Monday, May 20, 2013

Resident Evil: Revelations - Demo Impressions

Once the reigning king and quintessential embodiment of the survival-horror genre, the Resident Evil series has spent the better half of the past decade trying to recapture its former brilliance. Unsuccessfully, it would seem. I used to consider myself a fan of the series, from the slow-paced adventure-style gameplay of the originals to the stronger action focus of the fourth main installment. But ever since Resident Evil 5, which was itself an underwhelming letdown, I've found myself cynically jaded by the barrage of spin-offs to have been churned out by the grand corporate machine.

Resident Evil: Revelations was said to be a return to form for the series, offering a gameplay and atmosphere style that more closely resembled the originals while still retaining the over-the-shoulder third-person-shooting mechanics and control scheme that made Resident Evil 4 so successful. Not owning a Nintendo DS, I was unable to play ResERev until it was ported to the PC. With its release date looming a couple of days away, I decided to give the demo a shot and see if Revelations lives up to its hype. Unfortunately, judging by the demo, Revelations appears to be another disappointing letdown. 

Let's first tackle how Revelations lives up to its biggest selling point: the fact that it supposedly has the atmosphere and general feeling of playing more like the originals. It's true that Revelations seems to value exploration and the moody downtime between monster encounters more than, say, Resident Evil 5. The ship we explore in the demo has two distinct paths of exploration, seemingly suggesting the full game will give you a little freedom to roam rather than dragging you by the nose down a linear path. While playing in the default "normal" difficulty, I encountered about 5-6 monsters in a 30 minute gameplay session.

The atmosphere is there, but it's still undermined by the FPS-style controls. Part of the reason Resident Evil 4 worked as an action-oriented survival-horror game is that it still maintained the old tank controls of the originals, making movement and aiming more methodical. In the options menu, there's a setting to switch the control scheme between "Classic" and "Shooter," but this seems only to affect controllers -- keyboard and mouse controls seem permanently stuck with FPS-style controls.

At least Jill's got nice assets. Also, note that the drab visual design of this
stairwell is basically representative of the the visuals in the entire demo. 

It doesn't help that mouse aiming in the PC version is incredibly janky thanks to mouse acceleration. It's tough to make small adjustments to your aim, which makes the action generally imprecise and a little frustrating. To make matters worse, there's no option in the settings menu to remove mouse acceleration, so you're basically stuck with it. One small solution is to disable the "enhance mouse precision" options in the hardware -> mouse settings in the control panel. By disabling that option, aiming became a little more bearable, but it wasn't a perfect solution.

Revelations features something called a Genesis tool, a scanner that you can use on the environment. At first I was kind of excited, because I thought it might function kind of like the scanner in Metroid Prime, which gave you clues about where to go or what to do, gave you adventure-style descriptions of things, and filled you in on the game's lore and backstory. Unfortunately, the Genesis tool in Revelations seems to only serve one purpose: uncovering items. If you walk into a room, you might see a single pack of ammunition on a table, but if you bring up the scanner and click on hotspots, shinies appear that you can approach and press F to pick up. If you scan enough enemies, you're magically gifted a free healing item. Makes perfect sense.

It turns out that the normal difficulty has you basically tripping over ammunition and healing items. That's not what survival-horror is supposed to be about, but the game also features arbitrary limits on how much ammo you can carry. Even if you're carrying absolutely nothing else, you're still limited to 30 pistol rounds. This is rather disappointing, considering both RE1 and RE4 let you decide how much ammo to carry and let you customize your inventory within the limits. In Revelations you're usually finding ammo and healing items you can't carry because you're already at max, and with ammo seemingly everywhere you're never at risk of actually running out -- and yet you're constantly restocking ammo because of the arbitrarily low max ammo capacity.

Shooting enemies that come from straight ahead in a narrow hallway.

The action component of the game isn't even that satisfying. The wonky mouse aiming is of course a major culprit in this, but there just isn't any satisfying feedback for shooting enemies. Monsters don't flinch for each shot you connect, so you end up putting four or five bullets into a monster's face (over the course of 3-4 seconds) before it makes any kind of reaction. If you kill a monster with pure headshots, there's no decapitation whatsoever. Normal difficulty only featured a single enemy type in the demo, and that monster didn't even have a distinct death cue (either a sound effect or animation), so between the lack of enemies reacting to bullets and having a hard time telling when the enemy is starting its death animation, fighting an enemy just feels awkward.

What's especially disappointing about the demo is that it only consists of a 10-minute scenario. You play as Jill Valentine (the obvious choice of protagonist to try to recreate the feeling of the originals) on a ship with some meathead looking guy, apparently looking for Chris Redfield. You go down a hallway and find him in a locked room, so you go down a few more corridors and find a key to the cell. Once you get in the cell, you watch a cutscene and the demo ends. The demo is so incredibly short that it didn't give me much of an impression of what the full game experience might be.

In fact, if the demo is supposed to representative of the entire game, then we can expect a lot of cramped corridors. It's actually kind of insulting how the game forcibly railroads you down certain paths. It's a classic trope for video games to give the illusion of other pathways existing but limiting you to certain ones; sometimes developers can make it work unobtrusively, but Revelations is absurd about it. At one point in the demo I was walking down a hallway and was thwarted by .... waist-high boxes. Instead of just hopping over the boxes, I was forced to take a detour. Just around the corner, a door to a room is blocked by .... a stack of empty wooden milk crates, forcing me to take a detour and use another door.

Thwarted by my only known enemy .... waist-high boxes!

Meanwhile, the graphics certainly aren't much to look at. They look like something from 2005-2006, including some clunky animations, very low-resolution textures for the environments, pretty weak lighting effects, and so on. Granted, this is a port of a Nintendo DS game, so with that in mind the graphics look fairly good -- but it's asking an awful lot for people to spend $50 on a port of a one-year old game with dated visuals. Maybe if the game were priced at $30, it wouldn't even be an issue.

After breezing through the demo in normal difficulty, I decided to try the harder mode to see if it was any different. The first major thing to note about "Infernal" difficulty is that, in the demo, it starts you out with a submachine gun and a shotgun, whereas normal and casual difficulties only give you a pistol. Other than, it's basically just a harder game mode, featuring fewer-to-no healing items and more limitations on ammo drops. But I found it pretty tedious that the basic enemies ended up taking 30-40 bullets from the SMG to kill (due to their inflated health values and the janky aiming periodically causing me to waste a few rounds), so I just didn't have the patience to sit through all that.

So basically, nothing about the demo impressed me. The only positive thing I have to say about it is that it's not Resident Evil 5 -- but that's not necessarily a compliment in Revelations' favor. If Revelations is meant to be Capcom's strongest effort to date in returning to the series' roots, then the demo didn't convince me they did a very good job of it. The atmosphere is an improvement over RE5, but I feel like even RE4 had better mood and atmosphere in its first half than what the demo of Revelations showcased. I guess I'll have to research how the DS version turned out to get a better idea of how the full game will actually be, but for right now I have no real interest in Revelations.

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