There’s no use hiding the truth: it’s been a dark couple of months for the Wii U. It may have flown off shelves last November, but sales are steadily dropping, because there aren’t a lot of games out for it, EA has apparently dropped
all support for the console, and Nintendo is in damage control mode to make sure average consumers even know what the new system is.
Even I must admit to having few reasons to even power my Wii U on in the last month or so, but all that just changed for one very important reason.
Super Metroid is now on the Wii U Virtual Console! Ho ho, got you there didn’t I? Seriously though, while I am enjoying that 16-bit classic as much as I always do, Resident Evil Revelations has been one of the most compelling reasons to keep coming back to my Wii U, and while the game isn’t an exclusive, it is somehow appropriate that I’m playing and reviewing it on a Nintendo console.
Originally, Revelations was a second-wave title for the 3DS, and until this week it was still an exclusive title for the handheld. Its scope, visuals and gameplay were impressive for a portable title, but as a fresh Resident Evil game, Revelations was something much more: a true return to form. If you’ve read my Resident Evil 6 review, you know I’m pretty unhappy with the direction the series has been going in for a while now. RE6 and even RE5 were sort of slow-motion implosions, the very definition of big-budget bloat, taking the once-fresh start established by Resident Evil 4 and squandering it on overcomplicated gameplay, meandering stories and gratuitous, numbing action.
RE6 is the culmination of this ill-conceived kitchen sink approach, a lumbering monstrosity composed of so many gameplay concepts, clichés and conventions that it barely holds together. But somehow, back in late 2011, before RE6 reared its ugly head, Capcom recreated what made their seminal survival horror series great in the first place. Maybe it was the smaller scale and budget of a 3DS project, maybe it was the limitations of the 3DS hardware itself, but something forced Capcom to think smaller, scarier, more claustrophobic, more suspenseful. The result is more or less the true sequel to RE4 that we deserved and the best Resident Evil game in quite some time, and now it has the space it needed to really stretch its legs and reach its full potential on HD consoles.
It’s a little ironic to think of Revelations as the true sequel to RE4, because in terms of plot, it is—a link between RE4 and RE5. Curiously, RE4 took place in 2004, so Revelations happens in 2005, with RE5 taking place in 2009 and RE6 spanning events in 2012 and 2013. In Revelations, it’s been little over a year since Leon S. Kennedy barely survived the Las Plagas incident. Hundreds of miles away in the Mediterranean, a cutting-edge clean energy metropolis called Terragrigia is attacked by the bio-terrorist group Veltro.
The attack basically is a replay of the Raccoon City disaster and the Federal Bioterrorism Commission is forced to turn Terragrigia’s own solar collectors on the city, destroying it and wiping out the infestation of zombies, monsters and other Umbrella Corp leftovers. A year after the disaster bizarre corpses start washing up on the nearby beaches, so the BSAA sends Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield and their respective partners to investigate. The mystery leads both teams to the Queen Zenobia, a massive cruise ship set adrift and infested with a new breed of biological horrors.
This focus on just a few main characters really tidies up the story. While there are flashbacks, two parallel storylines and multiple locations, the story holds together a lot better than RE6’s plot, which constantly threatened to collapse under its own weight. You occasionally take control of other characters, and while there are AI partners in the form of Parker Luciani and Jessica Sherawat, Revelations is clearly Jill and Chris’s story. This establishes a nostalgic parallel to the very first Resident Evil, and there are a few callbacks that longtime fans will appreciate.
Revelations smartly pares down the gameplay to something more manageable and logical. Again, it could’ve just been the smaller scope of the 3DS forcing Capcom to think more efficiently, but Revelations plays a whole lot better than RE5 or RE6. Inventory management is handled on its own separate screen like RE4, but there are separate slots for weapons, items and ammo. This makes managing space a whole lot easier, and space limitations make a lot more sense.
In Revelations, ammo and health aren’t necessarily scarce; in fact you’ll stay well stocked if you play conservatively. However, Jill and Chris have limitations on how much of each kind of ammo they can carry. While you can find new ammo pouches later on to expand your capacity, early on you’ll only be able to hold 30 pistol bullets, or 20 shotgun shells, for example. This small capacity forces you to make every last shot count. As for health, you’ll still collect herbs, but there are only green herbs now. While I miss mixing herbs for different effects, simplifying this mechanic and making it available with a single button press is a lot easier than it was in RE6, where you had to mix herbs first, then push another button to turn them into capsules, then use another
button to restore health.
In general the controls are much tighter too. In RE6 I couldn’t even figure out how to swap between health sprays and grenades until a few levels in, and strangely enough they were located in the same inventory slot. In Revelations, lobbing grenades is as simple as tapping the right bumper while aiming. Rather than having to switch to your knife to use it, you can slash out at any time with the fire button when not aiming down sights. Weapon and grenade swapping is mapped to the D-pad, while standard actions and context sensitive interaction are handled by the face buttons. The controls are so tight and streamlined the game doesn’t even use the analog stick buttons.
Revelations plays like a strange hybrid of the first Resident Evil and RE4. The Queen Zenobia is awfully reminiscent of RE1’s mansion, complete with narrow, spooky corridors, stately bedrooms, regal dining halls and even a huge operatic foyer and casino. Naturally, there’s a two-level room that looks almost identical to the entryway to the mansion. This environment makes for a more forbidding, claustrophobic atmosphere, proving once and for all that RE4’s over-the-shoulder aiming mechanics DON’T necessarily need to be grafted to nonstop action to work.
