Full disclosure: Capcom sent me a copy of Resident Evil Revelations for review
Few games have ever made me simultaneously swear at and cower from them. Resident Evil Revelations inspired quite a bit of both this week as I pushed myself to overcome my sometimes irrational fear of zombies. I recoiled from the hideous monsters and freely cussed the game's numerous hitches and quirks — and loved it.
Revelations is a straightforward action-horror title that borrows heftily from Resident Evil 4 and 5 but tries desperately to reanimate the series' survivalist roots. You primarily control Jill Valentine as she investigates a mysterious cruise ship that was once a hideout for a group of bioterrorists known as Il Veltro.
But, back to those hitches and quirks. Revelations is by far the best-looking 3DS title I've played, but it is perpetually at odds with the system's hardware. If more than five monsters appear on screen at one time, the framerate drops considerably. One particularly grueling fight even hard-locked my handheld after six regular beasties spawned alongside the massive resource hog of a boss.
Much of my frustration came from the game simply trying to do too much, like it was desperate to prove that you can combine survival horror and action in a fun and functional way. Most of the time it was easy to overlook long loading times and the occasional dip in frame rate but the more Revelations tried to impress me, the more it started cracking at the seams.
But I think back to those agonizing fights with a smile. Even though I died repeatedly because of mechanical issues, I felt something pure and determined in every awkward moment. When the game functions well, it's a fantastic and snappy experience, but sometimes it gets carried away. It's too ambitious, but I accept that and encourage it to keep on trying.
I sat down with the game's developers during E3 and was surprised to learn how much they wanted to bring back the original Resident Evil's atmosphere. So much so that they invented a special item-finding gun that forces the player to slow down as they scan the environment scavenging for ammo and herbs.
They did much more than slow the pacing. All the over-ambitious failings harken back to a purer RE experience where Jill was still the master of unlocking and zombies fell to the ground like logs. It rekindles all the janky charm and frustration of the original game by simply trying to do its best.
The game's atmosphere is truly astounding. As the dark conspiracies surrounding Veltro unfold, Jill and her companions descend into a watery interpretation of hell. The Divine Comedy is heftily referenced and quoted throughout the story, setting a chilling backdrop for the numerous betrayals and upsets along the way.
Resident Evil Revelations captures the heart of the RE franchise, right down to the frustrating little problems. I think of it like the portrait hall from the original game. Remember? It was full of squawking crows and a series of buttons. That room had some of the most egregious camera angles ever designed, but they only enhanced the atmosphere. One false move and vicious zombie crows would swoop down and peck you to death.
Revelations is a spooky, satisfying experience marred by the occasional technical hiccup. Each problem adds an element of dread to an already overwhelmingly hopeless situation and brings out a sense of purity that the more functionally precise entries in the series lack.
I want my Resident Evil game to have a bit of jankiness that makes me angry enough to overcome my fears. Otherwise I'd still be hiding under a blanket because one of the zombies just tried to…talk to me.