Just as Resident Evil’s diseased monstrosities mutated from people, the series itself has continued to evolve in maddening, unpredictable ways. While early entries in the franchise were known for their delicate pace and cumbersome controls, later titles gave way to bombastic action. The newest entry, Resident Evil: Revelations, is an inspired culmination of what’s come before that splices the series’ DNA, hacks off some staid traditions, and sews on new legs for good measure.
In broad terms, Revelations mixes Resident Evil 4’s manual aiming with earlier titles’ cramped corridors, limited ammo, and creeping sense of dread. You play primarily as series stalwarts Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield as they go about uncovering a bio-terrorist conspiracy. Ultimately, the story is a convoluted mess full of hokey dialogue (“Me and my sweet ass are on the way!”) that’s unintentionally hilarious, but also drags on too long, making it a distraction from the game’s core strength: shooting monsters.
Thankfully, Revelation’s combat is some of the best available on a portable system. A host of control options allows different ways to play, including using the circle-pad pro or gyroscopic aiming to move and shoot at the same time. The later is a revelation, allotting a degree of precision not possible with an analog stick, let alone the 3DS’ awkward nub. Unless you’re playing on a swivel chair, spinning around with a handheld console isn’t ideal, but this limitation works in the game’s favor. The trade-off of a narrower field of view for quick, accurate aim creates a tense dichotomy between being an empowered sharpshooter when facing the right direction, and frantic mutant chow the rest of the time.
The shift to a compact format also alleviates much of the series’ cruft. Players no longer have to visit a menu for inventory; it’s mapped to buttons. Herb-mixing is a thing of the past. And a sensible auto-save feature has replaced the old typewriter ribbons that used to be required. The episodic structure allows a respite from ammo conservation and exploration, via standalone action-heavy scenes starring side-characters in remote locales.
While Revelation’s campaign is a fresh take on familiar tropes, its biggest surprise is Raid Mode, a madcap remixing of elements from the main campaign. Available in single-player or co-op, these challenges reshape parts of the campaign into an arcade mode with an emphasis on attaining high scores, experience, and loot. The opposition now carries health bars and hit points, making it apparent where they’re most sensitive, and ammo is inexplicably added to your inventory after you slay your foes. Here, the otherwise paltry variations of enemies come in different sizes with stat buffs. For example, wimpy zombie dogs may show up in minivan size, and deal extra damage. Raid Mode distills the game into its most exciting bits, then retrofits them into something even more original. Finally, mad science done right.