It’s a bit odd that Resident Evil: Revelations 2 goes with Kafka as a motif. Sure, the plot involves the literal metamorphosis of an old foe and, in classic over-the-top Resident Evil fashion, is a convoluted mess-terpiece of mythological references to viruses and visionaries from previous games. But while some of the game’s areas are certainly nightmarish, such as a tunnel of strung-up doll parts and a fog-filled forest, they’re not overly complex. Backtracking has been pared down to a minimum, used only to sustain a tense moment, and the game’s focused, episodic structure forces each scenario to be relatively short. There isn’t a single sequence that lasts longer than 90 minutes, and that’s only if you’re investigating every corner, looking for hidden collectibles. (Some speed runners have already completed the entire game in under two hours.)
Still, whether the Kafka allusions are accurate or not, the game certainly feels inspired, coupling the action sequences from Resident Evil 6 with the survival horror of Resident Evil: Revelations, and throwing in a few new twists to boot. Each episode consists of two playable scenes. In one, series staple Claire Redfield and her gun-phobic protégé Moira Burton are abducted by a woman calling herself the Overseer. In the other, Moria’s father, Barry, joins up with a mysterious girl named Natalia and traces his daughter’s path across Zabytij Island, hoping that she’s not dead. The twist is that Barry’s mission takes place six months after Claire’s, which produces an effective Lost-like narrative mystery—and because he revisits some of the same locations, actions taken in one scenario can affect the other.
That said, as with television shows, some episodes are better than others. Claire’s portion of “Judgement” is a highlight, as it not only features some deviously trapped puzzle rooms, but also a timed escape sequence that forces players to utilize both characters, swapping between them to unlock paths and find better vantage points. On the other hand, Barry’s section is filled with a gauntlet of invisible enemies that can kill you in one hit, and the need to constantly shift between Natalia’s ESP-boosted viewpoint and Barry’s guns brings out the worst of the single-player co-op. (To be fair, there’s a split-screen option that alleviates this concern for those with local multiplayer.) On the other hand, these short episodes also allow Revelations 2 to experiment with environmental hazards and survival challenges that bring Resident Evil 4 to mind. One moment you’re outlasting a siege of the Afflicted; the next you’re figuring out how to operate the various switches and levers of a giant crane in order to create an escape route. In an underground abattoir, you’ll have to wisely use choke points to defend yourself; in a series of abandoned mines, you’ll have to choose your path wisely, lest the poisonous fumes knock you out. (There are also two bonus episodes available, each with their own unique mechanics.)
These varied design choices extend toward the enemies as well, especially in Barry’s scenes, as Natalia’s perception allows her to sense monsters through walls and to pick out their weak points. The gangly, multi-limbed revenants bring Dead Space’s necromorphs to mind, and each type of zombie has its own speed. The problem is that, while your foes have decent AI, scrambling up walls and crates to ensure that there are no safe locations to snipe from, your partner does not. Being stealthy is rarely an option—not because the controls are unresponsive, but because Moira and Natalia (neither of whom can use a gun) tend to stand out in the open. Worse, how enjoyable you find the boss sequences will depend entirely on how many hidden gems you’ve collected, as you’ll need the BP they provide to upgrade crucial skills, such as the distance you travel when evading an attack, and how quickly you recover from doing so.
These complaints are far from crippling, and the generous checkpoints ensure that only perfectionists who’re attempting to medal each level will be irritated by the occasionally janky combat. Moreover, the arcade Raid Mode, in which there’s just one controllable character (with online co-op coming on 3/31), proves that Revelations 2’s controls aren’t to blame. Remixing the episodes into even smaller segments and then populating them with super-powered zombies is the action-packed gauntlet fans of the original Resident Evil never knew they wanted. Not only does this massively extend the game’s replayability, but, as it did for the original Revelations, it allows Capcom to have its zombie-killing cake without compromising the scarier moments of the main campaign.