Resident Evil Revelations
Since its inception, the Resident Evil series has been largely influenced by cinema. The films of George Romero leap out as the most overt example, but there have been nods to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Pyscho, The Thing and a whole manner of other classic horror films over the years. Cinematic camera angles and B-movie acting defined the early games. With the release of 2012’s Resident Evil Revelations however, the series would turn its attention to the medium that had arguably, in the preceding decade, overtaken cinema as the cultural zeitgeist: Television.
Designed exclusively for the Nintendo 3DS, Resident Evil Revelations promised a return to the series’ survival horror roots after the action-heavy Resident Evil 5. The team at Capcom, led by Koshi Nakanishi, had worked hard to bring a console quality experience to the handheld, whilst also playing to its unique strengths. The renewed focus on horror had been inspired by the 3D display which Nakanishi saw as an opportunity to “produce a tense, scary experience with a realistic atmosphere”. To suit shorter, portable play sessions, the game was structured like a modern TV series with the story being broken up into ‘Episodes’.
The Cruise From Hell
The story is centred around FBC agents Jill Valentine and Parker Luciani as they board a ghost cruise-ship—the Queen Zenobia. Working for the Federal Bioterrorism Commission, the pair are tasked with finding Chris Redfield. Chris had previously boarded the ship in search of a terrorist group known as Veltro and has since gone missing. A year prior, Veltro had unleashed an attack on the city of Terragrigia using a horde of genetically modified creatures (Hunters to you and me) to mercilessly murder its denizens. To contain the invasion (or hide the evidence), the whole city was razed by a newly built solar powered satellite named Regia Solis. Veltro subsequently went into hiding for a year before clues of their resurgence began to emerge. Resident Evil Revelations’ narrative jumps between various viewpoints during the adventure, with Jill’s serving as the through line.
The game’s cruise-ship setting was deliberately chosen to restrict the player’s view, thanks to the abundance of narrow corridors and cramped rooms. It also gave the player a feeling of isolation due to the main characters being stranded at sea with no way to escape. The Queen Zenobia serves as an inspired horror setting. Its decadent, art-deco halls and quarters sit alongside its cold, utilitarian underbelly. The ship is explored much like a traditional Resident Evil mansion, complete with various locked doors and puzzles. Also like a traditional Resident Evil, Jill is scantily equipped and must gather and ration ammo and supplies to face the inevitable threats that inhabit the vessel.
A New Threat
As Jill and Parker board the Queen Zenobia they quickly find that it is abandoned. Dead crewmates litter the bulkheads and there is no sign of Chris. As the pair work their way into the ship, they see glimpses of movement indicating that they are not alone. Jill walks down a corridor. Ahead, a vent above clatters and bangs loudly—warping, as if something large is crawling through it. The small emergency halogen lights and Jill’s shoulder mounted flashlight barely illuminate the dank, ransacked hallways and rooms. In one room, Jill notices a gun hiding under a grate, submerged in some, seemingly organic mass. As she pulls it out, she finds a human hand still attached. Behind her a pale, creature drops from a vent, and begins shambling towards her.
Revelations, especially in these early set-pieces, is dripping with atmosphere. The claustrophobic setting, and the unfamiliar threats feel genuinely unsettling. The pale creatures that stalk Jill are referred to as Ooze and it serves as the most common enemy in the game. Unlike the zombies in previous games, the Ooze’s ability to drop from vents (which are literally at every turn on the ship) makes them a legitimate threat. Their design is absolutely horrific as well. Part Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth, part Regenerator from Resident Evil 4. Their pale, saggy, slimy skin, and unpredictable movements never fail to disgust throughout the game. They jerk and twist and they move, making it hard to target their heads, and their bodies are bullet sponges to absorb the players ammo supplies. The Ooze was certainly the scariest common enemy the series had ever seen.
Despite its attempt to hark back to the series’ horror roots, Resident Evil Revelations controls much like the third-person, action-heavy titles. Characters shoot in first-person with free-aiming. In a series first however, characters can still move whilst aiming and shooting. I was always an advocate of the fixed shooting mechanic as I felt it made for more intense encounters. Surprisingly however, Revelations manages to strike a good balance by significantly lowering the player’s movement speed. It never feels overpowered and slowly backing away from an advancing Ooze feels no less terrifying.
A key element of the gameplay involves the ‘genesis scanner’—a device which is used to scan enemies and search for hidden items. The scanner is equipped instead of a gun leaving its user somewhat vulnerable. Each enemy scanned generates a certain amount of points—depending on its type, and how closely it was scanned. For every hundred points scanned, the player receives a healing item. This is a great way of further increasing the tension as the player is incentivised to get close to enemies before attacking them. It’s an effective risk, reward system. Thorough players will be rewarded for checking every nook and cranny in each room too as there are plenty of extra bullets to find.
