Embracing the 21st century is perhaps the last attribute one would associate with the revered Resident Evil franchise, whose most recent instalments have looked distinctly antediluvian. Yet Revelations 2 – the second iteration of a non-core franchise spin-off which first saw light of day on Nintendo's 3DS – takes the thoroughly vogueish approach of making itself available as four episodes (plus two bonus ones).
Paradoxically, this episodic arrangement allows it to return to its roots of tight, close-in, claustrophobic battles with (generally) small numbers of increasingly grotesque and squelchy mutants, tactical boss-battles, head-scratching puzzles and the collection and combination of objects on which your survival might depend. Gone, thankfully, are the gratuitous Hollywood-inspired action sequences that disfigured Resident Evils 5 and 6.
So is Resident Evil: Revelations 2 a true return to form, or just another bout of desperately trying to squeeze the last from this long-established horror franchise?
Value for money
Naturally, everyone contemplating buying an episodic game wants to know whether they will get value for money, and Revelations 2 scores highly in that regard: each of the four episodes costs a paltry £4.99; the disk-based full set, which includes the additional two bonus levels, costs around £25.
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For that sum you'll get between two and three hours of gameplay per episode, thanks to the clever device of splitting them each into two segments, each of which you play as different characters. And then there's Raid Mode, which dispenses with plot and invites you to dispatch hordes of increasingly exotic zombies, while levelling up your attributes and equipment – which could keep you occupied for months.
Old faces and new
Revelations 2 begins with series stalwart Claire Redfield marooned in a dungeon on a mysterious island. More mysterious still is that she's wearing a bracelet on her wrist that changes colour according to her fear level, which also contains a speaker that transmits the rantings of a psychopathic woman called the Overseer.
Redfield links up with Moira Burton (daughter of Barry, another character familiar to Resident Evil aficionados), a fellow TerraSave employee (that's the non-governmental human rights organization established in Resident Evil: Degeneration, if you're a Resi newcomer), and immediately a key game mechanic emerges: you must swap between the two characters. Or the whole game can be played co-operatively instead.
Moira refuses to shoot guns, but does have a torch – handy for dazzling mutants, thereby stopping them in their tracks, plus locating hidden pick-ups – a crowbar, and isn't averse to chucking Molotov cocktails and the like. But you mainly need to switch to her for puzzle-solving purposes, as she's small enough to fit into smaller gaps.
The moment when Claire and Moira reach relative safety marks the half-way point of the first episode. In the second half, you play Barry Burton, answering his daughter's distress call, who teams up with an enigmatic child called Natalia, who is even less useful in confrontations with mutants than Moira, but has a handy ability to sense their proximity as well as (for certain types) their weak points, which helps Barry take them down more efficiently.
Of the four main episodes, the first is the weakest, since it has to perform a certain amount of scene-setting and to lead you gently into proceedings.
But it soon becomes obvious that the episodic structure lends itself perfectly to the Resident Evil universe. There's much clever re-use of levels (at the controls of different characters) but, for once, that doesn't breed resentment. Flash-forwards and flashbacks unfold the story – which, in typically Resident Evil style is somewhat over the top – in an interesting manner, bringing cliffhangers to the end of each episode.
Atmospherically, the game is impeccable, with some truly scary moments, and the wondrously creepy music ratchets up the tension (although, inexplicably, Raid Mode is befouled with a hopelessly cheesy 80s arcade-style soundtrack).
The gameplay varies cleverly, with ever more bizarre mutants introduced, which must be taken down in markedly different ways. The occasional stealth and timed sequences also mix things up nicely. Mini-bosses present obstacles, then reappear mob-handed as Revelations 2 builds to a crescendo, while there are the typically huge and intimidating bosses to overcome in true Resident Evil style.
Bonus bum note
It's not all sweetness and light, mind. While Revelations 2 is by some distance the best-looking Resident Evil game yet, it still merely scrapes the surface of the new-gen consoles in graphical terms.
The two bonus levels aren't great either. The Struggle, in which you play as Moira as she finally gets to grips with weaponry, is a bizarre mix of hunting rabbits and fighting off hordes of mutants. But it's better than Little Miss, which casts you as Natalia and serves a stodgy diet of rather lacklustre stealth.
The single-player element of Resident Evil: Revelations 2 offers up a meatier experience than many full-price games (such as The Order: 1886), and will please fans since it feels like more of a proper take on the franchise than Resident Evils 5 or 6. It seems episodic games are set to have a bright future indeed.
Raid Mode is also incredibly addictive: the way you can shape your characters with upgrades is deeply satisfying, and it's like a sweet-shop for those who have grown to love Resident Evil's weapons over the years.
It might not be the mammoth equivalent as its earlier originals were to the wider gaming world tapestry, but the full Revelations 2 package is the best Resident Evil game for a decade.