Resident Evil: Revelations Preview

23 Apr 2013  by   Tim McDonald
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The idea, presumably, is to win back the hearts of those who feel a bit scorned by recent Resident Evil games. From Resi 4 onwards, the series has devoted far more time to action (and from 5 onwards, to multiplayer) than it has to jump scares, explorable environments with plenty of paths and backtracking, combat against fewer but tougher enemies, and doors locked with improbable crest-based mechanics.

Resident Evil: Revelations – a high-definition port of what was formerly a 3DS exclusive – is very clearly aiming to fix all that. The problem is that the early code I’ve been playing (and I stress the word early, but we’ll get to that later) isn’t particularly impressive.

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If nothing else, though, it wears its inspirations on its sleeve. The primary focus of the bits I’ve played is on series stalwart Jill Valentine and her partner Parker, sent to the cruise liner Queen Zenobia to find out what’s happened to other series stalwart Chris Valentine and his supermodel-lookalike partner Jessica Sherawat. In typical fashion for early Resi games, the place is overrun by bio-engineered monsters, and Jill and Parker are woefully underequipped for a prolonged fight. Really? A pistol and a few clips of ammo? You’d think Jill would’ve learned by now.

The sections on the Queen Zenobia look and feel like classic Resi: there are lots of dark, narrow corridors, with branching paths and all sorts of rooms to explore and locked rooms to remember for later, and it’s not long before horrible beasties start crawling out of the vents. There’s a shotgun fixed to one wall that can only be unfastened with a crest. There are doors emblazoned with anchors and lifebuoys that can only be unlocked by keys bearing those same symbols. Ammo is sparse, and enemies take a fair bit of gunfire to put down.

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It’s also classic Resi in that the dialogue is awful. Sadly, it’s not awful in the clunky-but-charming way that gave rise to me bellowing “WESKER! WHERE’S WESKER?” down a street one night after a few too many vodkas in a nearby pub. It’s just bad. Behold, an unedited conversation from early in the game.

Jessica: “So… Jill, was it?”
Chris: “Was what? Stay focused.”
Jessica: “She was your partner before, right?”
Chris: “Yeah, my partner. From before. What about it?”
Jessica: “I was, you know, just asking.”

Ah, character development. The voice acting on that last line only makes it worse, believe it or not.

There are a few new tricks, though. Players have access to a device called the Genesis, which can scan enemies and corpses and coughs up green herbs once you’ve scanned enough, and it can also scan the environment to locate hidden items. It’s a nice enough idea that means clearing out enemies can be worthwhile instead of just running past them, and it gives a good reason to have a nice first-person gander at the environments themselves.

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The gameplay tries to mix things up a little, too. An early section has Jill separated from Parker, and without her weapons and equipment, forcing you to run past and dodge enemies. Again: a fairly nice touch that’s slightly evocative of games like Clock Tower and Amnesia, which I’m hereby labelling “survival terror” games. And if this was about all there was to Resident Evil: Revelations, I’d probably be a lot more optimistic about the final product. Perhaps a little bland, but its heart is in the right place and it’s a nice change from hi-octane blasting action, so long-term Resi fans would likely eke some fun out of it.

Alas, the game also occasionally tries its hand at hi-octane blasting action, and this is where it start to stumble. One early chapter devotes itself to Chris and Jessica fighting zombie monster wolves in the snowy mountains; another chapter has Parker and Jessica, in flashback, battling their way to an escape helicopter. Both of these focus almost entirely on shooting lots of enemies, but Resi 6 this is not.

It’s all fairly basic combat, really. You hold down the right mouse button to aim, and click the left mouse button to fire. As far as I can tell you don’t have any fancy dodge rolls or stance shifts or anything; you run to a safe position, turn, fire, repeat. Against the shambling hordes, this is relatively okay, if a bit bland – it’s pretty classic survival horror combat only with less shit controls, which is why it’s a bit galling that the game seems to like dropping into shooter territory every now and then.

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Oh, and one other thing: the controls aren’t less shit if you’re using mouse-and-keyboard. I can only imagine that this was a decision made so that the mouse-and-keyboard users wouldn’t have a ridiculous advantage over the enemies in terms of being able to line up headshots in quick succession, but… ugh. Look, here’s how it works: when your crosshair is close to an enemy, your mouse sensitivity massively lowers to the extent that you need to jerk the mouse in order to adjust your aim. This makes fine aiming nigh-impossible on a mouse.

Obviously, this is spectacularly terrible… unless you’re using a gamepad, at which point everything works fine. I’m praying this is just some horrible bug in the preview build, and won’t exist in the full version.

That aside, the port itself looks to be of fairly high quality. There’s some graphical dissonance, admittedly; a few of the textures look a little low quality, while Jill’s form-fitting wetsuit is slick and slippery and shiny and curvy and oh my I need to have a lie down. If I didn’t already know, though, I doubt I’d have guessed it was a port from a handheld system.

The other Big Thing with Revelations is Raid mode, which is Absolutely Not A Renamed Mercenaries Mode. In fairness, it’s not actually Mercenaries Mode – instead, it sends you through the actual game levels, only without the story and with enemies remixed. The particularly neat feature here is that you can pick whichever character you like, and you earn both XP and BP (the latter being currency) that level up your characters and let you purchase new weapons, weapon mods, and ammo refills. Yep: you actually have to watch your ammo levels in this mode, too, because they carry over. A nice touch, in truth, and although the combat isn’t particularly exciting on its own, the progression system helps amp it up a bit.

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I’ve been a harsh to Revelations here, which is maybe a bit unfair. The inescapable problem with previews is that, if something doesn’t work or appears a bit broken, it’s pretty difficult to tell if it’s an awful piece of game design or just a bug that’s already been fixed. Okay, so I’m free to mock the dialogue because the game has been out on 3DS for awhile so it’s highly unlikely to change, but as for the rest… well, the textures may not be final (and truthfully, they’re hardly offensive), and the controls may be suffering bugs. The latter’s such a big problem I’ve got to bring it up, though.

So from what I’ve seen so far, that’s Resident Evil: Revelations – a slightly shonky Resi game which is going back to the series’ roots. Thus far I’ve seen nothing exceptional, but (mouse aiming aside) nothing too terrible, either. Worth noting, too, that the game improved dramatically when the training wheels came off after the first couple of chapters, so I’m holding out a bit of hope that the later levels will make it all worthwhile. Assuming the bloody mouse works properly in the full version, anyway.

Also, if Barry Burton doesn’t turn up, I’m going to be upset.

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