No one needs to be told that Resident Evil is a markedly different beast from its origins on PSOne back in the 90s. Yet for all the discussion on how the series has evolved over the intervening 20 year period, it takes playing the original (or at least, the excellent Gamecube remake) and the latest (side) chapter, the episodic Resident Evil: Revelations 2, back to back for that difference to really hit home.
Capcom's got a similar streak to Nintendo in repackaging older content to today's audiences, but the announcement of the Gamecube title, itself a then-current day remake of the PSOne original that spawned an entire franchise, hitting new-gen machines wasn't a wholly negative one.
Perhaps because it (along with the other GC title, Resident Evil Zero) hasn't been as widely played as other entries, and because it's a title that adheres to the slow-burn, puzzle heavy gameplay that dominated the Biohazard early years.
There's less sense of suspense, more comforting familiarity loading up the game during our time with both titles at Capcom's UK offices. The game supports original or widescreen, and looks superb on the latter.
Any worry of a grainy, low-res adaptation are put to rest as we start exploring the mansion once more on a mammoth 50 inch TV. True, the characters aren't quite as heavily detailed as their modern day counterparts (there's an option to play Jill and Chris in their RE5 look and outfits) and lip-syncing is indicative of the period the game was created, but the environments look sharp. The score, still superb. We find ourselves settling in easily, and enjoying the re-run.
As we encounter our first zombie, retrieve floor maps, break statues to grab gems, we alternate between the two different control schemes. Funnily, it's the old school tank controls we keep returning to, the modern day equivalent feeling too confusing with the locked camera angles and perspectives. We keep running, and aiming, the wrong way.
Memories keep clashing, between the PSOne original and this remake, which alters some layouts of the mansion, and adds entirely new locations, puzzles. We roughly peg the entrance (still locked) to the piano room, and mistake another corridor for one that contains an item-holding chest, and run straight into a zombie.
As we do every time we play the game, we get stuck early, missing either a door or pick-up somewhere in the labyrinth of the mansion. We decide not to start puzzling it out, partly due to curiosity about the other game on show today, but mainly because we want to save the experience until we can plunge through the mansion' uninterrupted. That old familiar feel of wanting to play until the early hours of the morning returns, and given the original's slow unlocking of its secrets, it's a perfect title to dedicate a night, day or even weekend to. And we suspect we will.
Revelations 2 then. Releasing episodically via digital, with a retail release collecting the chapters once the story concludes, this new entry sees Claire Redfield return to the RE fold and she's joined by a new face: Moira Burton, daughter of Barry, Chris and Jill's old S.T.A.R.S colleague.
The two play as a pair rather than offering two separate adventures, and their abilities are structured so they complement each other, the game allowing you to switch control over one to the other with a button press. While there's no online play, the game does offer couch co-op via split-screen, which we welcome, and as given working together is fundamental to the gameplay, being able to talk to your partner is key. Each character has their own inventory menu, allowing you to swop pick-ups, or split the load of items between them, letting you carry more than you could solo.
Claire's the master of firearms - the game introduces a pistol and shotgun in short order - but her close-range knife attack is little more than an irritant to enemies. She does have a semi-dodge ability though, stepping back or the sides with a directional push plus button hold.
Moira refuses to carry any long-range weapons (for reasons yet to be disclosed). Instead she's on torch duty. A seemingly lame task, but focusing the beam in enemy's faces temporally blinds them, which allows Claire time to attack. Pointing the torch at anything glinting in the shadows reveals much needed ammo boxes that then can be picked up.
Moira also wields a crowbar that can stagger enemies with a couple of strikes, and can be used as a finisher move if attackers are knocked to the floor. Revelations 2, this demo cut at least, is action-heavy, and ammo is rare enough that you quickly adapt into quick-switching between the two for the most efficient way of taking out hostiles.
Capcom has subtracted the biggest problem with being paired with an NPC by making Moira invulnerable. She'll still get attacked, but you don't have to worry about her dying. If you play as her, you can be killed though, and Claire's NPC state can be downed as well.
What we play is fairly linear. Claire awakens locked in a dank prison cell, and has to find Moira and lead the two out of the prison / experimental research facility while working out how they got there in the first place - and who is masterminding the entire operation. Strangely opposite to the Remake, the characters models are decent, but the environments drab, basic. You'd be hard-pressed to guess the game's running on PS4.
There's an element we hope will factor in a larger capacity later on - both characters away with electronic wristbands attached to them. A voice over a lab tannoy informs them that the bands are colour-coded, and react to fear. What that'll mean, if anything, to gameplay is unknown, but there's potential for something unique here if so.
Likely as an effect of the game's structure and development cycle, there's a lack of the lavish that we expect from RE's visuals. We've seen the series design beautiful dungeons slash labs in the past. This is a huge letdown - though we're still some months from release. There's the odd blood smear on walls, floors. A torture machine with its last victim still impaled on it. Nothing gives us pause to soak in the scene. We've seen this type of thing too many times before, and thus we linger little in each new room.
As we said, gameplay leans towards the action rather than puzzle. What there is of the latter is relatively simple: pull a switch, find a key, work out how to unlock a door to recover a gear (gleaming gold to state HOW IMPORTANT IT IS). Nothing we haven't done before in a Resident Evil game, but this time there's little sense of exploration. Everything's neatly and easily stacked for you to find.
At least the action and enemies are quality. The Afflicted, as they're known, are experiment leftovers. Humanoid in shape, scarred and flayed apart, they'll charge and attack you on sight, and can use primitive weapons to knock you senseless. Some can leap huge distances to slam into you. They can still be downed by head-shots, but their number is such you need a cool head to aim and down each one in turn. There's faster pace here to the gameplay than even what we've seen before in the series, but hopefully it's balanced out by slower sections. Certainly the sizzle reel that ends the demo (similar to the "next time on..." teases for TV shows) suggests this may be the case.
Very early on into our hands-on the obvious comparison hits: The Last of Us. The working together (Claire will boost Moira to higher ledges, forcing you to find a route to get Redfield up as well), the combat and a few other licks remind us heavily of Naughty Dog's effort. It's an odd, not entirely comforting thought that hopefully will diminish the more we see of the game.
So, two different flavours of Resident Evil. We're not being snide to the current status of the series by saying we much preferred our time with the Remake, but currently it seems the superior offering if you're stuck between making one purchase when the two titles are released next year. We really enjoyed the original Revelations, but the sequel feels like a different take again. We'll need to sit down and play the full first episode, but there's a big question mark as to whether this the right direction for the series, even if it's just for the side-entries.
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