Now that the Resident Evil series has made the jump to the eighth generation of video game consoles with the episodically-released Resident Evil: Revelations 2, it’s sadly hard to have high expectations. After a strong run of main franchise games with Resident Evil 4, 5, and Revelations between 2004 and 2011, Capcom has run into a cold streak, with 2012’s terrible Operation: Raccoon City followed up months later by the only slightly improved Resident Evil 6 (for those wondering at home, there’s essentially no logic to what constitutes a spin-off and what’s a main numbered game in the Resident Evil universe). But Revelations 2 does have a bit of a reputation to live up to; the original Revelations was one of the strongest games in the early days of the Nintendo 3DS, a well-paced blend of old-school survival horror the series cut its teeth on and the more fast-paced action of the more recent installments. If Resident Evil: Revelations 2 could build off the strengths of its predecessor, it might make fans forget about Capcom’s recent failures. Unfortunately, while the recently-released first chapter makes for a fun few hours, it doesn’t come close to reaching the heights of the best of the series.
Each of the four chapters in Revelations 2 can be broken down into two separate but closely connected stories, and each story has the player control two characters, for a whopping four protagonists to switch between. Up first is the story of the ever-present Claire Redfield, who’s been a playable character since the original Resident Evil; joining her is Moira, Claire’s co-worker and the daughter of a close friend. Claire and Moira are attending a fancy company dinner party when they are seemingly ambushed by a SWAT team and dragged off to a mysterious prison, and as the two of them try to escape, they learn about the prison’s dark history with human experiments and find themselves facing off with the mutated husks of the former prisoners. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, as the prison setting and two-character set up have shown up in the series several times. What truly feels different this time around is how differently the characters play. In previous games small changes existed between the duo–one character might be able to hold a few more items while another can mix herbs for healing or use a specific item–but nothing major. Here in Revelations 2 the characters have better defined strengths and weaknesses. Claire can use guns and carry many more items, while Moira is able to spot hidden items more easily and to open doors with her crowbar. This results in a strategy in which Moira is mostly used for exploring, but when trouble shows up you’ll want to switch to Claire to shoot your way out of it. The balance doesn’t quite work though; Moira’s main strength is being able to pick up the hidden items, but you can see them as Claire too, so it doesn’t feel necessary to play as Moira for any long stretches. If Moira’s crowbar was a little stronger as a melee weapon, perhaps she could be useful in combat, but Claire just seems much better.
The lack of balance between Claire and Moira disappears in the second half of the chapter, when you play as Barry, Moira’s father, and a mysterious young girl named Natalya as they make their way into the prison attempting a rescue mission. The two play essentially the same way as Claire and Moira, but with one important change; Natalia has the ability to sense nearby enemies and can see them behind walls and doors. Even though she plays essentially the same as Moira, this one tweak made her much more viable as a character and gave the game the healthy balance between characters that it desperately needed. It was a marked improvement as Natalia would seek out enemies and items and Barry would make good use of them, and hopefully Revelations 2 will build off of this in the future, making characters equally useful in the next three chapters. It shouldn’t be all that hard, as there are only two at a time.
After a slow start the game packs in some decent scares and set pieces. One memorable scene has Claire and Moira walking past locked prison cells just loaded with zombie-fied mutants, and the payoff doesn’t come until two hours later when Barry and Natalia are forced to let those same mutants loose and have to defend themselves; another takes advantage of Natalia’s enemy-spotting powers when another monster seems to disappear into thin air. Capcom can really nail these tense moments with great musical cues and challenging fights, and the half of the episode that gets more of them (Barry and Natalia) is unsurprisingly the much more exciting half.
Other than character balance, there’s not much that’s changed here in comparison with older games in the series; the story and dialog are just as cheesy as ever and the graphics are serviceable, but a little disappointing considering how much Resident Evil 5 and the original Revelations pushed their respective systems to their limits. There’s an upgrade system which will likely frustrate most first-time players as it seems like 25% of the way through the game there is not going to be any way to save up enough to unlock the best improvements. A multiplayer Raid mode is available to play as well, which will be reviewed next time alongside chapter two.
While Resident Evil: Revelations 2 so far struggles to live up to its predecessor, there are already signs of improvement towards the end of its first chapter as Barry and Natalia finish strong. Moira’s weakness as a character is the only thing truly dragging the game down, and this could be improved in a few ways; perhaps she gains a new ability to put her on equal footing to Claire, or the game could turn her weakness into a strength by separating the two for an extended period and forcing Moira to put the “survival” back in “survival horror”, running away from attacks rather than killing everything in her path. Unfortunately Capcom can’t learn from their mistakes. The game is already completed and the episodes are released on a weekly basis, far too short for any last minute changes. Hopefully the best is yet to come.
3 Chicks out of 5