Sadly, the shooting mechanics don’t go much farther than the ones back in RE1. The Ooze zombies are definitely a creepy and unnerving new foe, but they behave—and are defeated—almost exactly the same as the zombies of old. You basically just fire bullets into them until they collapse into a puddle of goop; none of the strategic aiming that made RE4 so complex and satisfying. In RE4, the enemies were smart and relentless, so you had to be shrewd in how you attacked them. Shooting a Ganado in the leg would make him stumble, while an arm shot might make him drop that axe he was about to toss at your head. While Revelations still lets you stagger the Ooze monsters and get close for a melee takedown, there’s really no strategy to doing this—no weak points to learn and target for each enemy. Stunning the Ooze is more or less random luck.
What’s rather puzzling is that Revelations introduces a new item—the Genesis scanner—that could’ve made the combat a whole lot deeper. The Genesis is an environment scanning device similar to the ones most games adopted after Metroid Prime pioneered the concept over a decade ago. While it can reveal otherwise hidden and inaccessible ammo and health pickups, it’s also used to scan enemies. Each enemy scanned adds to a percentage, and when it reaches 100%.....you get another healing herb. It’s kind of a letdown, especially considering that scanning the same enemy type over and over yields diminishing returns. The Genesis scanner is a cool new idea for the series, but it seems wasted. Why not let me scan monsters for weaknesses or strategies?
Revelations has been rebalanced for the HD consoles, and while the native dual-analog controls are a godsend, there are some confusing changes. One omission during the third chapter is particularly galling. In the 3DS version, right before the first boss fight, you could pick up a sniper rifle sitting in plain view, left lying against some shelves. In the Wii U version the sniper rifle isn’t there anymore, forcing you to face the boss with nothing but a pistol, and hopefully a shotgun, if you remembered to go back and solve the puzzle to unlock it.
Needless to say without the sniper rifle this boss fight is practically impossible on anything but easy mode. As I frantically ran around an arena full of respawning Ooze monsters, my modest ammo dwindling, chased by a boss that can one-hit-kill you if he gets close enough, I wondered if this was some kind of pre-launch oversight. There was even sniper ammo lying around the arena, as if mocking me and my constant deaths. I hope this is corrected in a patch, because this one fight almost made me quit the game in frustration.
In addition to the main story mode Revelations includes Raid mode. Rather than yet another rehash of the perennial Mercenaries mode, Raid is an arcade-style refit of various maps from the story mode with rearranged enemy and item placement. Raid can be played in co-op and it reminded me a little of Spec Ops in COD Modern Warfare 2: all the gameplay and challenge of the story mode without the plot slowing things down. Raid also lets you select from a wider roster of characters, each with their own abilities and signature weapons.
The extra features exclusive to the Wii U version don’t exactly make it a must-buy over the other HD versions, but they’re nice to have. As usual there’s the always-welcome off-screen play ability that lets you play the whole game on the GamePad, in case you’re in a situation where you’re sharing a TV. The touch screen lets you manage inventory, swap weapon and use health, and occasionally some touch-based puzzles come up but these are few and far between.
Personally I preferred the Pro Controller, as I just find it more comfortable for aiming and shooting in this kind of game. It’s too bad Capcom didn’t include an option to use the Wii remote, as the controls in RE4 Wii Edition were superb; hopefully they’ll be patched in later. When you get munched by an Ooze, the Wii U version also lets you post messages on the “You Are Dead” screen for other players to see through Miiverse, similar to the end-level messages in New Super Mario Bros U.
Capcom clearly put in a lot of work updating this game for HD consoles. While the original 3DS version had very impressive graphics for a handheld title, on Wii U it’s clear that the polygon counts are much higher and the textures are a whole lot crisper. Environmental textures can still get a bit muddy up close, a problem that for some reason was more noticeably worse in RE6, but overall Revelations is an attractive game that looks even better in HD. It’s clear that Capcom didn’t just up-rez and straight-port it and call it a day.
The music is very reminiscent of RE1—moody, minimalist and unnerving. While RE4’s primarily industrial, abrasive and uneven music was appropriate for its rural, backwoods-European setting, Revelations’ music is gothic and at times grand, perfect for a game set on a regal cruise ship haunted by monsters. At times it reminded me of the music from the GBA and DS Castlevania games, although not nearly as elaborate or classical. In any case, Revelations’ music is a heck of a lot better than the constant, exhausting, generic B-action movie fare in RE6.
To sum up I’d have to say Revelations is a huge step in the right direction. It isn’t perfect and it doesn’t surpass RE4, but it’s much closer to what I’ve always loved in the Resident Evil series than any of Capcom’s other recent releases. Revelations gives me hope that Capcom still knows that suspense, tension and above all restraint are what make a good survival horror game, not action and needless complexity.
If you missed Resident Evil Revelations on the 3DS, or if you’re just a disillusioned fan of the series like me, I strongly recommend you pick up the HD version for your console of choice. I’m amazed Capcom could make a handheld game so robust that rivaled its home-console big brothers, and Revelations effortlessly makes the transition as a full HD release. If you’re a Wii U early adopter, it’s also a great new release to add to your admittedly sparse library for the console. If the Wii U version is any indication, Revelations is a return to form for a horror series that up until now seemed hopelessly lost and confused. It’s time to vote with our wallets and show Capcom that Revelations is exactly the kind of Resident Evil we want.