In a way, Resident Evil: Revelations 2 is a return to classic form for Capcom’s series: the cinematic, explosion-heavy exhibitions are gone, in favor of old-fashioned, slow-paced hallway horror with a vague plot. You play as four characters divided into two teams: Claire with Moira, and Barry with Natalia. Claire and Moira are abducted at a party, and wake up in an abandoned mental asylum somewhere near Russia. Barry, veteran of the Resident Evil series and also Moira’s father, searches for the two women and meets young Natalia along the way.
Revelations 2 has been released in weekly episodes -- a first for a major studio release. So, has it worked?
Surprisingly, yes. This is how you release episodic content, publishers. Once a week, none of the standard “once every two or three months” nonsense. The tight release schedule actually kept me interested; the idea here is that you’d play a few hours through an episode, then come back the next week for more, like a TV show. It’s an interesting experiment for a video game.
Now this may not be a “full price” release ($25 for the season pass/$5.99 per episode/$39.99 in disc form with all DLC), but there’s a lot of content here. The four main episodes take about ten hours to complete, and alongside the surprisingly entertaining Raid Mode, there’s a ludicrous number of unlockables and multiplayer potential.
At its core, this plays much like the first Revelations and Resident Evil Five; (I likened it to RE4 at first, but you couldn’t walk and shoot in RE4) the same over-the-shoulder camera and awkward movements. But there are two sets of playable characters, and you swap between their stories in each episode. It’s a nice change of pace, if you want it to be -- Claire and Barry are pretty similar, serving as the muscle in their respective duos. But things get more interesting if you switch to the secondary “support” characters -- Moira, who happens to be Barry’s daughter by the way -- refuses to use firearms. Instead she gets a flashlight that can blind enemies. The tension this creates works especially well when Claire is low on ammo, so you switch to Moira to conserve your stock.
Revelations 2 is definitely uneven when it comes to pacing, but gameplay is rarely dull. Where it shines isn’t the gore -- though there’s plenty of that if it’s your thing -- it’s the atmosphere: A pitch black forest infested with zombies, a claustrophobic cave filled with bloody, hanging dolls -- and the mansion. Those are legitimately unsettling. It’s still mostly jumps scares, but certain spots are replete with uncomfortable environments and unsettling music.
There’s also multiple endings. You’re encouraged to go through the game multiple times on separate difficulty and challenge modes, with harder and more evolved enemies. If you want a hard game, Revelations 2 will accommodate you. Capcom’s made an episodic game that’s cheap but definitely worth playing, complete with cheesy one-liners from Claire and Barry.
Raid Mode offers up daily missions as well as a large stack of normal built-in missions that you can tackle solo or with friends, shooting zombies to upbeat dance music in varied settings (e.g. the middle of a blizzard, a school lecture room, etc.) for points, weapons customizations, and trophies; think of it as "arcade mode." It helps extend the life of Revelations 2 past the four main episodes (and two bonus ones, if you purchase them).
So, job done, then! Well…
Revelations 2 has its own fair share of issues, the most obvious of which is how it looks. Maybe it’s just the Xbox One version -- I remember the PS4 demo looking better. Cutscenes are great, but the actual gameplay isn’t so super to behold.
There’s a weird disparity between tension and the calm -- you get eerie music and sound when there are enemies around, but if you take them all out, it goes silent. So the drama sort of falls on its face. It’d be great if this was used to lull you into a false sense of security, but that almost never happens on Casual and Normal (I imagine this may be different on Survival, but I'm not enough of a masochist to find out).
Speaking of difficulty, the levels feel unbalanced. Casual is easy for obvious reasons, but Normal is a big step up where enemies are much smarter and tougher, while your supplies are much more limited. It’s definitely beatable once you level up perks, but you’ll run into unexpected roadblocks that you’re entirely unprepared for. Capcom seems to have this obsession with ending every stage with a monumentally difficult boss that absorbs all of your items and ammunition before giving up the ghost. Funny how that works. In a world where bullets are scarce and you're a meatbag, this can be frustrating to battle against.
What makes this worse is your AI partner is -- well there’s no other word for it -- stupid. When you play as Moira, Claire will literally stand next to you and do nothing while enemies tear you apart (even after you buy the perk to let AI-controlled Claire use her firearms). She has guns but never wants to use them. It rarely feels like the two of them are complementary; instead, whoever's not being controlled seems like dead weight.
Barry and Natalia get much better levels, where you often have to switch between the two to accomplish something (e.g. operating a crane, opening sluices). Solo players will probably enjoy Barry’s episodes more (though it must be said that there's almost no fun to be had while playing as Natalia, she is an excellent AI partner. Especially when invisible enemies emerge).
There are plenty of “puzzles” in Revelations 2, but calling them that is being generous; you’ll spend a heap of time trudging through what’s usually just boring fetch quests, in the same style, over and over again. Need a key to open a door? Have fun, it's on the other side of the level, behind 30 enemies and a miniboss. Sometimes they’re done in interesting ways, like the slaughterhouse (shooting down chunks of pig meat to fill a meat grinder) and gas mine (rushing through poisonous clouds to reach a switch), but more often than not it amounts to “find X on a shelf to open a door.” It won’t challenge your brain, just your patience.
Revelations 2 is an interesting gamble: A triple-A title presented in episodes rather than all at once. I’m not convinced that Capcom couldn’t have presented the same game in a conventional format, but this is still a lot of fun.