As part of Gamereactor UK's new policy towards episodic titles, we'll discuss individual episodes as they release but leave a final roundup verdict until the entire season is completed. As a reflection on that, these recaps will also pinpoint the strongest and weakest elements we found in each episode, and as such contain spoilers.
Episode 1: In which f-bombs and in-jokes are dropped, we find out torches beat shotguns and what happens when Capcom gives Last of Us a shot.
So, Resident Evil goes episodic. It's not that big an upheaval given the original Revelations riffed on television series staples such as mock cliffhangers and "Previously On..." roundups even though it was an all-in-one retail release. The only difference here is it's taken a cleaver to similar divides and portioned out the game in weekly digital episodes, with a full game retail release following directly after.
If the next three episodes match this first one, you can expect around two hours worth of story campaign each, though as with previous series entries score rankings, unlocks and a returning Raid mode increase the potential play time.
The broad strokes of the gameplay and the dual storyline are setup in this first episode. with the former offering traditional RE mechanics with a few twists and additions. The two stories, split by an initially undefined period of time, have you playing a pair of characters in each: Claire Redfield and Moria Burton awaking in a dungeon-like research facility and attempting to escape, while Barry Burton arrives on a beach nearby to track down his daughter, and is aided by a young girl named Natalia.
AI companions are nothing new to the series, but Capcom aspires to add a soft tactical edge to gameplay and offer you a reason not to just stick with whoever's carrying a gun, instead getting you to hot-swop as situation demands it.
Both pairings have as many differences as similarities. Neither Moira or Natalia have access to the long-range weapons of Claire and Barry, but can spot useful items and ammo hidden in areas their partners would otherwise miss. Moira uses her torch to pinpoint their location, but can also use the flashlight to blind enemies, tag-teaming melee attacks with Redfield to down foes.
Natalia, on the other hand, can 'see' enemies through walls, requiring you to continually jump back to her (or constantly chat to your local co-op partner - sadly not an option on PC) to help Barry zero in for stealth takedowns.
While Burton is more heavily-armed than Claire, these sneak attacks, Last of Us lite in style, are a welcome addition and lead to one of the strongest sequences of the episode, as he and Natalia attempt to sneak through a nighttime forest filled with powerful foes. In all, it's a nice balancing act between the pairings. No one feels useless.
But we'll always favour an extra player over AI. It's competent enough (our AI Claire defaulted to the needed melee attacks whenever we staggered an enemy as Moira) though there's the odd - occasionally frustrating - moments when they get stuck in the environment (once) or fail to dodge an enemy attack (a couple of times). A branching upgrade system includes a few AI-partner perks, such as using guns on enemies without it zapping your ammo count.
There's some overlap between the two stories, as you return to certain areas you've explored with Claire and Moira as Barry and Natalia, but we like the setup that the first pairing's solution to problems now become obstacles for the second, compounded by a different selection of enemies.
Revelations 2 hasn't the same level of polish as, say, Resident Evil 6. Maybe that's a concession to a split-generation release, or Capcom trying to keep costs down with this episodic trial, but the game lacks visual punch. It's ironic the game isn't getting a 3DS release, given it doesn't feel far off an upscaled handheld port.
There's an interesting side point to be made about how the graphical fidelity helps or hinders the cliffhanger for this particular episode. There's a heavier heft to the reveal of just how much time has past between the two stories as there's no visual identifiers, but at the same time, you feel a chance has been missed (perhaps budget didn't allow) to tweak the environments further to differentiate the campaigns visually.
Odd AI quirks and one difficulty spike aside, we like what we've played, and that's mainly because of the father and daughter Burton team. Moira's spiky attitude may be Hollywood teenager 101, but her torch and crowbar combo nicely balance against Claire's firepower-heavy response, while Barry's campaign proves the more interesting and fun of the two.
It isn't a franchise overhaul, nor even does it match the series' best. But solid gameplay with a few flirtations with great ideas is bolstered by the cast, who even after nearly two decades we're still interested in, even if their exploits are getting overfamiliar.
With the Episode costing £4.99, and the full season £19.99, there's no real financial advantage to jumping in early or waiting. So the real questions are: is this worth playing, and should you join in the weekly wait or buy come the end?
Based on this initial episode, the answer is 'yes' to the first, though this isn't the series at its A-game. The latter depends on how much you're wanting to sink into the game's additional features such as Raid mode.
The rather brief campaign and weekly release schedule support the emphasis on replays while you wait: even those who never tapped in to the Raid side of Resident Evil before will do so now to get as much game as possible for their five quid.
While Capcom is likely hoping interest will be maintained each week through campaign completion time leaderboards and Raid scores, it seems bizarre that it's not activating the Raid's online co-op until later, which'd be an extra incentive.
Verdict: A solid start for the season, with enough familiar gameplay tropes from the franchise's better entries to keep us interested, and a nice "what happened?" mystery at the end to make us want to play the next episode.
THE BEST BIT: The quiet skulk through the nighttime forest with Barry and Natalia, using her extra senses to spot wandering mutations and silently taking them out as Barry.
THE WEAKEST BIT: The enemy rush at the end of the facility escape. Small room and a tiny window to move the flamethrower not helped by AI laying on a platter for enemies to munch on.
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