Elsewhere on the ship there are more dangerous variations of the Ooze, one with a projectile launching, mutated arm, and another with giant pincer like appendages. Jill’s adventure also sees her facing off against some unforgettable boss fights. The first occurs in the ship’s promenade, where (according to a found note) the Communications Officer has retreated and barricaded himself in a room to hide from the monsters.
As Jill enters the once jovial entertainment area she begins to hear a voice—a mayday message from the Communication Officer, his voice warped, unnatural and in pain. Working her way through the deck she finds the source of the message. Suddenly, a huge monstrous abomination bursts forth, knocking her to the ground. In typically Resident Evil body horror style, the officer’s still human head protrudes from the neck of the beast and screams “please stop, I’m human!” when attacked. All the while rampaging towards the player with its buzzsaw like arm.
Another boss fight involves another missing agent named Rachel. Jill finds Rachel’s last diary entry where she describes feeling unwell, and then explains how her arm has “split in two”. As she puts the diary down, the now mutated Rachel appears outside a window and whispers “found you…” before disappearing again. Jill is then periodically ambushed by the giggling, hysterical monster who moves like an Ooze, only much faster. As each of her attacks are repelled, she screams “it hurts, it hurts!” before running off sobbing. Only to then drop out from a vent once again giggling with glee. It’s terrifying.
Resident Evil Revelations’ sound design is nothing short of superb. The previously mentioned encounters are only effective because of the creepy voices, creaky doors, clanging pipes, and crashing waves. The music too is perfectly reactive with shrill orchestral stabs to accentuate the jump scares, and discordant themes to unsettle the player. It’s certainly a game that benefits from using headphones as surround sound has been implemented to match the action.
So far, I’ve been focusing on Jill’s story but as I mentioned earlier the action often switches to other perspectives. Early on, we play through a flashback of the incident at Terragrigia from the perspective of Parker. He fights through dozens of Hunters with another FBC agent named Jessica. Another sees Chris and Jessica hiking through the snowy mountains of Europe to observe a Veltro hideout. They fight through dozens of zombie wolves along the way. At one point Chris is overwhelmed. Jessica rushes to his aid shouting “Me and my sweet ass are on the way!”—quite possibly the best/worst line since “Jill sandwich.” While these action heavy sections provide a relief from the tension of Jill’s story, they feel completely disposable. They remind you of why the survival horror gameplay was so missed in the first place.
Plot a Course
Nevertheless, in terms of pacing, the story is full of twists and turns, peaks and troughs. It really does feel like a high-quality HBO TV series. Jumping between various characters and flashbacks to slowly unravel the mysteries of the plot works surprisingly well. It also allows for cliff-hangers as we are forced to leave characters in mortal peril. Between ‘episodes’ we are also treated to a recap with the stereotypical line “Previously on Resident Evil Revelations…”. It’s good fun.
The plot itself is easy to follow but some of the finer details were bordering on Metal Gear Solid levels of confusing. As well as the Federal Bioterrorism Commission, there is also the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance. I could never quite understand why the two groups co-existed. Or why they seemed to be clashing with each other whilst doing the same thing. By the end, I kept forgetting who worked for who and who was double crossing the other. Ultimately it didn’t really matter. The plot boils down to a terrorist group (with a confusing motive) wanting to unleash a virus. The rest is just dealing with whatever situation the game throws at you and enjoying the sheer spectacle of it.
A Resident Evil Revelation
It’s honestly amazing what the team at Capcom managed to pull off on the 3DS with Revelations. The game is commonly regarded amongst the most graphically impressive on the system. The character models are incredibly detailed, and the lighting is superb—it looks fantastic on the low-resolution 3D display. The game was later ported to the PC, Wii U, Xbox 360, and PS3 and then again to current gen consoles. Though the character models and textures were given a HD makeover, the game could never quite hide its humble, handheld origins. Sadly, on these systems the graphics became a common criticism with the previously impressive atmosphere suffering as a result.
It’s a shame because Revelations has since become something of an overlooked title in the series. While the game as a whole might not be perfect (the last third is primarily the less interesting action set-pieces) Jill’s fight for survival aboard the Queen Zenobia makes it a must play for fans of the series. The game is ideally played on the handheld it was designed for (preferably one with a circle pad) and with headphones on and lights out. Resident Evil Revelations is full of twists and turns, intrigue and investment, and all the tension and thrills of your favourite television show.