Resident Evil Revelations HD review: survival-horror's road to redemption begins here
20th May 2013 | 07:00
We often talk about how games purpose-built to be played on a television lose something in translation when ported to handheld, but the reverse can be true, too.
Typically handheld games are designed for shorter bursts of play, and this can make them feel disruptively bitty when they're blown up for the big screen, where they're expected to entertain for hours at a time.
The most high profile example of recent years is Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, a smart compaction of the MGS formula which was perfect for PSP, but didn't really flow as well on console. It just never stood still long enough to draw us into Snake's world in the same way Metal Gear Solid 3 so effortlessly did.
So when the news broke that Resident Evil: Revelations was migrating from 3DS to console, our fear was that game's short, snappy episodic structure wouldn't translate well to extended playing sessions.
But in the event, we shouldn't have worried. This superb HD reworking will indeed put the fear in you, but for all the right reasons.
3DS owners already know what the rest of us are about to find out: that Resident Evil: Revelations is one of this generation's best kept secrets. It's the greatest Resi game in nearly a decade, and it's great because it concentrates on what made the series so iconic in the first place - making you scream like a 13-year old at a One Direction concert.
Rather than allowing itself to be seduced by marketable gunplay - the fate that has befallen both the mainline Resident Evil series and its arch-rival Dead Space in recent years - Revelations remembers that it's a survival-horror game first and foremost. Both thematically and structurally, it's a throwback to the original PSOne titles.
That's not to say that Revelations is regressive, however. In terms of where it sits alongside the rest of the Resident Evil series, Revelations is a bit of a mutant game, as if injected with the t-virus. Revelatons fuses the deliberating pace and sense of foreboding of the early games with the improved controls and intimate over-the-shoulder viewpoint of the later games, and as you'd expect this 'best of series' fusion is a winning combination. If you're coming into this for the first time, you'll be amazed that Capcom managed to squeeze a game of this scale and ambition onto 3DS in the first place.
It helps Resident Evil: Revelations' cause that its primary setting - the not-as-abandoned-as-you-might-have-liked abandoned cruise liner The Queen Zenobia - is a brilliantly unnerving setting that's up there with the very best in its genre. The idea of horror at sea might be cliché (it's the third Resi game alone to be set on a boat), but the Queen Zenobia proves that you can stick to the classics as long as you're committed to doing them right.
Dim, dank and dreary, the Queen Zenobia's waterlogged crew chambers are a terrifyingly eerie place to explore. It's one of those game settings that manages to both bombard and deprive you of sensual feedback at the same time. Drips and drones and creaks and groans prick your ears into stand-by mode on an almost continuous basis, but Zenobia's penchant for blind right-hand turns makes it impossible to let your eyes reconcile with what your ears already know until you're practically in grabbing range.
Later stages see Capcom's artists reach for a warmer colour palette as our heroes progress into the opulent passenger side of the ship - but despite the more welcoming surroundings the architecture continues to conspire against you, with narrow, claustrophobic corridors stifling movement and freak-spewing vents ensuring that even previously-explored dead ends can only be marked as safe in pencil.
It all adds up to a setting that's drenched in atmosphere and saturated with fear. It's a scary place to move around in even when there's nothing else on screen. So when there is you heart will burst out of your chest like a lovestruck Warner Bros cartoon character. Unlike Resi 5 and 6, Revelations understands that more mutants doesn't necessarily equal more scares, and instead concentrates on giving you a reason to be scared of them in the first place. And Revelations' cache of enemies are a superb bunch; slow-moving but relentless, deadly from afar and lethal up close.
Ammunition is predictably scarce and even the most run-of-the-mill enemies scoff bullets like fondant fancies, so a more intelligent approach is needed. Instead of pumping six bullets in a mutant's head, say, you might want to cripple their claws with a couple of well-aimed shot and move in with your knife. A fine idea in theory, but an extremely difficult game plan to execute under pressure.
If careful shot taking is preferable during regular encounters, then during boss fights they're essential. If you don't concentrate your fire on their weak points - in the case of the game's first boss Skagdead, the screaming human head balanced precariously on his flabby shoulders - you'll find yourself out of bullets and out of luck.
These encounters represented something of a difficulty spike on 3DS, but thanks to the superior controller they're a lot more manageable here. Since the original always functioned best with the 3DS' Circle Pad Pro add on, Revelations' transition to a dual-stick set-up is an effortless one.
Meanwhile, the touch screen detritus has migrated to the Xbox 360's extra buttons. Swapping weapons is managed with the d-pad, flares and grenades are activated with the right bumper button, and the Genesis Scanning Device powers up whenever you hold down the left bumper button.
The latter case is the perfect example of how the simplified controls don't always work to the game's benefit. The idea behind the Genesis is that you use it to scan mutant corpses, Metroid-style, and once you've scanned enough goop you unlock extra gear and rewards.
There was a risk/reward factor involved in doing so on 3DS however, as you had to manually swap between it and your active weapon on the touch screen - which put you at risk of being caught with your pants down by a surprise mutant.
Now it's a lot more straightforward to switch between the two, which deflates some of the tension. Part of the Resident Evil charm is working against the controls, and at times Revelations HD feels a little bit too responsive for our liking, if that makes sense.
As a result this is a less challenging game than its 3DS counterpart, although that's far from a disaster - this is still a lengthy, substantial game, and it doesn't suffer at all for being broken down into bite-sized episodes. In fact, its tight structure and its 'Previously on...' recaps make it ideal 'one quick scare before bedtime' fodder.
Nonetheless the improved controls demand a new higher difficulty setting, but Revelations HD's Infernal mode takes things a little too far. It remixes enemy placement and boosts both the number and the strength of the mutants, but it does so in extreme fashion. There's no way you're getting through this on a first playthrough with the basic weapons - which is an oversight on the part of the developers as returning 3DS owners will want to do exactly that.
Long-term replayability comes in the form of Raid Mode, now expanded and unlocked from the beginning. This is a succession of arcadey survival challenges, and you unlock new weapons and characters as you level up. It's compulsive, varied and well put together, and bolts further value to a package that already delivers far more than you'd expect, given its humble origins.
We loved Revelations on 3DS and on the big screen it just means there's more of it to love. If you're a horror fan who feels that Resident Evil/Dead Space has lost their way in their search for a larger audience, this budget-priced gem will renew your faith in the genre.