Jill's got a nautical-themed pashmina afghan.
I think Revelations is compelling because it hybridizes the two types of RE games. Younger readers may not realize this, but before RE4, the series was famous for its terrible "tank" controls, sparse ammo, an inability to aim, and way too much key finding and door unlocking. However, the old games arguably did "fear" much better than the new ones. I've said before that RE4 and RE5 aren't so much scary as stressful—protecting Ashley from hoards of Plagas-infested villagers isn't the same as being stalked by a mutated, virtually invulnerable super-soldier with a rocket launcher. The old games were also much more atmospheric, relying on ambient noise and excellent pacing to deliver shocks and scares. The newer games fix the controls and aiming, but have also toned down the fear factor. Revelations is a great hybrid—it plays like RE4 and RE5 (with some improvements), but the atmosphere and progression are decidedly more of a throwback.
Sadly, Revelations’ storyline is absolutely inconsequential to the larger mythos of the series, which greatly disappointed me. All the characters except series veterans Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield are new and, for the most part, stupid. Two characters in particular—Jackass and Grinder (those are their appropriate codenames)—have almost no redeeming value. The game is split into 12 episodes, and each episode has two chapters. While you play about 50% of the game as Jill Valentine, you will take control of one of the periphery characters from time to time, including Jill's new partner Parker, Chris, and those idiots whom I spoke of earlier, but these characters aren’t interesting at all. The storyline is fairly predictable, but there are some truly stupid plot twists that will make you hang your head in shame, and a few of the art direction choices are horrifying: the hairstyle of a particular character and the legless catsuit of another are groan-inducing. The real letdown is that Revelations doesn't set up the backstory of RE5 at all—we'll see if the new T-Abyss virus is even mentioned in the upcoming RE6.
Let’s talk about the production values: they’re spectacular. This is easily the best-looking game on the system, Super Mario 3D Land not withstanding (though it’s a different kind of beautiful). The character models and animations are smooth and mostly impressive. Everyone looks like they were taken straight out of RE5. Hunters, in particular, have never looked better. Not all of the enemy characters have the same level of polish, though: standard “Zoidberg” enemies and the later shielded creatures look fine, but the mutant wolves and two-headed fat guys seem unfinished. And even though the game takes place (mostly) on a ghost ship, that ship is shockingly diverse in its localities. And the few times where the story takes you to other worldwide places, the environments are just as impressive and feel completely different. The music is great and adds to the creepy vibe early in the game, but the more adventurous themes that fill your ears during the game’s final hours are not particularly effective (maybe I’ve been spoiled by RE5’s “Manjini IX -In Flames-”). The game uses the system’s 3D effect to great effect—you can even further enhance the effect in the options menu, which I highly recommend trying.
The game controls almost exactly like Mercenaries 3D, but adds two important new features: the ability to strafe (by holding the L button) and the "Genesis device." If you played the demo, you know it as the "Item Scanner," the name I will continue to use. You toggle between the scanner and your gun by tapping up on the D-pad. It's a wonderful tool that lets you find hidden items in rooms. Ammo is usually pretty scarce on its own, but the Item Scanner helps you find more in a pinch. Its other utility is scanning live or dead enemies, which builds up a percentage meter. Once you hit 100%, you are rewarded with a free health item. I do wish there was more information on enemies given (à la Metroid Prime), but it works for what it does. One other nice addition, though I haven’t mastered it, is the ability to dodge enemy attacks. There are also a few missions involving swimming, and the swimming is passable. At the time of this writing, I was unable to try the game with a Circle Pad Pro, but if I do procure one, I’ll write up separate impressions.
Similarly to Mercenaries 3D, you pick up perks with which to customize your equipment, including giving your guns larger clips, more power, a faster fire rate, and even the ability to "charge" a shot. You will find different parts in normal mode compared to hard mode (which you need to unlock), so there's good incentive to try that harder difficulty—though let me tell you, you'll need those new, better parts! While you can only carry three guns at a time, gun crates stashed around the ship let you swap them out and make new customizations. It's a fun system, and really lets you play to your individual style.
Once you've killed the final boss (bring a rocket launcher) and beat the story mode, you can start to tackle Raid Mode, which is Revelations' version of Mercenaries, but crossed a bit with Call of Duty's online multiplayer mode. Instead of dedicated maps, however, you'll find yourself traversing story mode maps, trying to mow down enemies in an attempt to get to the end of the stage in the best time possible and getting as many kills as you can. Once the stage ends, you are given points to use in the Raid Mode store (better guns, better perks) and experience, which levels up your character. You can choose a variety of characters, and unlock more the better you become. I found it very rewarding to go back to previous maps with better equipment and just blow through them for XP. Raid Mode allows solo play, local wireless, and online co-op. Online co-op was really hit or miss for me: I was only able to join one out of every five matches I tried, and if you don't successfully connect with somebody around the same level you are, you'll be facing very strong enemies that you aren't ready for. Hopefully, once the game launches in the U.S., there will be more options and more games to join (I never encountered more than six lobbies).
The game also has tons of unlockable content based on your performance in both the story mode and Raid Mode—you’ll get new characters, new costumes, new guns, and new perks all the time.
There are, however, some less stellar portions of the game. There are a few chapters—always with peripheral characters—that amount to “stave off waves of enemies until something happens.” These are frustrating areas of the game because they’re obnoxious kill rooms and your AI partner never helps in a meaningful way. That’s another fairly irritating part of the game: any time you’re stuck with an AI partner (just like RE5), things go a little downhill. They’re chatty (especially Chris’ bimbo partner), unhelpful, and break up the game’s otherwise tense atmosphere. I felt nothing for them, and I was quite happy when one of these peripheral characters seemingly died in a fire. There’s also a bit of a lull in enemy design—you’ll fight standard Ooze enemies for most of the game, but during the second half you’ll come across a few more imposing creatures. Boss battles are quite good, though—the second-to-last boss is particularly epic.
Despite these few setbacks, however, Resident Evil: Revelations is an impressive game that’s great fun. Though its contribution to the larger mythos is inconsequential, the game’s story mode presents a good challenge and some genuinely hair-raising moments, and Raid Mode is fun, addictive, and rewarding. I bought a 3DS on the promise of Revelations, and I’m so happy with how it turned out. Despite my complaints, I believe it is greater than the sum of its parts. This is definitely going to keep me busy for a good long time.