Resident Evil: Revelations 2 was released in four parts over the last month. This is a retrospective review of the game in its entirety. You’ll find a closer look at the game’s action and premise in Anthony John Agnello’s review of the first episode.
Capcom is an artisan with an impossibly fragile specialty: the palimpsest. Decades ago, its key creators worked hard at crafting wholly original visions. Look close, though, and you’ll find that almost all of its greatest successes have been made of recycled parts, with garish colors splashed all over the past. Mega Man 2, Street Fighter 2, Bionic Commando on the NES—all of them are texts wiped clean of their rough first drafts and drawn on again, the new work revealing the hidden depth and potential in the original.
Resident Evil wasn’t an original idea when it popped up in 1996, either. It was drawn from Sweet Home, a weird NES horror game that never made it out of Japan. Of all Capcom’s palimpsests, Resident Evil is the strangest. Story continuity runs through every single entry, even as it wipes down small changes in style to rewrite a new version of the exact same game again and again and again. In its first episode, Resident Evil: Revelations 2 demonstrated real promise thanks to the dynamic between its characters. But that promise was threatened by a lack of personality in its setting, a factor that has been the secret MVP of the series’ best entries. With all four of the game’s episodes out, how does it fare as a whole?
Divorced from its predecessors, Revelations 2 is a capable, escalating thriller. Moira and Claire continue to pass through dull, faceless sewers and charnel houses in their bid to escape an island of mutants. Barry and his psychic ward Natalia continue to follow in their footsteps six months after the fact. While the shooting and puzzle solving never change dramatically from what comes in that first episode, it also never outlives its welcome. Neither does the satisfaction of controlling either duo with their complementary skills—one character being the monster-mutilating muscle and the other an indispensable pacifist supporter. Even the token boss fights waiting at the end, with big virus-ridden, bullet-sponging freaks, are mild fun.
Revelations 2 does not exist in a vacuum, though, and it’s kind of amazing when taken as yet another piece of the series’ bizarre recycled mash. For example, Claire and Moira’s desperate escape isn’t just from any old island. It’s an island run by the evil twin sister of one of the series’ perennial villains. Yes, an evil twin sister.
Capcom’s commitment to keeping the narrative of Resident Evil more consistent and coherent than that of a superhero comic has resulted in video games’ first bona fide soap opera. It’s the plot twists, acting, and dialogue of All My Children filtered through absurd gun violence, body horror, and ridiculous biological warfare. The fundamental work on which Revelations 2 is wrought remains unchanged. It leaves these cheesy plot twists a pleasure for the series’ faithful, especially after the numbing bombast and incoherence of Resident Evil 6. That it’s more fun to play—and much shorter—certainly helps.
Predictability and silly stakes don’t take the wind out of the game’s sails either. Just as with any soap you get caught up in, the simplistic human drama can still be affecting. The eventual reveal of Moira and her father Barry’s troubled history actually works, and it adds real heart to playing as the duo of Barry and the young Natalia. Their segments burgeon Barry’s story as a father making amends.
But each cleansing of the palimpsest leaves the material beneath pulpy and weak, and Resident Evil was weak in the first place. The soap opera pleasures of this installment can be replicated in the next, but there are only so many times the series can get away with having action that’s only serviceable set in a place that’s entirely forgettable. If the formula and episodic storytelling can be married with the same kind of environmental flare on display in, say, the recent rerelease of the original Resident Evil, then the series can find a firm enough foundation to keep going for another 20 years of ridiculous recycling.
Resident Evil: Revelations 2
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PS Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Reviewed on: Xbox One
Price: $6/episode, $25/season