Review: Resident Evil Revelations 2 – Episode 1: Penal Colony

The Resident Evil series has seen its share of video games genres in the past. Of course there’s the original survival horror titles, action oriented thrillers, on-rails first person shooters, and even multiplayer games, but who would have ever thought it’d end up being released in an episodic format? While Capcom will likely stick to the full sixty dollar release structure in the future, at least the Japanese company is trying additional new approaches in their most popular franchise. As the sequel to the Nintendo 3DS game, Resident Evil Revelations 2 is unquestionably the best fit for this sort of experiment, but is this what fan favorites Claire Redfield and Barry Burton deserve after so many years absent?

Resident Evil Revelations 2 takes place roughly a year before the events of Resident Evil 6 as Claire Redfield is thrown into yet another dire situation. Considering this is over ten years after the events of Raccoon City, our tomboy heroine has become considerably more resourceful. She hasn’t been sitting idly back during the world’s seemingly heavy decline into madness, as she’s far more capable of taking care of faster and more deadly creatures. Claire isn’t the only protagonist, though, as Barry Burton also makes his long awaited return, finally leading in his own game – or at least sharing one. The two aren’t alone, either, as the companion system from Resident Evil 5 and 6 has returned, but in a much different way. Instead, the secondary party is fairly useless in combat, but can aid in exploration and strategy. For example, Barry Burton’s foulmouthed daughter Moira is teamed up with Claire and because she doesn’t like guns, because that’s who you need on your team, she has a crowbar to stun enemies and a flashlight to blind them. Barry on the other hand finds a young girl named Natalia in his search for his daughter, and her ability is to spot enemies through walls and even see their weaknesses.

It sounds like a nuisance at first, but it’s actually enjoyable to cycle between the two characters. With that said though, the artificial intelligence is something left to be desired. There were too many instances during our playthrough when the companion wouldn’t follow the orders she was given. For example, Moira has one task: to blind these infected creatures so Claire can get the jump on them. Throughout the course of the first episode, though, she only did this action once, forcing Claire to face these creatures head on without any assistance. She also doesn’t stay put when you tell her to, which makes maneuvering through deadly traps all the more tense and frustrating. Fortunately, little Natalia had no problem doing what she’s told, even though most people will likely spend a lot of time playing as her, as her abilities are far more effective. In addition, Resident Evil Revelations 2 also has split-screen co-op, which is a step in the right direction, but despite the more limited nature of this release, the implementation of online play is still something I wish Capcom could have accomplished.

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The way Resident Evil Revelations 2 is broken up is in two parts: half an episode for Claire and the other half for Barry. The first episode as a whole takes roughly an hour and a half to two hours to complete, depending how the game is played. Running away from most enemies is almost easier than taking them on, especially playing as Barry where there’s far more open space to move around. It’s a little strange how Barry’s campaign is structured only because he has all the firepower, coming equipped with three monster weapons, yet his sections are focused a little more on stealth and ammo conservation. Claire’s story is her and Moira trapped in tight quarters with limited ammunition, while dealing with little to no room to escape. While it’s great that the two campaigns give off a strong variety, it’s something that could have been balanced little better – for example, it’d be nice to see more puzzles with Claire and a little less action. Speaking of combat, Revelations 2 plays similar to how most modern Resident Evil titles do now, that is far less jump scares (although there is one instance of that) and more of an emphasis on combat. Mechanically speaking, the gameplay is solid and feels enjoyable, even though the restricted quarters can be a bit tricky to perform the dodge move.

The story itself in the first episode isn’t anything to call remarkable, but it does set things up very well. Capcom is presenting Revelations 2 in a TV show format, and the questions the first two hours leave players with will have them thankful that each release is only seven days after the last, something other episodic games should take note of. The conclusion itself is a strong cliffhanger, and despite some awkward dialogue, both in terms of references to the first Resident Evil and the childish display of Moira, players will feel invested in the mystery circling the plot. The only complaint would be that there’s just no enough of it. Granted, this is only a short taste of the full package, but most of the dialogue are quips during quieter times, with the plot driven moments primarily occurring at the beginning and end of the chapters. Regardless, there’s enough here to keep players interested in how the events will unfold.

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In addition to the campaign, Capcom has also included their horde-esque Raid Mode which has the player putting on the skin of multiple characters and leveling them up. If you didn’t enjoy what the last couple of games did with Mercenary Mode, then you’ll likely not enjoy raiding in Revelations 2. The progression is a little better as enemies now have levels and health bars displayed over their heads, and each missions offers the potential to find weapons and goodies in the environment, but it’s more or less the same type of gameplay, minus the timer. Capcom is also hoping players will continuously come back to play on a frequent basis as there are daily challenges that will net those who complete it even more experience and cash to spend, that’s alongside a bevy of missions to choose from. There’s also a lot customization here, with various types of guns to equip, characters to play as, costumes to unlock and rather ridiculous taunts to perform that will give players far more value for their dollar. Unfortunately, there’s no online play, at least right now, which is a major disappointment considering how well structured and enjoyable the mode is.

Being a smaller, episodic adventure, don’t expect Resident Evil Revelations 2 to set a new bar for visual fidelity. Fortunately, what the action horror game does well is lighting and fog effects, creating atmospheric environments that will keep the player on edge of their seats. Unfortunately, from a visual standpoint, this won’t blow anyone away. That’s not to say the game looks bad by any means, but there are a lot of flat textures to be found, especially in the outdoor areas and questionable animation triggers. The number of times I was grabbed by an enemy when he shouldn’t have been able to is concerning. That’s not to mention the stilted and somewhat compressed pre-rendered cutscenes which, oddly enough, look worse than the in-game cinematics. With that said, the Xbox One version runs very well at 1080p and around 60fps, making this a smooth experience all the way through. Finally, as much as the character models of the main cast are well done, the monsters that inhabit this facility are nothing short of generic. There wasn’t a single enemy throughout Penal Colony that had us admiring its design.

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Closing Comments:

It’s always scary to try new things, but what Capcom has done with Penal Colony helps relieve some of the concern fans may have had going in. While it’s not the most innovative Resident Evil to hit the market, the new episodic format is a breath of fresh air, especially with Capcom following through with the weekly schedule. While the monster designs are overly generic and the two campaigns could have been better balanced, the core gameplay mechanics are satisfying and the cliffhanger ending will pull you in for more. It’s just too bad that Moira’s artificial intelligence isn’t all that reliable and there’s a lack of online cooperative play at launch. Regardless, the first episode of Resident Evil Revelations 2 is off to a solid start, but Capcom has a ways to go before convincing players that this is a good direction for the series.