Resident Evil Revelations on 3DS was, and still is, one of the most impressive and well-crafted demonstrations of the handheld's capabilities. With accomplished visuals — combined with outstanding stereoscopic 3D — it delivered a return to form for the franchise, with large sections reverting back to older, and better, habits. That was on 3DS, but now Capcom has scrubbed up the graphics and repackaged the game for Wii U. The question is whether the scares, thrills and environments are as brooding, menacing and enticing as on the portable platform.
For anyone with experience of the 3DS original, one of the first thoughts when booting up Resident Evil Revelations on Wii U may be to scrutinise the visuals, as cynicism and wariness are to be expected when a handheld title is upscaled to a home console. What we have is a decent looking game, but nothing to celebrate or drool over; the art design is the winner, as it always was, while on a technical level everything looks nice and sharp. Its origins do betray it at times, with some plain textures and primitive lighting, but on the whole it's not displeasing to look at and isn't the worst looking game on Wii U. That said, if this engine was applied to a game with inferior artistic merit, the assessment would be harsher.
So there's that, and we encountered some other niggles, such as animations that look borderline goofy on a large HD screen. Non-playable characters occasionally run like marionettes, while facial expressions can be a little bizarre, notably Jessica's glazed-eyed smirk when accompanying you on fixed missions. These flaws may lead some to unfairly criticise the 3DS original, but they aren't as noticeable on the handheld; these all highlight hints of an underlying laziness to this port.
Those negatives aside, the actual game itself is still a treat to play. We can't help but cheekily wonder whether Capcom could have saved itself millions of dollars and simply called this Resident Evil 6, as on a fraction of the budget this title captures a solid middle ground that points the way for the future of the franchise. Through its setting, focused storyline, genuine scares and moments of ludicrous campness, it at once insists that you strap in for the ride and also refuses to take itself too seriously. It's not to the standard of Resident Evil 4, but it's arguably the best that Capcom's offered in the franchise since.
As the Resident Evil Revelations campaign is split up into 12 chapters — lasting between eight and 10 hours in total — it seems fitting that the structure of the title varies wildly. These chapters — and the smaller sections within — take place throughout around half a dozen locations, with different dual combinations of characters. The assist character is CPU controlled in the main game — there's no online co-op in this mode — and generally follows you around to exchange the odd quip; they may even, if you're lucky, save you some ammo and kill the occasional creature. It's a dynamic that works in the context of the story, as you not only become familiar with Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield, but the interlocking roles of colleagues such as the dense but loveable Parker.
Despite being a tad wacky, the story and its locations are a fine complement to the well thought-out gameplay on offer. Large parts of the title are spent on an adrift cruise liner, and its decorated interiors delightfully resemble an abandoned mansion, but with a sense of a nautical metallic shell at the same time. Scarier, survival horror parts of the experience revolve around this area, while action-packed sequences take place in snowy mountains or a futuristic city tower. Occasionally things are mixed up, too, as you're never quite sure when the focus will be on skulking around creepy corridors or fighting for your life against a dozen monstrous creatures. There are some excellent cinematic flourishes that we won't spoil, too, but we will say that some tense swimming — which thankfully controls well — is thrown in for good measure.
This pick-and-mix approach to Resident Evil gameplay ideas of the past ten years is joined by some other creative liberties that help to keep this entry fresh. The enemies, for example, are not zombies or pitchfork wielding villagers, but rather the "ooze": slimy representations of humans infected by a new strain of virus. They've proven divisive, but for our money the variety of creatures, and notably the step away from previous standards, are welcome, with their jittery and slippery movements building tension when low on ammo. There are some memorable bosses that take a serious amount of weaponry to put down, and a frightening new creature that dishes out one-hit kills — the only let downs are the Hunters. These are quick beasts that try and claw your face off, which is fine, but lack a smoothness of movement even on significantly more powerful hardware.
Thankfully, the controls are reasonably strong to back up the mostly excellent campaign experience. The default GamePad controls are similar to the Circle Pad Pro option on the 3DS — it's a standard dual-stick setup, with ZL and ZR intuitively used for shooting, while the face buttons and the D-Pad are used for interaction with items, using herbs and switching primary and secondary weapons. L is an important button, as you hold it to scan areas with the Genesis, which is basically similar to scanners in Metroid Prime Trilogy and ZombiU; unlike the latter, this doesn't utilise the motion controls of the controller in any way, so you just move with the stick. The touch screen implementation is minimal, as you simply tap hotkeys to equip weapons, and there's a fairly useful map in the middle. As you only carry a limited number of guns and there are button alternatives, little is lost when playing off-TV on the GamePad — on which the visual style looks rather satisfying — or with the Wii U Pro Controller.
