Review: Resident Evil Revelations (3DS)

An evolution of evil

Resident Evil Revelations arrives on 3DS with a weight of expectation, both of the franchise it represents and as a major release on the revitalised handheld. Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D may have landed first, but this is the one that fans have been anticipating. In a series renowned for its significant transformation and experimentation with a variety of genres, Revelations stakes its claim for an identity of its own.

For those in any doubt, particularly with the non-numbered title, this is a full entry in the series canon and not a spin-off. Revelations shares many traits with Resident Evil 4, Resident Evil 5 and the older titles, one of which is a significant focus on storytelling and setting. This title spins quite a yarn that’s set between the events of 4 and 5, with story segments presented in attractive rendered sequences that closely match the in-game graphics engine, and are grand in scope and execution. It won’t win any awards for scriptwriting, but it’s entertaining and has just enough corny dialogue to comfort Resi veterans.

The presentation of the story is absolutely integral to the experience, making it much more than padding between battles. Cut scenes are relatively short, and the plot drives the structure through 12 chapters of varying length: the longest can take over an hour to play through, while some are over in half that time. With longer chapters broken up into smaller sections, it’s clear that the experience was crafted with short gaming sessions in mind, though you'll often feel compelled to carry on to see how the story progresses. There is even a recap of previous events at the start of each new chapter, bringing further televisual flair into play.

Playing Revelations does feel like playing through an action horror film or, to be more accurate, a series of films. The action jumps between locations and time periods, with a number of characters at your command, from series favourites Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield to new additions such as the well-bearded Parker. This brings a welcome sense of variety not only to the scenery but also to the gameplay, as Revelations takes multiple series elements and blends them together. There are lengthy spells of genuine survival horror, when bullets are scarce and enemies are worryingly hidden from view, while some spells ramp up the action to match the latest home console offerings, with hordes of monsters and bosses to battle. There are even some exhilarating on-rails and time-restricted sections, heightening the sense of variety that will either draw gamers in or potentially disorientate them. For those who approach the shifts in style and tempo with an open mind, it can be an exciting experience.

With the campaign incorporating different styles and challenges, it’s the controls that are most impressive. We’ve reviewed this title with the standard controls, excluding the Circle Pad Pro add-on, and the developers have succeeded in providing successful control schemes and enough customisation to satisfy almost all requirements. There are three button layouts available, with options for aiming and strafing fully interchangeable. Our preferred layout involved aiming with the right shoulder button and the Circle Pad, with the left shoulder used for strafing and moving while aiming. The ability to move and aim, as well as simplified weapon and medicinal herb management through both button inputs and the touch screen, means that the well-worn ‘tank’ controls from previous entries are a little more flexible and mobile.

Customisation is key throughout. Options are given to invert the axis or even aim with the gyroscope, a fun and functional alternative if not necessarily the most sensible option. Shooting can be executed through a first or third-person perspective: while third-person is the more traditional approach, first-person shooting adds to the tension and makes full use of the 3D visuals. Even the depth of the 3D effect has three settings, all variable with the console’s slider, the ‘very strong’ setting producing some of the most striking stereoscopic visuals that we’ve seen in any 3DS title to date.

While the campaign is varied and fairly lengthy, clocking in at over ten hours, Revelations is packed with extras and additional game modes. In the campaign alone you start with two difficulty settings, while completion of ‘normal’ will unlock the ‘hell’ mode, a New Game+ that allows you to retain weapons and items from the first playthrough. The standard setting is challenging in its own right, with boss fights a sticking point in the balancing of difficulty. We progressed well, with few deaths, until the first major boss encounter: in these difficult sections the otherwise solid controls can perhaps be a problem, with the dodge move – Up and B together with good timing – being particularly awkward.

In the grand scheme of things it's a minor issue overcome with a few run-throughs, with most sections suiting the control setup well. As expected, the hell difficulty pushes the limits, with enemies that move faster and absorb more bullets: skilful gamers will need persistence and practice to succeed. There are also Missions – or achievements – to complete, varying from killing a set number of monsters to successfully dodging 20 times.

Beyond the campaign is ‘Raid’ mode, Revelations' alternative take on the Mercenaries levels in previous entries. There are plenty of short levels set in stages from the campaign, with the simple goal of moving from A to B while killing all enemies en route. It’s here that the performance-based experience points accumulated in the campaign come to the fore, with options of more powerful guns and accessories available to buy. Items and weapons are also picked up in the stages themselves, with your weapons and ammo carrying over between levels: finding a balance between chasing a quick completion time and seeking out all weapon ammo and items is vital. More experience points are gained based on ranked performance, with your character level and selection of weapons increasing gradually with progress.

This mode is available in single, local and online multiplayer, with the multiplayer restricted to two players. The online setup provides various filters such as region, difficulty level and selected stage, meaning that it should be possible to host or join a match that's suitable. Although there's no way to communicate with your team-mate, sticking together – using the touch screen map for guidance when necessary – definitely leads to better results, making it an enjoyable experience despite occasional issues with lag. The levels in Raid quickly become extremely difficult in single player, so jumping online or finding a friend with a copy of the game will be vital for working through the mode in its entirety, as well as chasing those all-important S ranks and achievements.

Overall presentation is exceptional: the graphics set a new 3DS benchmark, with detailed lighting and textures on display. The 3D effect is truly impressive, the added depth enhancing the immersion of the gameplay. When viewed in 2D the anti-aliased edges are smoother, while 3D increases the overall vibrancy of the visuals. There can be drops in frame rate on some occasions; never game-breaking but noticeable, while the shadows looks strangely jagged and pixelated amongst the otherwise impressive graphical effects. The sound is, in a word, outstanding, doing an exceptional job of causing frights, with the monsters and environmental noises particularly effective. With dramatic orchestrated music and passable voice-acting just about doing its bit, this is definitely a title to play with headphones on.

Conclusion

Resident Evil Revelations is a truly impressive achievement, and the definitive ‘mature’ title on the 3DS. With production values worthy of a home console release, a significant volume of content, a blend of the series’ different game styles and a subtly evolved control system, this title feels like a tribute to and progression of the franchise. There are some downsides though, including spikes in difficulty and drops in frame rate that are occasionally jarring in contrast to the rest of the title. All the same, Revelations has something to offer Resi fans old and new – there are few experiences on the 3DS more engrossing or exciting.