It has been a dark time for the Resident Evil series. The abominably disappointing Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City and Resident Evil 6 utterly lacked the nail-biting action the series was once known for, making it impossible to see in them any glimmer of the franchise's former greatness. So in a sense, the release of Resident Evil: Revelations on consoles and PC is cause for celebration. First released on the 3DS last year, Revelations is both the best Resident Evil game of the past few years and the one that's the most true to the series' roots. There's something to be said for that. But taken on its own terms, it's not a great game. It's not remotely scary, and the enemy design is uninspired. Still, Revelations is competent enough to remind you of what Resident Evil can be, even if it doesn't get under your skin the way the best games in the series do.
Set between Resident Evil 4 and 5, Revelations' tale is more concerned with organizations--the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance, the Federal Bioterrorism Commission, and the terror group Veltro--than with individuals. Series mainstays Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield are on hand, but they don't get any opportunities for character development here; they're just familiar pawns in the series' latest sinister, overly complicated conspiracy.
They're joined by one likable new character, and one awful one. Jill's partner, Parker, bears an unmistakable resemblance to actor Russell Crowe; looks aside, he's a good-humored companion, someone you'd like to have by your side in a crisis. Chris' partner, Jessica, on the other hand, is so obnoxious and absurd as to strain credulity, even in a story about ooze monsters. When Chris has been injured and she responds, "Me and my sweet ass are on the way!" it's so goofy that it takes you out of the moment, and a one-legged outfit she wears later in the game makes her look like a member of an avant-garde dance troupe, not a counterterrorism task force.
The bulk of Revelations takes place on the Queen Zenobia, a luxury ocean liner with plenty of cramped corridors that make for claustrophobic combat. The ship's elegant cabins, casinos, and promenades contrast with its bilges, freight lifts, and other metallic environments, which makes your initial explorations of the ship rewarding. The Queen Zenobia's layout is convincing, making it easy to buy into the idea that it's a real ship with a long and grisly history. But before you've advanced too far through the campaign, you've seen most of what the Zenobia has to offer, and you spend much of your time trekking back through areas you've already covered.
Things may have changed somewhat--you might be able to access rooms you couldn't before, or you may encounter new enemy types--but the sense of discovery that helps make the early sections intriguing wears off too soon. Still, the way the story is broken up into short, episodic sections, jumping back and forth frequently between characters and locations, keeps the pacing brisk; you never get tired of one situation before you're whisked off to another.
Of course, you're not on the Queen Zenobia for a pleasure cruise; terrible things have happened aboard that ship, and as a result, you're constantly attacked by bio-organic weapons, some of which look like people covered head to toe in gray ooze and others of which resemble human-size lizard creatures from a low-budget monster movie. Confrontations are sometimes more campy than chilling, and the fact that you can perform cartoonish melee attacks, complete with goofy windups, on stunned enemies, only adds to the silliness.
If you've played Resident Evil 4 or 5, the controls and combat here will feel familiar. The camera's closeness to your character limits your peripheral vision, fostering a feeling that you never know what's just around the next corner. The problem is that Revelations never does much of anything with this; you're never startled to discover an enemy you didn't know was there or given a reason to dread what might be lurking in the shadows ahead. There's a halfhearted creepiness to the atmosphere of Revelations, but never anything that might generate actual fear or dread.
Instead, the combat is typically straightforward rather than scary. Your weapons feel powerful, and only become more powerful as you augment them with parts you find, but they never feel overpowered; your enemies' resilience makes you grateful for every ounce of firepower you can wring out of those weapons. You rarely feel truly threatened or desperate, but enemies can still corner you in tight spaces, generating some tension as you fill them with bullets and hope they go down before they get close enough to grab you. (You don't want that to happen, both because you get injured and because you're prompted to do some unpleasant stick-wiggling to struggle free.)
Some environments give you a bit more freedom to move around, with opportunities to leap to lower levels to temporarily flee from encroaching attackers. These areas might fill with monsters that close in on you before you blow up an explosive tank at the last second, incinerating your enemies and making your escape. You've probably experienced moments like this in games many times before, but they're still satisfying.
Unfortunately, though the best games in the series feature confrontations with memorable, horrifying bosses, the boss battles here, like everything else about Revelations, are standard. Bosses can dish out and withstand plenty of damage, but their designs and their attack patterns are all par for the course. Outside of the campaign, there's Raid mode, an opportunity to fight off enemies solo or with another player, and though the process of leveling up and earning points with which you can purchase more and better gear is predictably compelling, the combat still lacks the spark of scariness that infused the action of earlier Resident Evil entries. Revelations is a decent adventure, but it doesn't come close to reaching the heights the series has in the past.