The 3DS finally has its hardcore champion.
It's no secret that Nintendo's handheld has struggled to resonate with the hardcore gaming crowd, and even last Christmas' Mario splurge did little to convince them that they'd made the right buying decision. But Resident Evil: Revelations has now arrived to make everything better. By blending effective horror scares with slick visuals, system-defining multiplayer and an impressive amount of content, Capcom's latest horror game is one of the most proficient games to grace portable consoles in recent years.
Set between Resident Evil IV and V, Revelations chronicles Jill Valentine's search for missing partner Chris Redfield aboard a seemingly abandoned luxury cruise liner. In true Resi style, however, this is just the tip of a conspiracy iceberg that locks them into a terrifying race against time and introduces a new infected organism: the Ooze. These disgusting viral hybrids are much slower, fewer in number and more deliberate than the frenzied Ganados and Majini of more recent titles; evoking the series roots as a tense corridor-crawling horror experience rather than a fast-paced action game.
Ammo and healing items are now scarce and limited rather than readily-available. You'll need to explore the sprawling ship for more supplies and make every bullet count in order to survive, which lends an exciting fight or flight dimension to the action. Evading Ooze using a properly-timed manoeuvre lets you to duck behind them and cut out combat completely, meaning that desperate retreat can be just as effective as standing your ground. A scanning device, The Genesis, also lets you discover hidden items in the environment or analyse Ooze creatures for extra healing herbs. It's a neat new addition to the series... and one that you'll be thankful for when hectic boss encounters force your back to the wall.
Unbelievably, Revelations is incredibly scary. Capcom have realised that less is infinitely more when it comes to horror games, and use the threat of attack far more often than enormous pitched engagements. Sensational sound design and plenty of empty corridors ensure that you constantly feel oppressed and harried by an invisible foe, with effective unpredictable jump scares and occasional all-out battles keeping players on their toes. Audio design absolutely steals the show, and uses the 3DS' under-appreciated three dimensional sound capability to make you hear shambling footsteps from just outside your peripheral vision. So long as you keep your head within the 3D viewing angle, that is.
It's not all gloom and despair, though. The storyline occasionally jumps to multiple perspectives, such as Chris Redfield's story arc and a flashback from Jill's partner Parker. These sections tend to focus on set pieces and action over pure horror, adding a nifty sense of pacing that makes Jill's horror sections much more claustrophobic and frightening in comparison. Of course, this being Resident Evil, the last third of the game mutates into desperate, scrambling, white-knuckle insanity. Which is fine by us.
What's more, some considerate new features help to make Revelations feel at home on a handheld. Frequent autosaves, a quick herb button and some tactile touchscreen puzzles allow the old-school action to feel fresh and intuitive on the 3DS. Personally, though, I wish that manual save options were still present, as the limited resources have the potential to create dead saves. Not to mention that the 3DS' battery is likely to cut out at any moment.
The campaign does hit an occasional stumbling block. Some of the water-borne enemies are unbelievably cheap and difficult to evade, and the 3D maps are absolutely unfit for task (leading to occasional confusing moments when you lose track of your next objective). Worse, however, are a couple of playable sections featuring two hopeless comedy relief characters - BSAA operatives aggravatingly named Jackass and Grinder - who scupper the tension rather than adding to it. Horrible scripting and painful voice acting make these two unwelcome interlopers in an otherwise excellent narrative. At least the action is solid enough to power through regardless.
Visually, Revelations is polished and impressive when compared to other games on the system. The 3D effect has also been implemented with a degree of restraint - it's subtle, but allows you to constantly enjoy the higher intensity settings without ever feeling disoriented or nauseated. Nifty features like the convex Genesis scanner screen help add to the sense of immersion.
There's no easy way to say this, so I'm just going to blurt it out and deal with any aftermath in the comments. Resident Evil's traditional 'tank' controls are - and have always been - absolutely awful. But they were a necessary compromise in the original games due to the preset camera angles and limited input methods at the time, and Revelations makes the best of a bad situation. Responsive (and tweakable) targeting, the quick turn, evades, strafing and the ability to slowly walk while aiming allow you to easily put distance between you and oncoming Ooze, though the 3DS' cramped form factor can lead to major hand pain during extended play sessions.
Unless you happen to own a Circle Pad Pro. The second thumbstick makes the action much more comfortable and intuitive, so while it's not worth buying one individually (Revelations is the only game that supports the peripheral at the moment), I'd urge you to source a bundle deal. With Kid Icarus: Uprising and MGS: Snake Eater 3D confirmed to include Circle Pad Pro functionality, it's a wise investment and potential saving.
Revelation's campaign is strong enough to warrant a ripe old score as is, but the best is arguably yet to come. Completing certain levels in singleplayer unlocks cooperative Raid Mode stages that form a powerful, persistent and exciting gaming experience in its own right. Twenty linear levels - with three unlockable difficulty modes - all allow you to plow through levelled hordes of zombies in solo play, with a local friend or over Wi-Fi; unlocking randomised weapons, upgrades and virtual currency to spend on ammo, gear and items. Raid Mode is akin to a loot-grinding RPG with shooting mechanics, and easily provides the most addictive and compelling multiplayer to grace the 3DS yet.
Imagine a compartmentalised, two-player take on Phantasy Star Online, but set in the Resi universe. It's a good thing. A very good thing.
Achievement-esque challenges also up the ante and provide another compelling draw. Streetpassing fellow players or meeting new people online unlocks awards for completing certain objectives such as assassinating certain zombies, playing particular levels or adopting a certain play style... and rewards you with powerful new guns or ammunition for the cause. By far my favourite feature is that some Streetpass challenges can cause unique zombies to appear, who have the name of the person you met. Raid Mode has the potential to run and run, and I fervently hope that it attracts a thriving player base. It deserves to.
- Meaty, scary, effective campaign
- Impeccable sound design and 3D implementation
- Raid Mode is sensational
- Awkward controls without Circle Pad Pro
- Painful comedy relief characters
- Manual save would have been nice
The Short Version: Resident Evil: Revelations is a sensational portable title that makes full use of the 3DS' capabilities, and a great addition to the franchise in its own right. Impressive value and a masterful multiplayer mode elevate Capcom's latest to the upper echelons of handheld gaming.