Version tested: Xbox 360
The Queen Zenobia, a cruise ship now infested with bio-organic monsters, often goes out of its way to evoke the atmosphere of Resident Evils past. Its gloomy, gore-soaked corridors are contrasted with a sumptuous ballroom, an abandoned casino and a barnacle-encrusted luxury spa, with progress hidden behind doors barred by crests and seals with nautical motifs. It's no accident that the locations explored by Jill Valentine and her companions in this addition to the canon often feel like they could have been lifted from Raccoon City, circa 1998.
Yet the Queen Zenobia carries another, unintentional subtext that proves harder to ignore. A once popular playground, now rotten and drifting, it's an almost too perfect metaphor for the Resident Evil series in 2013.
From the brightly lit co-op shooter action of Resident Evil 5 to the bloated kitchen-sink morass of Resident Evil 6, with dreadful misfires like Operation Raccoon City crudely shoved in between, the reputation of the once-fêted survival horror saga has nose-dived in recent years. For long-serving fans, there was one glimmer of hope in the darkness.
Revelations first appeared on the 3DS back in January 2012, and its old-school adherence to the elements that made the series so popular 15 years ago couldn't help but make it stand out compared to the directionless, desperate mess that the main series had become.
It makes sense, then, that Capcom should reverse the usual platform-porting flow to pluck this seedling, bursting with potential, and transplant it from the handheld nursery into the main console garden. The result bears some scars from the process, but thankfully has retained the same focus that made it work in the first place.
The 3DS original was no visual slouch, and the detailed environments have benefited from a solid if unspectacular HD makeover. This nice-looking game remains so when viewed on a TV, but it has inevitably lost some of its sizzle. What Capcom's team managed on the handheld, 3D or not, isn't cutting edge compared to most console games, but Revelations still has the most interesting setting of any recent Resident Evil, and while its best locations won't take your breath away, you'll still be compelled to explore them.
There's a restraint on display that likely wouldn't have been there had it been developed for the Xbox and PlayStation first. More than once, the limitations of the 3DS keep Revelations from getting carried away. When you throw millions of dollars and hundreds of developers at a project, you end up with Resident Evil 6: a game trying to be five games at once, and failing at all of them. Clearly developed by a much smaller team working within the limitations of Nintendo's handheld, Revelations feels unmistakably Resident Evil, with no distractions. Necessity is the mother of reinvention, you could say.
That necessity is visible in the tightly measured set-pieces - not all of them successful, it must be said - and the methodical pace of the game. It's also there in the succinct, punchy chapters and episodes that make up the story campaign. It's the usual garbled rubbish you'd expect from a Resident Evil game, but by packing its cheesy dialogue and incomprehensible plot twists into sections designed to be played in 20 minutes or less, the effect is broadly charming rather than smothering.
Control is where the game suffers most noticeably in its journey from the 3DS, with its solitary slider and optional Circle Pad Pro. Inputs on a joypad feel just a little too unresponsive, movement just a little too sluggish, those weapon swaps and reloads never quite as nimble as you'd like. The dodge move, so essential for many of the boss encounters, proves especially elusive under pressure.
Ironically, these flaws almost become a selling point, thanks to the Resident Evil legacy. Revelations goes out of its way to remind players of the early games in the saga, and the controls often feel like they've been carried over from that era. Deliberate design decision or an accident of Revelations' unusual route to consoles? A bit of both, perhaps, but one thing is for certain: very few games could get away with this slight clumsiness by leaning on nostalgia.
Where Capcom has made additions to the game, it's been frugal, but inspired. The new Infernal difficulty gives Revelations HD the traditional New Game + hook that the game lacked on the 3DS, and offers ample reason to dive into a second (or third) play-through once you've amassed an arsenal worthy of the challenge.
It's in Raid mode where the new features are most welcome. Already the highlight of the 3DS version, this co-op score-attack mode still offers a streamlined blitz through areas familiar from the campaign, now mixed up with RPG-style levelled enemies, XP points and a constantly evolving selection of weapons. The HD version of the game doesn't monkey with a winning formula, but adds more toys to play with and more characters. Obviously, Xbox Live and PlayStation Network both prove to be perfect homes for this sort of two-player romp.
What Revelations HD doesn't do is address any of the 3DS original's disappointments. The new characters are a drab bunch, the "ooze" still make for insipid monsters, and the lack of feedback during combat remains distracting. Boss encounters are uninspiring or, as in the case of the mutated comms officer and his endlessly respawning pals, a frustrating grind to survive.
Perhaps most problematic is the Genesis scanner, which points you in the direction of extra resources in the environment as well as offering free healing items when you scan enough enemies. In a series where survival always depended on careful management of health items and ammo, Revelations is always too eager to give you more than you need, at least on normal difficulty.
Yet judged against the stultifying lows of recent Resident Evils, it's easy to view Revelations as a success. That was true last year, and it's still true today. This HD edition builds subtly on the 3DS foundations, but thankfully doesn't crush them under the needless AAA junk that has dragged the series so far off course. That leaves a game that is just rough enough around the edges to win over fans who still pine for the series' heyday, and suggests the saga might yet come back to life.
7 / 10