Thursday, August 8, 2013

Review: Resident Evil: Revelations loses much of its luster in the move to HD (Wii U review)

In the wake of several ill-conceived spinoffs and a 5th installment that strayed far from the series' survival horror roots, Resident Evil: Revelations on the 3DS seemed almost like an apology to long-time series fans; a group who may have felt more than a little betrayed by Capcom's forced attempts to turn Resident Evil into a major action franchise. This game was a throwback of sorts, returning zombies to the series and moving the action to the dark corridors of the Queen Zenobia cruise ship. And though it made many concessions to appease modern day gamers, it felt, at the time, that the series was back on the right track, and that Capcom was finally getting the sense that Michael Bay-style action was not what anyone was looking for when picking up a Resident Evil game.

Then Resident Evil 6 happened, and it became abundantly clear that Revelations was more of a fluke than an indicator that Resident Evil was becoming Resident Evil again.

Following that game's nearly universal negative response, Capcom has unsurprisingly returned to this well, bringing their only warmly-received Resident Evil game in years onto home consoles with an HD makeover. The end result is simply okay; in the wake of Resident Evil 6, the flaws of Revelations stuck out far more to me as I returned to the Queen Zenobia for a second time, and though Revelations HD is definitely a decent Resident Evil game, it's not one that I find myself recommending to series' fans as eagerly as I did back on the 3DS.

What was so striking about the original release was how gorgeous it looked for a handheld title. And on consoles, some of that atmosphere still exists. That said, the visuals, while serviceable, feature the same "plastic" look that many Standard Definition games seem to gain when converted to HD, and while the framerate's a bit better (albeit still not perfect) the load times are incredibly long for what are such small areas, something even more puzzling given how much better the hardware is.

Resident Evil: Revelations is at its best as you control Jill Valentine aboard the cruise ship. The setting offers many creepy moments and a good sense of dread, you're allowed to backtrack and explore much of the ship at your leisure, and the gameplay aspect of gaining access to keys and symbols which allow you to progress further into the depths of the ship is great in a retro Resident Evil way. As with almost all modern games to feature guns, there's plenty of shooting to be done in Resident Evil: Revelations, though the enemy encounters and boss fights on the cruise ship, at least, favor some restraint; fire blindly and relentlessly at a boss and you'll likely run out of ammo mid-way through the fight. The weapons can be upgraded from parts found throughout the environments, which isn't the deepest system but it does allow for a feeling of advancement in a game where you're fighting much of the same enemies again and again.

What's also cool is the ability to scan various objects and enemies, Metroid Prime style, and though this only serves as a means to get health items, it does provide you with the incentive to take closer looks around the environments that you find yourself in.

While the main gameplay is solid and often can be a lot of fun, the biggest problems faced in Revelations stem from Capcom's insistence on making the game as fast-paced as possible. Even during the scariest moments, the characters communicate with each other so frequently that all sense of isolation is completely lost. This can take place over the radio, and does, for a good portion of the game. At other times Capcom has gone as far as to saddle you with AI-controlled partner characters; characters who provide almost no help in combat and who serve to only further decrease the tension. It becomes unintentionally hilarious to hear your team participating in the most bland of dialogue exchanges, the tones of their voices not even as much as altering slightly as a zombie assault commences all around them. The auto-save feature meanwhile continues to prove a terrible fit for the genre as it gives away all the scares in advance, and the Queen Zenobia felt like a much larger environment on the 3DS than it does on a home console.

Resident Evil: Revelations struggles from its desire to have it both ways. The cruise ship segments provide some scary fun, but then intercut through these are action sequences taking place elsewhere, with the game granting you control of Chris Redfield and others as they engage in shootouts through linear environments. These parts contain many of the same flaws present in Resident Evil 6: the aiming feels incredibly loose, the enemies, for whatever reason, aren't fun to shoot and don't react satisfyingly to your shots, and the action isn't even particularly exciting. These parts add nothing to the game except for some truly lame comic relief, and instead they actually detract greatly from it. While these shooting sections are often mercifully short, soon the action ramps up on the cruise ship as well, and Revelations becomes exactly what it was supposed to have been created to avoid.

The storyline is the same over the top tale of conspiracy and massive urban viral chaos that has been gripping this series for too long. On the 3DS I was able to cut them some slack due to the impressive nature of the CG cutscenes on the handheld (in 3D, no less) but here it begins to feel like far too much. Resident Evil was never about great dialogue or an action-packed story; the narrative in the old games was sparse but effective. And by putting the weak and heavy-handed storyline front and center, the developers make the whole game feel cheesy when it should be scary.

Verdict: Resident Evil: Revelations is a game stuck somewhere awkwardly between where Resident Evil is and where it should be. It makes some genuine attempts to revisit the same type of horror gameplay and setting that fans have been missing so much, but at the same time, it can't seem to resist adding in everything else. It's possible that since playing Resident Evil 6 my patience for this sort of thing has just about run out, but while I found these flaws tolerable in the 3DS version, which I recommended at the time, for whatever reason this HD port didn't get that same reaction from me. If you've never played Resident Evil: Revelations before, you could maybe consider adding a point to my score, as the first time through I did thoroughly enjoy it. This second time through, however, it's clear to me that the game simply doesn't hold up.

On the Wii U you have the option to play on the GamePad, which is a great addition, and the visuals feel much more at home on the smaller screen. Though it doesn't make up for Revelations' shortcomings, it adds a definite edge to the Nintendo version of this HD port.

Presentation: The "TV series" style presentation feels pretty ridiculous and adds to the cheesiness that Resident Evil should be avoiding. Long load times, some nice-looking but fairly shallow CG cutscenes, and far too much storyline for what should be a more isolated experience. Plot twists are handled with all the finesse of those in a Scooby Doo episode.

Graphics: Though Revelations looked incredible on the 3DS, the upscaled graphics don't quite cut it on a TV screen. Game certainly doesn't look terrible, but it loses much of its flair. Load times should have been corrected.

Gameplay: Much of the gameplay aboard the cruise ship is solid and a lot of fun. It's when the action takes over (and it does, far too early) that Revelations begins to feel more like an exercise in overkill than a fun horror title. Resident Evil has featured action in the past, but it used to be reserved for the final act of the game. In Revelations, it's about half.

Sound: Supposedly the sound effects were improved from the handheld version, though I can't say I could tell a difference. The music's hit or miss, while voice acting remains fairly weak.

Replay Value: The multiplayer can be addictive, shooter-driven as it is. Single player game's not a bad length either.

Overall: 6/10

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