from a past Resident Evil game that I won’t spoil for you, it’s impossible not to fall in love with Revelations’ visual design.

It’s hard to believe that such a grandiose setting could be found on such a tired old tanker of a ship, and that such a fantastic conspiracy could have started out on a rather bland, un-picturesque beach where Jill was forced to laboriously scan giant, meaty blancmanges—though, at least she had more than a knife and fork to fight them off with. But, once you realise that the most common zombie-analogue melts into a scannable, bony beef stroganoff then everything clicks: at first Revelations might have seemed like little more than a creamy dessert, but it is in fact a hearty, filling stew.

The seasoning of Infernal Mode (you’ll be struggling with tough mutations from the very moment you step on board; blancmanges notwithstanding) and Raid Mode (even more custom parts, weapons and a new character are all added to an already impressive feature list in an experience based arcade mode that follows in the footsteps of the campaign and is sure to satisfy neurotics everywhere) certainly don’t hurt either, but because we critics hate one another, I can’t really say for sure…they’re all just jealous of me.