I don't know. You wait three years for a Resident Evil game, and then two come along at once. Neither being the one you really wanted, but both scratching the itch that the Class of Generation Seven never truly reached.
Resident Evil needed the break. 2012 drained the franchise of what relevance it had left as a legitimate survival horror experience with a sixth main entry that aimed for "greatest hits" appeal but left many cold with its three intersecting campaigns. It wasn't intimidating in any way—a problem that the series has arguably suffered since the Terminator-like persistence of the Nemesis in sequel number two, and that came out over 15 years ago.
Resi 6 featured several scenes of pure lunacy—oh, my, Jake's entire motorcycle getaway—and what it lacked in frights it compensated for with utterly stupid action. The same year's Operation Raccoon City, though? An abomination of a game, mailed to the press in bundles so that reviewers would try its multiplayer modes with their friends. I tried passing my "spare" copies along, and I lost friends.
But right at the start of 2012, there was the suggestion that Resi had rediscovered its macabre mojo. Resident Evil: Revelations came out on Nintendo's 3DS (and was subsequently ported to consoles and Windows), its ghost ship setting evocative of the first game's Spencer Mansion, all tight corners, claustrophobic corridors, and immoveable cardboard boxes. It aimed for survival horror over action and adventure, and through using an episodic structure managed to maintain tension over short timeframes with some success. It was far and away the best Resi of 2012.
It's no surprise that Capcom has returned to Revelations for a sequel, which this time is released in downloadable weekly installments (for Sony and Microsoft consoles, and Windows), giving players a TV series-like fix of zombie-brain popping. There'll be four in total, commencing on February 24 in the US, and the 25 in Europe and Japan, with a retail compilation version available once episode four has been released into the wild. At a preview event in London, I got my hands on a modest slice of episode one's campaign, which is split between two playable protagonists, both series veterans: Claire Redfield, around since 1998's Resident Evil 2, and Barry Burton, who appeared in 1996's original game. I play as Barry, and first impressions are disappointing.
'Resident Evil Revelations 2' trailer
Armed to the teeth, Barry shows up at an island to rescue his daughter, Moira. But the first friendly face he meets is that of the (actually rather creepy) Natalia Korda, an orphan girl aged maybe nine or ten, eager to hop aboard Bazza's boat and get the fuck away from this scab of land in the middle of watery nowhere. Like the first Revelations, the implication is isolation, of inescapable horrors: surrounded by the sea, would you rather face those dark depths or sustain the dread that creeps through the halls of this abandoned (or, as it turns out, still rather populated) experimental facility?
Almost immediately it's clear that Bad Shit has happened here, and scattered notes tell of tortured kids having limbs removed—one of the reasons why presenting itself at the climax of the preview. And it's clear that Capcom has been paying attention to critical hits released between its Resi entries. When Barry's hunkered down, slowly and silently making his way past vacant-eyed science projects gone zombified, backpack bobbing and child companion by his side, the game is positively screaming: we really like The Last of Us. You can take control of Natalia to spot trinkets and ammo, and squeeze her through small openings in order to unlock doors for Barry. You know how this kind of gameplay goes—we've seen it hundreds of times before.
Revelations 2 feels as fresh as its decaying nasties, then, and spending 40 minutes in the company of Barry and his frequently wandering colleague is deadening. It's exhausting, for all the wrong reasons: trite and tired, and on PS4 it's doing nothing whatsoever to push the hardware. After navigating some gentle puzzles and beheading a slew of shuffling unfortunates who just want a lift off the island too but have a bad habit of asking with a bite, Barry comes face to face with a Revenant, the game's headline ugly and the result of all that documented dismemberment. It's barely a boss fight, though—a speedier, freakier monster than what we've seen before, but offering little threat from a distance and soon dispatched with an assault rifle.
The original 'Resident Evil' is out now in shiny HD
That marks the end of the campaign preview, but Revelations 2 carried over its predecessor's Raid mode, challenging the player to take on a series of small missions, the success of which depends on meeting certain objectives. So it's into that we go. It's fast and—get this—fun, albeit of strictly shallow appeal. Pick your arsenal and upgrade your perks between stages; eliminate a designated amount of varied enemies (and stages) plucked from the Resi archives; and collect medals based on how well you did. More medals mean more levels. I played six missions in all, and none lasted longer than ten minutes—a perfect length for blowing off steam. Unless you run out of ammo, as I did right at the end. Then, it just blows.
I refuse to write Revelations 2's campaign off just because I didn't click with Barry—if it ultimately builds on the first Revelations, it'll be worth the opening tedium I played through. And Raid mode's generally great, with some ripping music that recalls 90s highs from Sega's Sonic Team. I'm cautiously hopeful, but the biggest handicap the game faces is timing: quite perversely, it comes out immediately after an HD remaster of the GameCube port of the first Resi. Which, let's be fair, is the Resident Evil you're getting if you're either a survival horror purist, after some gaming history, or someone with common goddamn sense.
This column original appeared in Volume #22, Issue 1 of VICE magazine (UK), details here.
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