Resident Evil: Revelations 2 – Episode 1: Penal Colony PS4 Review
Resident Evil 4 has long been responsible for bringing the greatest change toward the long-running Survival Horror franchise….and also the worst. While RE4 has gotten much deserved praise for its revolutionary gameplay that pioneered an entire generation of third person shooters, it did so under the expense of the frightening atmosphere and tense gameplay of its precursors. Following its critical and commercial success, all Resident Evil sequels have adopted a heavier policy on action where hordes of undead enemies both big and small can be dispatched with heavy firepower and skillful takedowns…a stark contrast to the original games where every scarce bullet made the difference between life and death.
Resident Evil: Revelations was an attempt to bring back the horror elements of classic games while retaining the twitch gunplay of its modern titles. The end result did not quite achieve a perfect balance, but the sentiment was appreciated, if only to assure longtime fans that Capcom hasn’t completely abandoned the idea of bringing the series back to its spooky roots. While we wait to see what the company has in store for Resident Evil 7 and whether or not they have learned their lesson from the critically disappointing Resident Evil 6, we have another sequel to their successful spin-off Revelations, once more taking an episodic approach that this time is actually episodic, with weekly episodes available for purchase (or a one-time download purchase) that focus on two of the most requested but often ignored characters, Claire Redfield and Barry Burton.
After celebrating the formation of her goofily-named organization Terra Save, Claire and her newly hired assistant Moira (daughter of Barry) are kidnapped by a mysterious group and stranded on an even more mysterious island, where they are taunted by an even more mysterious woman over an intercom while they try to escape an abandoned facility filled with deadly zombies (or whatever they’re calling them these days). The two must work together to find a way off the island while also solving puzzles and avoiding death traps. While Claire has grown used to these circumstances by now, the teenage Moira is a different story; refusing to wield any firearms because of some unknown traumatic event, she instead offers support by holding a flashlight to illuminate the path (and hidden treasures) while also wielding a crowbar to bust open locked doors and the occasional zombie skull.
Anyone who has played The Last of Us will be able to immediately notice that Capcom is heavily drawing inspiration from the hit Playstation 3/Playstation 4 title, right down to the foul-mouthed teenage girl with specific gameplay mechanics. While Revelations 2 earns points for being the first game in the series to feature dialog that actually sounds natural instead of being translated by a partially fluent Japanese person, Moira has a long way to go in the characterization department; her criticism of her father’s penchant for complaining is especially ironic given her perpetually whiny remarks, even though the situation warrants it.
Another area where the game falters is its attempts to return to its horror aesthetic. The blueprints are all there, from dimly-lit hallways filled with the sounds of the shambling undead to mangled bodies subjected to cruel and torturous experiments. But for RE veterans it also feels like going through the motions; an enemy bursting through a glass window was potentially pants-wetting in the 90’s, but barely registers a reaction these days. Coupled with the tight corridors and unreliable AI partner, the encounters in Revelations 2 feel more like hindrances rather than hair-raising fights for survival. It also doesn’t help that the initial creatures that make up Claire and Moira’s campaign, while visually less ridiculous looking than the first Revelations’ goo monsters, have some of the silliest ragdoll animations seen in quite a while. While Revelations 2 isn’t necessarily a bad looking game, the decreased budget certainly shows, especially with certain canned animations like when Claire gives Moira a boost over unreachable ledges. The framerate also takes a hit during the more outdoor open areas, with reports that the PS4 version is among the worst-performing versions, which is baffling given its initial pedigree in outperforming the XB1 with multiplatform releases.
As negative as this review seems, things pick up quite substantially when switching over to Barry’s campaign. The monsters are better designed and animated, for one thing, and Barry’s partner (a mysterious little girl named Natalia) makes much more sense on a contextual level and requires less arbitrary switching between characters. With Barry serving as the heavy arsenal and Natalia serving as the puzzle-solver (as well as possessing an enemy sonar ability for stealth gameplay, another element taken from The Last of Us), it almost feels like Revelations 2 was built around these two characters, with Claire and Moira as a less-polished afterthought.
There’s still hope for Revelations 2 to turn itself around. The first episode ends with a legitimately interesting cliffhanger while also promising more characters to be added to the mix (whether any of them are playable remains to be seen). The gameplay is functional, carrying over much of the mechanics introduced in RE4 while adding enough restrictions that players don’t feel invincible, and the extra Raid Mode does away with the traditional time-trial focused Mercenaries and introduces a more interesting mission-based mode that features RPG-like skills and weapons unlocked through exp and currency. Online co-op is also a planned feature, but won’t be available until the final episode hits. It remains to be seen if Capcom will be able to stick the landing with this latest spinoff after a rather shaky takeoff.