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Game Review: Resident Evil: Revelations

For: Nintendo 3DS

From: Capcom

ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, language)

Price: $40

After Capcom insulted 3DS owners last year with the laughably shallow and overpriced "Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D," you'd be forgiven for dismissing "Resident Evil: Revelations" as yet another thoughtless cash-in.

You'd be wrong, but you'd be forgiven.

To the contrary, and staggeringly so, "Revelations" is the real deal - a console-quality "Resident Evil" game that arguably surpasses the series' excellent recent console efforts, and a showcase piece for a system that may be more powerful than you'd figured.

"Revelations" illuminates the murky timeline leading into the events of 2009's "Resident Evil 5," and the approach it takes - pieced into episodes like a television show, and fronted by multiple playable protagonists at different points in the timeline - is a novel venture for the series.

The obvious benefits apply, with the episodic approach (and complementary save/checkpoint system) giving "Revelations" some welcome portable-friendly breaks in the action. The structure also keeps the story on point: Every episode, even when ending on a cliffhanger, contains its own satisfying story arc, and the multiple characters and timelines keep developments cropping up at an engrossing pace.

In a more surprising benefit, the episodic structure also lets "Revelations" be all things "Resident Evil" at once.

Jill Valentine returns to carry the bulk of "Revelations' " playable character weight, and her scenes - set almost exclusively aboard a gargantuan cruise liner crawling with secrets - are a callback to the original "Resident Evil's" sprawling mansion. The enemy count is sparse, but so is Jill's ammo, and the threat of significant peril around any given corner - even when tracing old steps to access previously inaccessible corridors - provides the best blend yet of the franchise's contemporary gameplay and original ethos.

In contrast - and without spoiling the who or where - the segments starring other characters unfold in a variety of environments that favor heavier action and a more linear progression.

Impressively, "Revelations" can handle both styles even if you pass on the $20 Circle Pad Pro attachment, which gives the 3DS a second analog pad. The attachment wasn't available for testing with "Revelations," but it wasn't needed.

Hypothetically, "Revelations" - which adopts "RE5's" third-person perspective but offers an optional first-person view when guns are drawn - is better without it. With only one pad, combat becomes a tense compromise between positioning and firing instead of mindless running and gunning, and during those moments where big trouble breaks loose in small spaces and death can come quick, being just a little purposefully hamstrung by the controls adds to the excitement. The controls are responsive, the touchscreen adds a second layer of intuitive access, and it's almost fun to fight the game when it's by design and the design is this sharp.

"Revelations" adds a weird new wrinkle with a scanning device that lets Jill and others analyze the environment for hidden items and enemy data. Initially, its implementation feels clumsy, because you have to stash your weapon to use the scanner. But that, of course, is the point: If you want the rewards, you have to holster your gun and assume the risks of doing so. Yet again, "Revelations" mixes intuitive design with deliberate inconvenience to turn a quirky mechanic into a tense gamble.

Presentationally, "Revelations" is a testament to the 3DS' surprising power, with console-quality graphics that pop beautifully with the 3D maxed out. The sound design is stellar, and you'd do very well to play this one with headphones on.

Amusingly, "Revelations" also includes a mode - playable solo or wirelessly/online with another player - that basically mimics the sole mode that comprised "Mercenaries." It might be the first time a $40 game has included a $50 game as a bonus feature, but regardless, it's a welcome (and fitting) concession from a studio that got it all the way right this time.

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