The first Resident Evil Revelations was a well-received spinoff in the much-loved horror franchise. Its hipster status was probably helped by the fact it was first released on 3DS (a console hardly anyone owned in 2012), combined with the fact it came out around the same time as Resident Evil 6, a much-maligned game which it was cool to hate. Revelations was a decent game and it did well enough to earn a sequel, which was released on a variety of platforms in 2015.
Revelations 2 doubles down on the episodic structure introduced by its predecessor, and comprises four main episodes (and a couple of bonuses) which weigh in at about two hours each. Each episode is roughly divided in half as we follow our dual protagonists, Claire Redfield and Barry Burton. Claire and Barry are both second-tier franchise characters. Claire is much like her brother Chris, in that she is about as generic a lead as you can get: she’s not unpleasant or annoying, but she’s very lacking in charisma, and doesn’t really get a memorable story here. Instead, the emotional arc of Revelations 2 mainly revolves around Barry and his teenaged daughter Moira, who acts as Claire’s partner through most of the game. Barry is accompanied by the mysterious young girl Natalia, who he encounters while looking for his missing daughter.
Revelations 2 has an unusual asymmetric co-op system, where one player controls the ‘main’ character (Claire or Barry), who can use guns; while the other character controls the sidekick. The sidekicks can’t use guns, but they have other uses: Moira wields a crowbar, while Natalia is able to avoid detection and see invisible enemies. Yes, unfortunately Revelations 2 continues the trend of introducing more and more frustrating mechanics, outdoing even the invisible Hunters of its predecessor. This time, we get huge invisible fly monsters who can one-hit-kill Barry once they get in range. Invisibility or insta-death are bad enough on their own; whoever thought it would be a good idea to combine them, is a sadist with no place designing video games.
This is an extreme example, but the alacrity with which Revelations 2 frustrates the player is a prevailing problem. This is a difficult game, and the challenge is compounded by a terrible sense of pacing. Revelations 2 ignores some basic tenets of storytelling, one of which is knowing to follow a stressful or climactic scene with a bit of downtime to let the audience recuperate, catch their breath and replenish their ammo. Here, we have long periods where the gamer is thrown into into the meat grinder time and again with little or no respite. The effect isn’t thrilling, just exasperating and depressing. In a way, it’s odd that the game suffers from such bad pacing. In Resident Evil 4, the franchise already has the perfect example of how to tell a story like this. I suppose part of the problem might be that in trying to outdo previous games, it just dispensed with too many of the “boring” bits that are actually essential to a satsfying experience.
Revelations 2 is set in the nondescript, fictionalized version of Eastern Europe to which the franchise retreated after the contrived “racism” controversy that met RE 5’s African setting. As far as the storyline is concerned, Revelations 2 features some surprisingly serious and poignant family melodrama revolving around Barry and Moira. Of course, the larger narrative that provides the overarching context is absurd, and the script is chockablock with bad puns and memes. This sort of silliness has always been part of the camp, B-Movie DNA of the Resident Evil series; but you can have too much of a good thing, especially when you stumble across a story with some heart. It’s a bit too much to see Barry, supposedly at his wit’s end looking for his daughter, running around making references to Jill Valentine memes. This is all framed by po-faced and pretentious nods to Kafka, largely in the form of vapid quotes between each mission. Without playing it yet, my impression is that Resident Evil 7 has tried to move away from all this childishness, towards more of a stripped-down narrative and a less overblown identity. If so, that can only be a good thing.
It’s a shame Revelations 2 is so much less than the sum of its parts, because the core gameplay is strong. Killing monsters is fun, and the gunplay can be exciting and rewarding, particularly when the game isn’t trying to force some gimmick down your throat. This is shown off in Raid mode, another variation on the Mercenaries minigame. But just when you’re starting to enjoy yourself, the game will throw some invisible arseholes at you, force you into an excruciating stealth section, or make you fight a boss with no ammo. Sometimes, in order to go forward, you just have to go back to basics.