The ideal audio/visual setup for playing a survival-horror game is, and will always be, the biggest, clearest image-producing television and highest quality surround sound you can possibly afford without rendering yourself bankrupt and your living space filled with heat-emitting electronic equipment. Getting spooked is ostensibly more of a rarity when these specifications aren’t met, that is, until Capcom decided to bring Resident Evil, the series that’s more or less the flagship for its genre, to Nintendo’s newest portable. Even with gorgeous titles like Super Mario 3D Land still a graphical benchmark, the true visual prowess of the 3DS hasn’t been exposed until now. Flat out, Resident Evil: Revelations is the most handsome game on the system to date—a true aesthetic homerun, with Capcom delivering an astounding level of detail to every inch of the game’s smaller-scale (in comparison to its console brethren) environment. Having tinkered around with Sony’s PlayStation Vita, the 3DS’s generational rival, enough to formulate a halfway well-informed verdict, and using Revelations as a comparison, the almighty Nintendo just might have the edge as it stands. Unfortunately, as tremendous as Revelations is in the looks department, it falters in a number of other critical categories, enough to degrade the overall product to less than conclusively transcendent.
Taking place between the events of Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 5, Revelations possesses one of the series’s most innovative and interesting core gameplay settings, but at the same time, one of the lamest storylines, rife with plotting idiocy, contradictions, and horrendous dialogue. In a callback to the original Resident Evil, BSAA agents and formidable heroes Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield assume lead roles here, albeit spending much of the game separated from each other. Following a bioterrorist response to the establishment of an ill-advised solar-powered city near the Mediterranean, a renegade organization, the increasingly corrupt, esoteric Il Veltro lays waste to the areas within and surrounding the fictional isle of Terragrigia. Long story short: people died, zombies-on-speed-like creatures called Ooze began stalking the lands, and Chris Redfield, along with his new partner Jessica Sherawat, have gone missing on board a transport vessel that previously transported tourists to Terragrigia, the foreboding SS Queen Zenobia. Enter Jill and schlubby mission cohort Parker Luciani, tasked with locating Redfield and delving deeper into the mystery of Il Veltro. Conceptually, the Queen Zenobia is a marvel of course design, easily standing alongside the celebrated Spencer Mansion of Arklay Mountains as a touchstone for Resident Evil chapters to come.
Revelations positively hemorrhages atmospheric flourishes. From the gloomy, bloodstained, clandestine corridors of the doomed cruise ship, to the signature freaky soundscapes, Capcom, via system downsizing, has managed to recapture the dark magic that made past console entries so pictorially triumphant. Strangely enough, playing on the confined dual screens of the 3DS, with the 3D function substantially engaged, makes for a paranoia-inducing, emotionally inveigling experience. Lamentably, for every notch in the ornamental win column, there’s a sister tally in the scripting fail category. The interactions between Jill and Parker are downright boneheaded, with shoehorned-in swearwords to, I don’t know, make an already M-rated game come off as more adult. Antagonist regime Il Veltro, and its insane leader Jack Norman compared to the likes of Albert Wesker, or, hell, even Ramon Salazar and Las Plagas, is drastically underdeveloped.
As I progressed closer to the game’s endpoint, I continued to hold out faith that the narrative would take a turn for the marginally coherent, ushering in bits and pieces of clarification and character molding, shying away from the absurdities that I had been exposed to for the preceding 10 hours. No such luck. The game is basically a storytelling faux pas from start to finish. This is a surprise, as the writer is Dai Satō, who is credited with some of the strongest anime episode screenplays in recent memory (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Eureka Seven, Ergo Proxy). Resident Evil has never been about plot device fluidity or composed believability, but when its firing on all cylinders, executing an equal balance of improbability and cleverness, a one-of-a-kind result is formulated. With Resident Evil 6 on its way down the pipeline, I hope the development team, which is largely comprised of different people than those who worked on Revelations, can reaffirm my ideology.
Control-wise, Revelations is hit or miss. The game contextually plays much like a narrowed RE4 and RE5, appropriately adding the extremely useful ability to fire off rounds while running, but, without the use of the $20 Circle Pad Pro peripheral, you may end up contracting carpal tunnel syndrome after long bouts of Ooze-slaying. Without the extended ease of the Circle Pad Pro, maneuverability within the tight alcoves of the Queen Zenobia is sporadically clumsy on a good day and outright maddening on a bad one. That publishers dropped the game’s initially $50 price tag down to $40 was obviously a sign that purchasing the 3DS extension was a readily apparent necessity. Is Resident Evil: Revelations a title worth shelling out $60 for to achieve the fullest fun factor? Eh, not really. Waiting for Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D or Kid Icarus: Uprising just might be the route to go if a Circle Pad Pro is in your future.
Revelations offers some mentionable extra scenarios like the Resident Evil: Mercenaries-style Raid, which is essentially a condensed, boss-rushy faster-paced version of the main quest. It can be played co-op in the form of both WiFi and local modes, and represents considerable replay value, but, as is traditional, Resident Evil is best experienced solo, in darkness, with maybe one or two friends close by to egg you on.
As much as Revelations is a treat for the senses, it dissipates its potential victorious status with a garbage apologue and iffy control scheme. It’s not a cardinal acquisition for 3DS owners, only the veritably completionist Resident Evil diehards. That said, anyone who doubts that the 3DS isn’t a force to be reckoned with in the handheld market need look no further for irrefutable proof.