"More puzzles, less ammo."
That's the mantra that Capcom are placing at the core of Resident Evil: Revelations. The esteemed survival horror series has been straying further from its humble roots with each successive iteraton; introducing bigger guns, more ammunition and a greater focus on tense gunplay over the puzzle-solving exploration that made the original so popular. With Revelations, however, they're going back to basics.
The demo level was set on a cruise ship that had fallen under zombie attack, and after Jill Valentine (of sandwich fame) wakes up in a locked room, the new emphasis on brains over brawn is immediately evident. The only exit is secured by a locked electronic keypad, and without any means to access its gubbins, Jill is forced to sift through a disgusting blocked bathtub in order to locate a handy screwdriver. Upon leaving the bathroom, however, Jill is ambushed by a zombie that bursts out of a locked cupboard, giving us our first look at its combat system.
Revelations handles much the same as Code Veronica in terms of raw movement mechanics, but holding the left trigger pulls the camera into a first person mode that responds to small movements of the circle pad. It's impossible to move quickly whilst precisely aiming, however, meaning that players are confronted with the traditional devil's choice of standing their ground or retreating in blind panic. Zombies are extremely durable this time around, and thanks to the limited ammo supplies, scoring headshots and timing your volleys are of paramount concern. Don't waste a clip when two or three bullets will suffice.
The touchscreen is used to switch and reload weapons thanks to some accessible and well-placed touch icons, but out of combat, it also provides the basis for a number of imaginative puzzles. The aforementioned keypad was soon detached from the wall by touching its screws in sequence, revealing a tangled mess of wires that needed to be repositioned Series fans may moan and groan about "gimmicks," but from what we could make out, the touch screen has been implemented appropriately and actually serves to enhance the sense of immersion.
After scoring a deadly pump-action shotgun and exploring the sprawling cruise ship, Jill stumbled upon one of the most important new tools in her arsenal - as well as one of the biggest new additions to the franchise. The Item Scanner functions much like Metroid's Scan Visor; creating a first person augmented reality view of the surroundings with hidden objects such as ammo and healing herbs highlighted with a white box. Since ammunition is at a premium, scouring the levels with this powerful new device will be massively important.
Capcom have already gotten to grips with the 3DS' three dimensional prowess in their exceptional port of Street Fighter IV, and Revelations is no slouch when it comes to immersive visual chicanery. The effect is subtle rather than eyepopping; creating an impression of depth and substance to the environments rather than bombarding the player with silly effects. It's comfortable to play for extended periods at half intensity, and numerous little flourishes help to ground the player in the experience. For example, the Scanner screen becomes slightly convex, conveying the impression of staring through a safety glass viewscreen. Little appropriate details like this, not arbitrary, flashy and unnecessary use of the 3DS' capabilities, will help Nintendo's handheld remain relevant over the coming months. In a considerate touch, anti-aliasing kicks in when the 3D effect is disabled, making for an experience that still looks impressive in standard 2D.
Jill finally managed to make her way to the ship's bridge, at which point she rendezvoused with franchise veteran Chris Redfield and fought off a mysterious insane assailant. With the demo at and end, we were informed that Revelations will contain much more script and story emphasis than previous recent Resident Evil games - and with the new focus on cerebral over raucous action, we reckon that Capcom are on to a winner. Revelations is slated for a 2012 launch, and we'll keep you posted over the coming months.