Resident Evil Revelations 2: Episode One – Penal Colony Review
Haha, they said “sandwich” out loud. It’s like they KNOW!
Format: PC, PS4, Xbox One (reviewed)
Released: February 24, 2015
Copy provided by publisher
Is there any actual reason why Resident Evil Revelations 2 is episodic? I’ve been wracking my brain for a justification, and all I can come up with, having played through Episode One, is “It’s episodic because it’s episodic.” The fact that episodes are being released so close together seem to suggest it’s already all done, and unlike plot-heavy adventure games that lend themselves well to serialization, there’s not a lot going for Revelations 2‘s story thus far to make me believe the drip-feed approach has done anything to help it from a creative standpoint. Indeed, Capcom appears to have broken the game into pieces simply because it can.
As well as selling itself piecemeal, Revelations 2 is already flogging a bucket of downloadable content at launch, with its obligatory Raid Mode – by far the mode most designed to soak up players’ time – selling additional characters, costumes, maps, and item slots for real-world dollars. The pack containing all the costumes will cost you more than the first episode does, and there’s almost fifty bucks of paid extras in total – oh, and this is without going into the microtransactions. Yes, there’s a premium currency – Life Crystals – which can be earned in-game over time or bought outright with cash money.
Revelations 2‘s episodic structure and shameless DLC hawking lend an offputtingly cynical presentation to a sequel I’ve been anticipating for quite some time. The original Resident Evil Revelations remains one of my favorite 3DS games, successfully blending some of the atmosphere of classic Resident Evil entries with RE4‘s action-oriented approach. By contrast, Revelations 2 is, so far, a terse and uneventful adventure that does not feel like it belongs on a system that isn’t handheld.
Told from two perspectives, Penal Colony revolves around four characters who find themselves on a mysterious, monster-laden island. Claire Redfield and Moira Burton are kidnapped while working with humanitarian group TerraSave, dumped on the isle with no explanation. The only clues they have to their whereabouts are bracelets on their wrists that seem designed to monitor fear, as well as a woman’s voice that taunts over an intercom. Meanwhile, Barry Burton returns to Resi canon for the first time in years, playable alongside a little girl called Natalia. Burton’s come to the island to find Claire and his daughter, as well as make really lame references to the original Resident Evil game that make me grin like an idiot regardless.
Fundamentally a shooter with horror elements, Rev2 distinguishes itself by having secondary characters with limited combat roles. Neither Moira nor Natalia will use guns, the latter barely able to fight at all, leaving Claire and Barry to do the majority of the knifing and firing. Instead of direct battle, the two sidekicks offer support roles – Moira can blind enemies by shining her torch in their faces, and will smack them with a crowbar if she absolutely has to, while Natalia is able to sense hostile creatures, spotting them through walls and allowing Barry the option to stealthily sneak up on any would-be assailants. One can switch between the fighter and the supporter at any time – and you’ll want to spend a surprising amount of time as Moira or Natalia, as they also use their abilities to spot otherwise hidden pickups in the environment.
As Claire or Barry, things remain closer to the first Revelations experience, albeit with the action focus emphasized over any puzzle solving or survival horror chicanery. Armed with their own personal assortment of handguns, shotguns, assault rifles and magnums, their main job is to run around and shoot stuff, which they do… decently well. Combat in Revelations 2 is solid, but honestly nothing to write home about. It’s standard third-person shooter stuff that doesn’t feel in any way altered or improved from Resident Evil 4‘s heyday. Since enemies barely react to where you shoot them, and not even headshots leave particularly impressive marks on the target, it’s not really all that satisfying either. It’s okay, but not exciting or entertaining to any significant degree.
That’s really the crux of Episode One – it’s adequate, and not a lot more than that. The story mode is eminently brief and unravels precisely nothing of narrative value, concluding with less of a cliffhanger and more of the kind of twist you’d find in halfhearted Creepypasta. The puzzles, such as they are, act as little more than excuses to backtrack through a small and restricted environment. The secondary characters feel shoehorned in, and while they can be used for co-op play, they’re not all that fun to mess around with. None of this is particularly offensive – if you want to shoot some monsters, then this is one fuss-free to shoot monsters for an hour or two – but it’s nonetheless archaic stuff that fails to stand out in any way.
It doesn’t help that, like the Wii U version of Resident Evil Revelations, this title doesn’t feel quite at home on a console or computer. Visually, the title is unimpressive, with basic character models, simplistic environments, and embarrassingly low quality cutscenes. In-game, characters feel everso slightly awkward to control, with a loose sense of grounding in the world and gunfire lacking any sort of punch. Every time one opens a door, the game quickly fades to black before fading back in, breaking any risk of atmosphere, while instances of physics glitches and characters clipping through scenery are regular and blatant.
Raid Mode is the star of the show, and keeping in theme with the cynicism of the product, its microtransaction-ready environment seems to be where Capcom’s put all of its attention. Boasting a range of unlockable characters and weapons, with a ton of missions to undertake, this series of mutant-blasting courses has plenty going for it, and offers much more than the campaign itself. Embracing silliness over scariness, Raid Mode allows itself to be a lot more amusing, packing more action and speed into proceedings, which helps make up for some of the overall presentation’s shortcomings.
Missions in Raid Mode guide you through a series of levels, mowing down biobastards in order to progress, while keeping an eye out for chests that can unlock new weapons and gear. Characters can level up skills and upgrade weapons, offering plenty of reason to return. In all honesty, given how uninspiring the story mode is, I’d almost rather it had been nixed entirely so Capcom could have focused more on Raid and added even more. Of course, despite all this, it’s hard to get over the fact that Raid Mode wants more of your hard-earned money, and the general problems with Revelations‘ listless combat and dated handling are wallpapered over more than actively fixed.
Resident Evil Revelations 2: Episode 1 is not an impressive start to this serial adventure. Its episodic nature comes off as arbitrary to begin with, the DLC slinging is flagrant, and overall it looks and plays like something either very old, or a budget game punching above its weight. Raid Mode offers some longevity, and nothing the game does is particularly awful, but not even the return of Barry Burton makes this debut episode more remarkable than it is. It’s a “decent enough” little shooter can raise a smile, but not expectations.