Resident Evil: Revelations 2, Episode 1: Penal Colony

Resident Evil is finally shambling out of the mediocrity that has plagued the franchise for the better part of a decade. Revelations 2 is remarkably caught between Capcom’s current-generation intentions and surprisingly beholden to last-generation’s various successes and failures. That makes Episode One: Penal Colony, something of a quandary. Revelations 2 clearly isn’t going to be the stand-in for Resident Evil 7 that we were pining after but Episode One does a fantastic job of celebrating the series’ legacy of dangerous encounters, silly stories and the occasional jump scare.

Much in the same vein as 2013’s Revelations, the sequel pits fan-favourite characters together in an all-new environment and stands back to watch the B-movie grade chaos ensure. Over the course of Episode One’s two-hour adventure you’ll be introduced to two pairs of playable characters, each headed-up by a legacy operative still haunted by their past interactions with the Spencer Mansion and Raccoon City.

Claire Redfield along with Barry Burton’s daughter, Moira are kidnapped from a TerraSave benefit faster than you can shout “Umbrella did it!” and awaken inside an immensely creepy prison, shackled to bracelets that detect its wearer’s fear levels, for nefarious means, no doubt. Both characters lack any real memory of how they ended up locked inside the world’s worst penal colony, but that’s okay, because Episode One sets up the world’s most forgettable story anyway.

But you shouldn’t be here for the story; you should be here for the thrills, which Revelations 2 has no problem dishing out along a carefully-paced series of dank corridors and dreary operating rooms. Claire and Moira operate as a unit, which means you’d better be prepared for local co-op or a forced AI partnership. Thankfully, the system works better than in RE5, with the AI showing general competence throughout.
“Barry commonly finds himself dispatching enemies with a magnum so large it would make Revolver Ocelot weak at the knees”
It’s an interesting take on a traditional co-op experience that undoubtedly springs to life for local players. While Claire acts as the powerhouse of the unit packing a pistol and knife combo Moira prefers to wield a rather ineffectual crowbar and flashlight weapon set. This forces both players to work in tandem, with Moira acting as support to Claire by blinding enemies and stunning them before the killing blow can be inflicted. It works surprisingly well; both characters invite you to consider an entirely different playstyle and approach to the same situation, while avoiding the pitfall of letting one character feeling overlooked or worthless. It’s a solid dynamic that pumps some fresh life into an otherwise totally familiar game.

The other pairing then, is the always-awesome Barry Burton on the hunt for his daughter, and a mysterious little girl named Natalia. Ex-S.T.A.R.S. Burton packs serious firepower, while Natalia can barely throw a brick. She can, however, sense the living dead through the walls, because… well, because this is Capcom. The second portion of Episode One changes the dynamic of Revelations 2 considerably, and it’s a great palette cleanser. The player controlling Natalia is tasked with sneaking about and highlighting enemies so that Barry can do what he does best: killing zombies and making stupid jokes.

Truth be told, Revelations 2 has been very smartly designed. While Claire and Moira are the more capable pair, they face deadlier enemies. You’ll often be swarmed by multiple threats, forcing Claire to unload what little ammo she has remaining to escape certain death from the Afflicted. Barry, on the other hand, has a little girl to protect and more commonly finds himself dispatching lone enemies through stealth or when the occasion calls for it a magnum so large it would make  Revolver Ocelot weak at the knees. The co-op dynamic, whether you’re pairing up with a friend or the AI, works surprisingly well. This is backed up by a well-refined control system, adapted from the original Revelations. The ‘action’ style of play basically ensures you have access to full movement control as well as evasive manoeuvres that actually functions as a mechanic to dodge danger.

The only place Revelations 2 really stumbles is with its tone. It’s full of stupid dialogue that harkens back to famous quotables, and there’s the occasional slice of dark humour, but the ludicrous boss monsters Resident Evil is famous for are thus far absent, as are crazy environments and long-winded but ultimately satisfying puzzles to solve. If The Evil Within proved anything, it’s that these elements can still exist within a modern game without just being nostalgia hooks. But Revelations 2 is still off to a pretty good start.  We aren’t convinced the episodic model was necessary, and the story isn’t anything special, but the core gameplay mechanics and  interesting co-op dynamic make this one of Resident Evil’s finest forays into the action-horror genre ina long time.

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