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Resident Evil Revelations 2 (THE NOW)

Resident Evil isn’t dead.  It’s gasping for breath, trying to put pressure on a mortal wound.

Revelations 2 is the episodic sequel to 2012’s Resident Evil Revelations, following returning character Claire Redfield keeping herself and intern Moira Burton alive in the face of a “zombie” outbreak – and also fan favourite character Barry Burton, Moira’s father, teaming up with a psychic girl named Natalia to investigate Moira’s disappearance.

There are two core reasons I can imagine for why a person would take interest in this game: to see how a non-Telltale developer handles the episodic game production model, or to watch Capcom’s flailing attempt to regain fan support by offering a twisted take on their demands (“Oh, you liked Revelations? Let’s churn out a budget game, chop it up into four pieces, and call it Revelations 2.  Want us to bring back legacy characters? Here’s Barry Burton as imagined by people who liked Taken.  Want a game that’s unsettling, creative, and genuinely frightening? Um… here’s more Ganados-looking things.”)

To the first I say, admirable effort despite the flaws.  To the second, that’s pretty cynical but also par for the course – I can’t even begin to imagine what a new Mega Man game would look like, in modern Capcom’s hands.

We’ll discuss each episode on a case-by-case basis below, but let’s get the broad strokes out of the way: innovation does not factor into this game.  Playing any Resident Evil game after 4 prepares you for this particular experience; it is simply improved thanks to the implementation of such shocking features as “being able to move while aiming your gun” and “characters running more naturally and less like raging bulls”.

The characters aren’t cyphers or ill-suited, just one-dimensional and mostly defined by their roles.  Claire is the consummate professional, a working woman who doubles as a quietly experienced zombie expert.  Moira is the irritable teenager who resents her father.  Natalia is a child.  And Barry… actually, Barry’s got more going on but it almost feels like deliberate sabotage, casting him as the overzealous “Father knows EVERYTHING” character – when historically he comes across as an example of the father figure character in its best light.

I will, of course, concede this point: somewhere between the end of Episode 2 and the middle of Episode 3, the characters and the way they interact with the world becomes good.  Backstories and important details come to light, adding what I feel is essential sentiment to the plot – we now have reasons to care about these characters, to treat them as sympathetic yet flawed people.  Nothing I say will take away from that.

That having been said, no one element steps forward to truly elevate the standard gameplay.  The setting is a forested island, not unlike the woodland environments in Alan Wake or Deadly Premonition.  The music did not inspire in me fear or anxiety, but rather reminded me of better soundtracks – Silent Hill 2, for instance.  There is ample grey-and-brown interiors, and blood is occasionally spilt, but it rarely felt visceral or grotesque.  It bored me for the most part, though sometimes it came close to being inspired.

Revelations 2 is a frustrating mess, a mixed bag that spends its back half apologizing and smoothing over my irritation over the first half.  If you still want an episode-by-episode breakdown, keep reading – but we are now firmly in SPOILER TERRITORY.

Episode 1 – Penal Colony

Remember TerraSave, the non-profit activist group from that one computer-generated Resident Evil movie? They’re still kicking around – and can apparently host really classy wine-and-cheese parties, but skimp on their advertising budget (Seriously, find a clip of that fake TerraSave ad – it had to be intentionally awful.  Only time I chuckled in this game.)

Anyway, Claire and Moira are kidnapped by a faceless military group and drugged into unconsciousness.  They awaken in an underground prison, watched by a mysterious woman known only as the Overseer.  Oh, and the prison’s overrun by mutated humans of all shapes and sizes.  Oh, and they have bracelets that supposedly monitor their fear levels, complete with colour-coated warning lights.  Oh, and the prison’s part of an island somewhere in the middle of an ocean.

The Claire-Moira section fares best in my eyes.  It doesn’t seem to run too long and its pacing serves to amplify the few jump scares present into decently unsettling scenes.  Though I imagine dodging the spinning blades and the sequence with the flame trap will prove mildly irritating, if not outright upsetting.

Once our heroines make their plea for help (and end their section on a money shot of the island prison in question), it’s Barry’s time to “shine”.

Barry shows up having received the transmission.  Upon stepping on shore, he encounters Natalia, who accompanies and occasionally assists his journey across the island.  And tolerates his depressing attempts at one liners.  If I recall correctly, one went:

Natalie: “Barry?”

Barry: “That’s right.  Don’t wear it out.”

Yep – apparently Barry went to the Danny Zuko School of Self-Serving Quips.

This portion of the episode felt like it dragged more, despite going through a lot.  Somehow, in the course of an hour, I had the duo of Barry and Natalia climb a cliffside, go through the same prison and the same traps as Claire and Moira, find themselves forced to search for a backup route, go through a forest, fight a horde of mutant creatures, sort out a malfunctioning crane to get past a gate, and walk ten paces.  All that in a reasonable amount of time, and yet I felt barely engaged for the cliffhanger ending.

