While actually getting a lot of things right, Resident Evil: Revelations stands as a testament to a lot of what’s become wrong with the series. I recently completed the Nintendo 3DS version of the game, and mechanically it is quite well made. It follows the gameplay model of Resident Evil 4 and on the New Nintendo 3DS it feels even better thanks to the addition of the C-Stick. The game also does a decent job of injecting some survival horror back into the series, with interesting new creature designs, claustrophobic environments, and fairly limited resources.
Much of where the game goes so wrong for me is in the writing, both the for the characters and the story. While the series has always been a little cheesy with occasionally cringe-inducing dialogue and poor acting, this was in keeping with low-budget horror and fit that context well. It could sometimes be silly, but rarely enough to take away from the stronger horror elements present.
What Revelations showcases to me, despite its horror elements, is just how much Resident Evil has become a dumb action series in the worst way, with a lot of the trappings of this genre coming across as contrived. One of the biggest offenders in this regard is the continuing obsession with partners. While the reasoning for this mechanically is for co-op play — which is a problem for a horror series in its own right — the way this has been written in since Resident Evil 5 is aggravating.
Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine never really had that strong of a connection in the series before RE5, other than the fact that they’re the original two protagonists from the first game. They never even appeared together again between that game and RE5. Yet since RE5 the idea that they were some sort of dynamic duo has emerged and Capcom has tried desperately to drive this into our brains. There’s no good explanation for it and we never see anything in how they interact that indicates why they would have a particular connection. Revelations seemed to be trying to flesh out the idea, but only so far as it kept trying to drive the point home without properly establishing anything.
The supporting characters, while less ham-fisted when it comes to partnering up, are so clichéd they’re nearly cartoon characters. Parker is the exception, whose only crime is being dull. The rest act so over-the-top in their distinct stereotypical ways that the game at times feels like its aping Metal Gear Solid. Resident Evil characters have never really been particularly well-written or deep, but they were generic with just enough personality that they worked. Outside of Chris and Jill, whose personalities are pretty much the same as always, the cast is irritating to experience.
Capcom has become too fixated on the characters of this series, whose jobs are now hunting these horrific threats down. That neuters the horror in a lot of ways, when you know the characters chose to seek these things out. The connective through line between games should have just been Umbrella Corp and their experiments like it was earlier on, with references sprinkled in. The situation and setting matter more than who the characters are.
Furthermore, the plot elements at play in Revelations are overly grandiose: the backstory revolving around a bio-terrorist attack on a fictional floating city with a silly name (Terragrigia), and its destruction via a satellite that can reflect massively destructive amounts of sunlight. While the series has frequently made use of over-the-top monster mutations for the sake of grotesque horror, these grander science fiction elements feel very out of place. The story is also needlessly complicated, introducing all this backstory in this one game, then following a plotline that deals with its consequences and the mystery behind it.
The best Resident Evil games were more straightforward, with mystery behind everything. The characters, while more generic, fit the situation well. They gave personality, but allowed the player to better immerse themselves in the survival horror scenario. These overly eccentric characters, high-concept locations like Terragrigia, and orbiting superweapons don’t improve on the story, only bury a potentially more compelling plotline under a lot of narrative detritus. The whole point of everything — the big “revelation” in the game — is that a bio-attack was orchestrated in order to force the world to take these threats seriously. That’s actually an interesting plot, but for some reason they convoluted the entire thing into an indulgent mess.
P.S. Most of this post was written before the Resident Evil VII reveal at Sony’s E3 conference Monday night. While borrowing a lot from other recent horror games, it looks to promise a lot of what I want to see from the series in contrast to the above problems. I’m cautiously excited.