Still Playing: Resident Evil Revelations

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Two incomplete ROMs of the canned Resident Evil for Game Boy Color were released into the public domain early last year. It was cancelled, it emerged, after Capcom deemed the port not scary enough. How ironic that these should arrive around the same time as Resident Evil Revelations on 3DS, which proved that survival horror and a portable Nintendo device could enjoy a successful partnership after all.

Revelations may not carry the same impact as the original PSOne game did in its day, but played late at night with a decent pair of earbuds, there’s a potency to its horrors that’s arguably been absent from the series since Shinji Mikami gave it a shot of adrenaline in Resident Evil 4. If that game and those that followed lacked one thing, it was a single location designed to induce a claustrophobic unease, the cramped corridors and dusty rooms of the Spencer Mansion generating a constant, gnawing sense of dread that gave its relatively scarce jolts a greater potency. The reason the Queen Zenobia evokes that same tension is because it’s essentially a floating version of the same residence – with the added bonus of a network of vents, offering enemies plenty of opportunities to drop in unannounced.

Said monsters may be fairly nondescript meatsacks, but these wobbly, uneven masses of flesh and spikes are vicious, powerful and the range of their attacks means any distance you keep from them is rarely a safe one. Worse, the paucity of healing items forces you to regularly scan enemies to earn points towards a single herb. Naturally, live enemies are worth a higher percentage than dead ones, and keeping a bead on these shambling foes as they lurch ever closer is an inspired piece of risk/reward design. It’s even more pronounced when you’ve enabled gyroscopic aiming, the natural instability of your movements as hazardous to your health as the mutants you’re tracking.

It’s still a modern Resident Evil game, with everything that implies, but Revelations better combines the values of old and new Resi than 5 and 6, and it does so by compartmentalising the horror and the action. Chris Redfield and Jessica Sherawat’s trek through icy terrain sees the pair face off against mutated wolves, but while their speed and ferocity should make you feel vulnerable, the pair’s powerful arsenal offers reassurance that’s rarely found aboard the Zenobia. Capcom attempted a similar trick with Resident Evil 6, but in each of its four campaigns it can’t resist the temptation to use the extra processing power to put more enemies on screen. Under survival horror law, more enemies means more munitions, and so you rarely feel exposed. As such, its action is breathless but rarely breathtaking. Revelations’ pacing, by comparison is an irresistible foxtrot: slow, slow, quick, quick, slow.

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