The recent direction of Capcom's Resident Evil franchise has become as tormented as one of its monsters. The series now has a split personality: sometimes happy to be a quiet and shuffling creature of lingering menace, but at other times suddenly much louder and brash in character, concerned more with action than atmosphere.
Nowhere was this more evident than in Resident Evil 6, whose fractured campaigns attempted to appease both personalities. The bloated result, however, satisfied neither. But there was another recent Resident Evil game, one that simply managed to tread its own path while still feeling like a classic entry in the series: the 3DS-exclusive Resident Evil Revelations, which was later granted a wider release on PC, PlayStation 3, Wii U and Xbox 360.
It's because of Revelations' success that this loose sequel now exists and is named what it is, despite having a new story, setting, characters and enemies that all bear little relation to the original. It is Revelations 2 in name because, thankfully, Capcom has retained the original game's personality, with minimal changes to its gameplay too.
Revelations 2 stars returning fan favourite Claire Redfield and series newbie Moira Burton, the daughter of Resident Evil veteran Barry. Those differences aside, Resi 4 and Revelations fans will find themselves quickly at home. Aiming and shooting via an over-shoulder camera remains unchanged, and you can once again duck to swerve out of the way of incoming enemy attacks. You also have a knife as a close-up reusable melee weapon, while your basic starting arsenal once again consists of a pistol and shotgun.
You can switch from Claire to side-kick Moira at any time to use her flashlight (for discovering hidden treasures and blinding enemies) or crowbar weapon (for melee attacks and freeing debris). If you're playing solo you'll only really want to employ Moira when necessary, but later sections of the game will see her becoming more useful, Capcom said.
For players on harder difficulties where ammo is more scarce, you'll be able to taser enemies using Claire then quickly switch to Moira to deploy a killing downward crowbar thrust to anything lying on the ground - all of which will finish an enemy without firing a bullet. The game's new Afflicted foes move at around the same speed as Resident Evil 4's ganados and can quickly swarm you. Fancy tactics aside, quick and deadly options for killing them remain preferable in a pinch.
Become injured and Claire or Moira will begin to crouch and stagger, while further injury will result in the screen's edges becoming red. There's no health bar or indicator of any kind, merely stages of injury that require something of a guess to determine. Herbs can still be applied for healing, but it is now harder to detect when they should be applied for best effect.
Claire acts as the apocalypse-weary veteran during the story's opening stages, breaking Moira out of a cage after the pair wake up in an abandoned island prison. The two are part of a new bioweapon-fighting organisation, but shortly after Moira's initiation both characters are abducted. Upon waking they realise they are also now wearing electronic bracelets which detect their infected status - and through which a mysterious female tormentor can communicate with them.
The pair slowly make their way through the ruins of the jail while encountering its former inmates, now the infected zombie-like Afflicted. Your new antagonists are happy to hide and leap out from behind closed doors or suddenly appear from around corners, to the point where it feels like there's a few too many jump scares in this opening section, rather than an emphasis on simply building tension.
The fact that the story begins straight at the deep end of gory set decoration also feels like a little of a waste of atmosphere. There's something to be said for not wasting any time, but the gradual buildup of unease as you wander through Resident Evil 4's Spanish nightmare - the crazed villagers slowly emerging as murderous psychopaths - was a masterclass in increasing tension. Here you're greeted with disembodied corpses in bags impaled with hooks before you've worked out all of the game's controls, set-pieces to which Claire barely reacts.
Perhaps this is a casualty of the game's shorter episodes, which must make the most of the time you have with the game each week. Each slice will last you between two to three hours, combining for a full playthrough time of around 10 to 12 hours total. The four segments will release every seven days from the game's initial launch date (which is sometime in early 2015). A Season Pass will also be available upfront which grants access to all the episodes as they're released, along with bonus content.
While there's still much to learn about the game's characters and story (Capcom promises lots of fan fan-service), the fact that the Resident Evil series is back on the path Revelations set out feels like a positive move in defining the franchise's future. It's interesting to note that both of Capcom's announced Resident Evil projects (this and the upcoming Resident Evil port) are both bids for the series' hardcore fans.
How do you solve a problem like Resident Evil's personality? I don't think Revelations 2 is the final answer, and I expect (and hope) that somewhere within Capcom a more robust solution to that question is currently being built. But, while Resident Evil fans wait for that, Revelations 2 is a shuffling step forward on the right path.