Resident Evil: Revelations splices the survival horror DNA of classic Resident Evil with the new, brisker strain of Resident Evils 4 and 5. The result isn't an Umbrella-style crime against nature, but a healthy, happy hybrid: an optimum mix of tense, creepy exploration and stop-and-shoot action, telling a tale of bioterrorism and unwise genetic meddling aboard an abandoned ocean liner. It's also lovely to look at and, with a 10-hour story campaign, it's a meaty slab of a single-player adventure.
Veteran monster mashers Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield return, both in the service of the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance (BSAA), but not as partners. The game is set after Resident Evil 4 and before 5, in the wake of a bioterrorist attack in which the high-tech island city of Terragrigia gets obliterated. Chris is paired with the flirty Jessica Sherawat, and Jill with Parker Luciani, a husky BSAA agent with a dubious Italian accent. The story plays out in TV-style, bite-sized episodes, each sandwiched between a "previously on Resident Evil: Revelations" recap and a cliff-hanger ending. It's a fun format for the compellingly hammy melodrama of Resident Evil tradition.
Much of the early game is spent playing as Jill or Chris in search of Chris or Jill, scouring the giant ship of horrors with your respective AI partner in tow. The new partners aren't hugely engaging--when you first meet Jessica, she's in shorts and ankle warmers, moaning about the cold on an arctic mission--but you're at least not responsible for their safety, since they can't be killed. Still, you wonder how much lonelier and scarier the game might be without the sidekicks. One of the most atmospheric portions is one that also most resembles old-school, haunted-house Resident Evil: Jill wakes up in a ship's cabin and has to venture alone and unarmed through the decaying luxury of the once-grand cruise liner.
The pace alternates between slower segments of cautious exploration and fraught sequences where you fend off waves of mutants while waiting for an elevator, for instance. In the slower sections, sinister ambiance and the odd well-placed jump scare come to the fore while you navigate ship corridors and dim rooms on the hunt, generally, for a key. The infrequent puzzles are on the slight side (one has you win coins from a casino slot machine and use them to unlock a high-roller suite), but they're agreeable palate cleansers all the same.
Not so agreeable: the comic relief double act of nerdy BSAA computer expert Quint Cetcham (really?) and his playable straight man Keith Lumley, whose comedy banter completely misses the mark. Their appearances, at least, are mercifully brief; Jill and Chris get the bulk of the screen time, the episodes flitting between BSAA teams, and there are plenty of stretches with these long-serving characters for fans of the series to enjoy.
As in Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, the franchise's first foray onto the 3DS, you use the circle pad for moving or aiming, the right shoulder button for snapping into a laser-sighted aim mode, and the Y button for firing. It's a comfortable, reliable control scheme that makes for tactical and deliberate combat in characteristic Resident Evil style, and it holds up well even in more hectic fights with fleshy boss monsters. Battles are taut, measured standoffs, where you weigh the option of standing your ground to shoot an inbound enemy against the option of lowering your weapon to retreat to a safer spot.
Revelations also supports the 3DS Circle Pad Pro, bundled with some copies of the game. This add-on enables a more traditional set of shooter controls: the left pad for moving, the right pad for looking, the left trigger for popping into aim mode, and the right trigger for firing. The extra pad is far from essential for enjoying the game, but those players who can't bring themselves to love Resident Evil's idiosyncratic stop-and-pop action will be more comfortable with these conventional move-and-shoot controls, and the freedom to move the camera is a welcome benefit.
The biggest novelty is the Genesis device: a nifty handheld scanner that, in aim mode, lets you gathers data on enemy creatures in return for healing herbs and manually sweep rooms for hidden ammo caches. The scarcity of ammunition makes the scanner a valuable tool, not a gameplay gimmick to use once and forget, and nicely complements the resource scavenging that underpins your survival. The weapons, of which you can carry only three at a time, can be modified with powerful, collectable weapon upgrades, adding customisable oomph to the usual set of handguns, shotguns, machine guns, and the rest. Exotica such as rocket launchers and zombie-attracting decoy grenades turn up much less frequently but are special treats when they do.
Though most of the action takes place aboard the abandoned ocean liner, it's a diverse and expansive location. New paths and shortcuts are unlocked as you explore, taking in a grisly kitchen, a gloomy dining room, and a ritzy great hall. Later on there are submerged, swimmable sections to mix things up--first with the time pressure of getting from air pocket to air pocket without drowning, and then with a diving apparatus and underwater shock grenades for aquatic beasties. The environments look great, as do the richly detailed character models, especially those of Jill and the various barbed, bony, or bulging zombie creatures. The visuals are among the finest you'll see on a 3DS, and the 3D itself is also excellent; Revelations in 3D has a subtle, convincing solidity that's easy on the eye.
While the story-based campaign is single-player, the score-attacking Raid mode is optionally two-player co-operative (locally or over the Internet) or single-player. Here, you take on portions of levels from the campaign, sweeping areas clear of enemies as quickly as possible. In arcade fashion, enemies have health bars and shed damage numbers with each bullet hit. This fast, more aggressive companion to the main game is focused on loot drops (in the shape of weapon upgrades) and earning experience points to level up. It's a fun sideshow that's as substantial as the entirety of the similarly score-chasing Resident Evil: The Mercenaries. Where Mercenaries was a meagre thing when packaged as a full game, Raid mode is a great extra to round out the Revelations bundle.
With around 10 hours of action in your first playthrough, Revelations is a sizeable adventure. After you complete it, there's a much tougher difficulty mode and the option to replay with all the gear acquired in your first playthrough. That's a suitably chunky offering, for a portable game or otherwise, from a Resident Evil title that holds its own against any other of recent years, in any format. Resident Evil: Revelations is a thoroughly successful crossbreeding of old-school chills and new-school action.