There are two aspects to the controls that are to the title's slight detriment, however. One is the curiously lethargic aiming, which we complained about in the demo, that makes precision a tricky beast to master. It's not critical, and we've happily played through the entire game with various satisfying head shots, but it lacks a little of the smoothness normally associated with modern games. The second carries over from the 3DS version, which is the dodge move — the manual tells you a well-timed push of the stick is enough, while the game insists on you using the stick and B at the same time; we played safe by doing the latter. It's down to individual tastes, as mastering the dodge as a creature lunges at you is tricky and adds real tension in tougher areas; some may feel it's too fiddly, especially under pressure, though we'd suggest that gunning down monsters shouldn't always be a cake walk.
For tougher gamers, Resident Evil Revelations offers up two distinct features for those up for a challenge. One is the Infernal difficulty setting for the story mode which, rather than simply make enemies stronger, shakes up level designs with masses of foes, even early in the game. We'd suggest this mode is practically impossible right from the off, but is distinctly manageable in New Game+ — where you carry over your inventory — as even the earlier moments necessitate serious firepower. All of those weapons and upgrades that you track down in Casual or Normal difficulty may feel superfluous initially, but they come into their own in this more intense offering.
The second, and sizeable, extra is Raid mode, thankfully recreated from the original title. Though it's playable in single player, we strongly recommend jumping into online co-op before blasting through levels, as two sets of guns will make lighter work and help in the pursuit of higher grades and more XP points. If one player dies, it's game over, so it's worth sticking together, at which point the GamePad screen's map becomes particularly useful. There are plenty of stages that are unlocked only by fully beating the main campaign, with increasingly difficult enemies and recommended player levels.
With this mode you can forget about tension, atmosphere and a lot of what we referenced from the campaign, as it's just an arcade-style shooting gallery; it's rather fun, as a result. As you become a veteran you'll be blasting through stages in the quest to level up and unlock more costumes, weapons, upgrades and even more difficult levels. The interface has been polished since the 3DS, so managing your inventory, selling extraneous and obsolete kit and browsing the store with your in-game currency is intuitive and easy.
This is an extra mode that can become rather engrossing due to its mindless action and well-crafted leveling system, so as a result fleshes out the package. The only downsides are the occasional jittery lag in monsters and the fact that in-game chat seems to be reserved for external headsets only; we attempted to use the GamePad microphone to no avail, making us wonder why the Revelations Wii U team didn't arrange a working lunch in the Capcom cafeteria to see how it was done by their Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate contemporaries.
That strange omission with voice chat does rather sum up the Wii U-distinct features; decent but a little phoned in. There's nice Miiverse integration with "death" messages in the campaign, while you can also write a message for a creature bearing your name to show off while being gunned down in Raid mode. We have also been impressed with the simple and effective integration with ResidentEvil.net, which tracks your progress and helps you earn more weapons and goodies. Even with off-TV play added in, however, the lack of gyroscope scanning and the failure to use the mic on the controller are small features that would have been very welcome; perhaps the latter can be added in an update. There's also a nagging sense, in wider terms, that the single player experience in particular, including its environments and set pieces, have more impact on the smaller stereoscopic screen, with the higher resolution on the TV being an adequate stand-in, rather than a natural home.
For those that haven't experienced the 3DS game, or simply want to dive in again in HD on a big screen, Resident Evil Revelations on Wii U is a worthwhile investment. This title arguably delivers the franchise experience that didn't quite succeed in Resident Evil 5 and 6, combining moody environments, scares, action set-pieces and silly, campy storytelling in one enjoyable package. Raid mode is also a fantastic extra, adding hours and hours of value as you can brainlessly gun down creatures with a stranger, leveling up as you go.
If we had to choose a version to play, we'd lean to the 3DS, as what's exceptional and a perfect fit on the handheld is more in the very good category on Wii U. If we are to have a new home console Resident Evil experience in the near future, however, this remake should be taken as the starting point, as it shows that bombast and eye-watering budgets aren't the secrets to capturing the essence of the series.