Resident Evil: Revelations 2
360, PC, PS3, PS4, Vita, Xbox One
Franz Kafka and Resident Evil seems like a strange combination. One, after all, is a noted surrealist who wrote meticulously observed works of high literature, and whose deeply metaphorical writings have influenced numerous authors. The other is a bloated series that’s birthed as many meretriciously banal works as it has given us shlock-horror classics, and whose campy scripts inspired a slew of in-jokes. They’re not quite on a level. But what links the AustroHungarian writer and this sequel to 2012’s 3DS spinoff Revelations, besides a liberal sprinkling of Kafka quotes and nods, is that they are both shockingly self-aware.
Or to put it another way, the four episodes that describe the central arc of Revelations 2 are not afraid to embrace the series’ twisted history and then playfully toy with your expectations. Fans needn’t worry about Resi developing arthouse aspirations, though: this is still unabashedly a game about shooting monsters, a game full of gory squirms, and a game driven by a story that’s heavy on the melodrama. It’s just that in between laughable lines, the scriptwriters chuck in a sly wink that may make you laugh. It’s just that when you hear a sound other Resi games have conditioned you to fear, you may soon feel very silly for jolting upright.
It’s the zest in a fairly traditional potboiler of a plot, but a lean one by the series’ recent standards, a lack of bloat enforced by being broken up into four episodes of between two and three hours long, each split up further over two story strands. The first follows Claire Redfield and Moira Burton, the likeably sweary 20-something daughter of Resi 1 meme generator Barry, after both are abducted from a work shindig by masked gunmen in the opening moments. They awake in a rundown gulag to find mysterious bracelets about their wrists and themselves in a deadly experiment, watched on CCTV by The Overseer. The other thread, six months later, tracks a careworn Barry as he hunts for his still-missing child, soon meeting a quiet girl called Natalia, whom he quickly takes under his wing, despite being a red choker away from the dead spit of Collet-Serra’s Orphan.
While the writers seek to derive much tension from the true fate of Moira and whether Natalia is really all she seems, these support characters are no mere plot devices, also tying into the mechanics. While Claire and Barry are your typical gun-slinging Resi leads, a button tap will leap you into the body of their partner. Moira is too traumatised by an event in her past to use guns, but lugs around a crowbar that can stagger enemies with blows from behind and open specific crates and doors, plus she carries a torch that will, in Alan Wake- baiting style, stun zombies if you can keep the high-powered beam trained on them for long enough. Natalia is less aggressive still, but able to see dead people. More specifically, she can sense any infected creature in a short radius, even through walls, and pick out nodes on the patchwork Uroboros creatures that have run rampant here since Claire and Moira passed through. Finally, Moira and Natalia can reveal twinkling items, though after years of simply magpieing shinies, this just smacks of giving them something else to do between combat to bulk out their role in splitscreen co-op.
And there is a lot of combat. The original Revelations pioneered an amalgam of Resi’s latter-day thirdperson balls-to-the-wall action with the survival edge of earlier games, a tweaked version of which returns here. Gone are the indiscriminate suplexes of Resi 6 – and, sadly, the cranium-splattering headshots of 4 – while ammo feels scarce once again, albeit more usually because of the volumes of it you’ll get through than for want of the stuff lying around. You can still fire on the move, but you’re slow, relying on a dodge to get you out of danger. It’s an effective compromise for the most part, at least forcing you to mix up your guns and strategies, though it fails to solve the problem that the shock value of enemies is blunted when they are served up so regularly. Capcom nonetheless introduces some smart twists courtesy of the partner system, though to appreciate them solo players will need to flick between characters instead of relying on the AI. Zombies covered in grotesque pustules act like walking mines, showering all in the blast radius with a screen-covering layer of putrefaction, but are easily popped with Moira’s torch. The insectoid Glasps, meanwhile, are invisible to the naked eye, so Barry must rely on Natalia’s vision and tracking finger to land shots before they close in for an instant kill. Enemies whose mere touch means death are rarely short of awful, but clear telegraphing prevents tense encounters slipping over into raw frustration.
The same can’t be said for two late-game boss fights, which fall prey to the same excesses that have hampered the main series. They are overlong slogs against willsapping bullet sponges, and while both demand the use of the support characters, neither does so in particularly engaging ways. Another low point arrives when you’re forced to complete tasks in a smog of poisonous gas, leading to plenty of tedious backtracking.
It’s not enough to derail the rollicking hours of familial drama, cheesy one-liners and brainlessly entertaining shooting that’s left over. Revelations 2 is a short series that builds quickly and barely lets up as the twin paths thunder through the gulag, make a tense trek through a foggy forest, overlap in a seaside village and then diverge again to take in dilapidated tenements, slaughterhouses, and booby-trapped facilities. Greater self-awareness hasn’t made Resident Evil much smarter, and it certainly hasn’t improved its plotting, but it has delivered the most shameless vehicle for the series’ gun fetish yet, if one still a few notches short of Mikami’s decade-old action masterwork.