And let’s discuss this cliffhanger.  The setup is simple: Barry and Natalia arrive at the radio tower from which Claire and Moira sent their transmission.  Only problem? It happened six months ago – and also Natalia recognizes Moira by name, declaring her dead.

So… Barry is so out of touch with his daughter, so outside her social circle, that he didn’t realize she was missing until six months had passed? He’s a long time friend of the Redfield family, and the next episode indicates he’s part of the BSAA along with Claire’s brother Chris – surely Claire and Moira’s disappearance couldn’t have gone unnoticed for that long.  And on that note, what the hell was Chris doing all this time?  His sister and the daughter of his old friend are missing, and he doesn’t lift a finger?

I can’t believe this is appropriate, but here you go.

Episode 2 – Contemplation

I’m beginning to see the formula here: first Claire and Moira experience the vaguely horrifying part of the episode, then Barry and Natalia clean up the leftover monsters.  Interesting setup, sketchy execution.

We’re greeted by a group of other TerraSave members trapped on the island: including Neil, Claire and Moira’s boss;  Gabe, the guy who wants to get a helicopter working for a triumphant escape;  and Pedro, the token drill-wielder whose death clock is quickly counting down.  It’s a hop and a skip before all hell breaks loose, and we are again compelled to flee.

This proved to be a frustrating section for me.  Death came easily, and the course to either defeat enemies or get to the objective point was not as apparent as I wanted.  Mid-way through, a boss battle with a large fire-shooting enemy and a surplus of Pyramid Head-type grunts only exasperated the issue.  And the less said about our drill-bearing friend, the better.

Still, it accomplished what it needed to: showing Natalia’s first encounter with Claire and Moira.  And then ends on what is both a downer and an open-ended note.

In the present day, Barry and Natalia make for the tower briefly shown beforehand.  Their tale can once again be summarized as “Go from Point A to Point B, with minor diversions for items or a boss encounter”.  Aside from a less frustrating redux of the battle with Zombified Drill Master Pedro, this is a guided tour through better (or at least more engaging) times.

But the reveal almost makes it worth it… because of how much it amused me that our big bad villain for the game, the sinister Overseer, is named Alex.  Alex the fearsome, Alex the despicable, Alex… the other living Wesker sibling alluded to in documents from Resident Evil 5.

Yes, because the thing that will really save this game’s story is a mildly obscure continuity nod.

Episode 3 – Judgement

And it is at this point that the title becomes prophetic – my “judgement” of this game has begun to shift from “outright worthless” to “almost good”.  Almost.

Claire and Moira find a conspicuous letter from Neil, telling them to head for the nearby factory.  This leads to a scavenger hunt and some wading through blood-filled chambers courtesy of Alex (tee-hee), resulting in one of the series’ more bombastic set-pieces: a desperate escape from said factory’s fiery explosion, complete with Claire and Moira leaping to safety in slow-motion.

And the near-enjoyment doesn’t stop there.  The duo keep the party going straight into the tower, finding out that – gasp! – Neil’s a dirty double agent for Alex (his disappearance last episode was not conspicuous at all).  Cue boss fight, only give Neil a dose of Resident Evil 5‘s Uroboros and turn him into a hulking mass of muscle.

Then there’s the mid-point choice.  That reference to Telltale doesn’t feel as out-of-place anymore.

It’s a matter of which leading lady gets to firing the killing shot on Neil: Claire or Moira.  My understanding is letting Claire do the deed leads into this game’s “bad” ending, while having Moira overcome her dislike of guns (which, I admit, is the much-desired character growth I’d been aching for) leads to the “good” conclusion.  Naturally, I went with Moira.

Switch over to Barry and Natalia, who actually get to do something for a change.  Their encounter with Alex (tee-hee) turns to frantic fleeing, leading the duo into now-dry sewer tunnels.

This sequence – beginning with Barry giving an injured Natalia a piggy-back ride – actually came close to tugging at my heartstrings.  I heard the pain and regret in Barry’s voice, as he recounted the tale of Moira’s worst day.  Suddenly, Barry’s apparent transition into Liam Neeson mode starts to unravel – he doesn’t believe he knows everything, and he recognizes how imperfect he really is.  It might be the closest to a genuine revelation that the game reaches.

And then he and Natalia tag-team their way past actual, honest-to-god zombies, opening flood gates in order to proceed.  Everything about the journey through the sewers felt like a genuine love letter to days gone by, like Capcom at long last started to find their footing.  These zombies were rotted corpses,  shuffling along in ragged clothes.  The joy I felt… after having fought not-zombies and mutant dog beasts for some time, it was refreshing.

