Resident Evil 3 is still fresh in players’ delicious brains. As are the understandably high expectations for Capcom to follow up last year’s gorier, wetter re-imagining of 1998’s Resident Evil 2 with another humdinger of a remake. However, it didn’t take long for people to take issue with RE3’s several drawbacks: like its short runtime, Nemesis’s limited stalking abilities compared to Mr. X, and a story that centers on spectacle rather than the fear and unease the franchise was so recently returning to.
Jill Valentine’s reshaped mission to survive the zombie-infested Raccoon City Streets isn’t terrible. Yet it does feel like a marked step back from Leon and Claire’s more focused horror extravaganza. There’s just something so unsettling about exploring that nook of a police department in search of escape — something the Resident Evil 3 remake failed to recapture.
Luckily, the Resident Evil timeline is so jumbled by this point you don’t have to look far to find another installment better primed to scratch the itch people were anticipating. Resident Evil Revelations might still be overlooked by many, but it shares more in common with the better-liked Resident Evil remake than you might think.
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For starters, Revelations has the clear benefit of being set (for the most part) within a single creepy location. The Queen Zenobia is the kind of cruise ship you might imagine was quite the looker back during her heyday. By the time Jill and her BSAA partner Parker Luciani arrive, however, she’s been reduced to a dank, inky shell taken over by sludge monsters. It really is the ideal setting for a survival horror game. Much like R.C.P.D headquarters, the Zenobia is a labyrinthine structure consisting of several tight corridors, claustrophobic hallways, and suspiciously hidden quarters — all made even scarier by being lost at sea where no help can reach you.
Such a confined locale might sound like an obvious basis in which to set an appropriately scary stage, but in 2012, when Resident Evil Revelations originally released on 3DS, emphasizing fear and isolation had become a novelty for Capcom’s beloved series. That’s largely due to the more action-centric tone being laid down in the numbered series. Being a spin-off, and one that started on the less-than-optimal 3DS no less, Revelations has been somewhat forgotten. But this 10-hour adventure is a largely standalone story that retains what made the series so chilling in the first place. At the same time, it evokes its own vibe as a result of the uniquely nautical setting.
It isn’t long before you become overly familiar with the Queen Zenobia’s various veins and arteries. Unlike, say, the remake of Resident Evil 3, or even an entry like Resident Evil 4 where you’re always pushing onward, Revelations quite literally makes you a resident. You venture back and forth from bridge to bilge, discovering key items and solving puzzles to edge closer to your goal. In this case it’s finding your ex-partner Chris Redfield. This practice never gets old, however, thanks to some extremely diverse interiors and a constant lingering suspense. In Revelations you never truly know what’s waiting for you when you first enter a previously locked door. Though you can bet it’s likely hungry and dripping in goo.
Revelations cleverly keeps one foot in the series’ traditional survival horror roots and the other in the more “gung-ho” direction of Resident Evil 5 and 6. Despite this, it still deploys many new ideas — some of which were absorbed into the main series. The best example is the ability to move and shoot at the same time. Capcom had always previously rooted you in place, for fear of lessening the tension. Revelations modernized character movement and proved this wasn’t the case. The tension came from steady, shambling terrors that just wouldn’t stop, rather than your own awkward controls. Jill’s subterranean soiree even implemented a dedicated dodge button (à la RE3) to give you a fair chance when fighting in the Zenobia’s close quarters.
Admittedly, some aspects of Revelations haven’t aged so well: its heavily episodic nature, for one. Breaking up the ship-based scares by routinely flicking to a different character to provide context is fine in theory, but in practice it just takes away from the isolated descent into the unknown. Then there’s the inclusion of a first-person scanning mode — clearly designed around the 3DS’s unique gyroscope features. It doesn’t outright break the engrossing atmosphere. But it does now feel a little gimmicky and out of place in a Resident Evil game.
Even still,Revelations could comfortably held the title of the scariest, most authentic Resident Evil since RE4 (right up until the RE2 resurrected itself to snatch it back). It’s almost like the limitations of being developed for a handheld device forced Capcom to take the franchise back to basics. It recognized what worked in the original two games before infusing it with some more modern sensibilities. That’s why it dances on the same thematic grave as the RE2 remake, rather than the recently released Resident Evil 3. And it’s a convenient return to form if you just finished the Resident Evil 3 remake — given that it takes place immediately after that game. You can dive straight in and see what Jill got up to next, while enjoying a more classical experience, before her weird, mind controlled turn in Resident Evil 5.
I know that one appeal of Capcom’s recent remakes is just how gorgeous they look. It’s part of what draws me in, too. Seeing the gory detail of a zombie’s jaw falling off, or a Licker’s viscera sticking to the ground is strangely satisfying. Revelations can’t compete with either game on this visual front, but playing it now is less strenuous than ever thanks to a 2017 HD overhaul for the PS4 and Xbox One. It improves the lighting, swaps in new character models, and cleans up the UI. Plus you don’t have to play it with 3DS controls, or dig out a long-forgotten Circle Pad Pro. Trust me: trudging through the water-laden Zenobia proves just as tense on the big screen.
Capcom must think the Revelations style of approach is one worth revisiting — especially with rumors that the upcoming Resident Evil 8 started as a third entry in the spin-off series.
Is Resident Evil Revelations the best in the franchise? Absolutely not. But given the slightly cool reception to the Resident Evil 3 remake, the wildly overlook series spin-off ideal for players craving a confined horror experience. One that’s more aligned with the close-quarter survival horror thrills that Resident Evil 2 presented us with last year.