The puzzle solving in the mining area isn’t too shabby, either.  Something of a light boss encounter – which I retroactively recognize as foreshadowing – shows up while dealing with the moving of a power generator.  There’s some combat with a few assorted mutants, on the way to the escape elevator (and our next cliffhanger).

As to our conclusion – yep, Alex is back.

Barry gets tossed off a cliff, Natalia gets grabbed, Alex mugs for the camera.  Then she looks Natalia in the eye – judging by the piercing shriek, she must not have liked what she saw.

Episode 4 – Metamorphosis

Thus, it comes to an end.  And what better way to precede the end then with a light jaunt through Cerebro from the X-Men movies? That’s the design aesthetic that Alex’s tower lair most reminded me of – maybe she’s a Bryan Singer fan?

It’s alluded to in Alex’s dialogue to a sleeping Natalia, but the plan goes like this: Alex implants her consciousness into Natalia and lets the kid sleep for six months (Arbitrary timelimit? What arbitrary timelimit?).  Then Alex commits suicide in order to activate the version of her consciousness in Natalia.

0

 

 

 

 

 

Right…

Anyway the plan’s botched;  Alex commits suicide while Claire and Moira helplessly watch, but based on the present day segments it’s clear she’ll eventually be resurrected and mutated.  More pertinent, however, is that her “death” triggers the tower’s self destruct sequence – 6 minutes till Claire and Moira die in a fiery explosion.

Their desperate escape yields genuine stakes, and once again I find I’m drawn into the experience.  I felt the fear in the duo as they dodged falling debris and climbed along the outside of the tower, the ever-present sense that this would be their final moment.

Then the worst comes to pass.  Moira takes a fall for Claire, and is crushed by debris.  Claire can see Moira is still alive, injured but conscious, and moves to save her – but you can’t.  The scene’s limitations (invisible wall between Claire and Moira, thirty seconds left on the timer) point to a very reluctant course of action: leaping from the tower as Claire, at the cost of Moira.  Claire’s mournful “God help me” could not have been more appropriate.

After a brief scene between Claire and Barry – which, yes, establishes that Claire was found six months ago and Barry has been searching for the island prison in that time – we’re brought back to the present.  Barry shakes off his mild case of falling-off-a-cliff-itis to find Natalia standing over him, and the two make their way back up.

I can’t say I enjoy the design of the crane puzzle, the way that it demands constant micromanagement of Natalia and Barry’s actions, but I blame my frustration more on extreme exhaustion than anything else.  At the very least it transitioned into one of my favourite sequences yet: walking the halls of Alex’s very own mansion-style fortress, complete with underground laboratory.  Because this wouldn’t be Resident Evil without a mansion over top of an underground laboratory.

There’s a dose of backtracking to find a pair of security cards and an Emblem Key (which I think might be an outright callback to the original Resident Evil), and a sprinkling of shuffling ghouls and invisible bee creatures.  I found it a pleasant bit of exploration but I couldn’t help feeling that Episode 3 sported the most interesting and visceral environments.

Then comes the conclusion.  Alex has gone full mutant – best comparison is Spider Smith from the end of Lost in Space (the film).  Like previous boss battles it’s a matter of hammering away at Alex with every round Barry has left.  But, lo and behold, even when Alex is down she is not out.

Cue triumphant return, and well-placed bullets, by Moira.  Admittedly I was a little moved by her words with Barry:

Moira: “You did all this for me?”

Barry: “Yeah.  Sorry it took half a year.  Fucking technology.”

Alex still wants to get back up, and seems to be mutating further, so the reunited Burtons and Natalia flee for the surface.  They emerge from a cave to find Claire in the wings, with a helicopter ready for extraction.  But Barry isn’t done.  He wants Alex dead – for good this time.

This last and final sequence is quite magnificent, if I say so myself.  Claire and Barry are the playable characters this time – Barry luring Mutant Alex along cliffs or towards explosive barrels, Claire providing sniper fire… and then rocket-propelled grenade fire.  If ever there was a moment that showed this game at its best, this was it.

Claire fires the final rocket.  As with her brother Albert, Mutant Alex goes up in flames.

It’s a bit of sincere relief afterwards, heading into the credits.  Seeing Claire and Barry in a helicopter, on the way out of a viral disaster, something feels familiar: the sense of victory at having survived another evil plot.  Some dialogue to tie into the much-maligned Resident Evil 6, a visual cue on Natalia’s part that suggests Alex may not have failed, and then it’s done.

Some part of me yearns to say, “If you like Resident Evil, or even just Resident Evil Revelations, then this is the game for you.”  But even considering what worked here, I just can’t.

Because this isn’t Resident Evil.  This is a bog-standard third-person shooter with Resident Evil‘s face stretched over it.  This is a franchise on life support, kept alive only by Capcom’s refusal to just let it die with dignity.  And I don’t think I like that.

two-and-a-half-stars-300x69

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