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'Resident Evil Revelations 2,' episode 1 review

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Resident Evil Revelations 2

Current Status:
In Season

We gave it a B

The Resident Evil franchise is one of the most powerful, enduring brands in video games, spawning over a dozen best-selling games and five blockbuster films starring Milla Jovovich, with a sixth, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, already in the works. But after 2012’s Resident Evil 6 disappointed both critically (our own Darren Franich called it “a great bleeding mess”) and commercially, the future of the series has been unclear.

With no news of Resident Evil 7 yet, Capcom seems to be testing the waters of what fans want from the series with today’s release of the first episode of Resident Evil Revelations 2, a downloadable, episodic adventure set between Resident Evil 5 and 6. The first Revelations was originally on Nintendo 3DS in 2012 (and later ported to consoles) and offered an episodic setup that was well-suited to playing small chunks on the handheld. Revelations 2 evolves this format by releasing each episode weekly through March 17, turning the game into something akin to a “special miniseries event!” that TV networks are so fond of these days.

Revelations 2 features series stalwarts Claire Redfield and Barry Burton, along with new characters Moira (Barry’s totes millennial daughter) and Natalia (a young girl with mysterious powers and an even more mysterious hair ribbon). Those unfamiliar with the previous games can still jump right in, as an opening cinematic sets up the storyline.

Claire is working for the anti-bioterrorism organization TerraSave when armed forces attack, kidnapping her and Moira. They awaken imprisoned on a remote island with monitors attached to their arms and a sinister voice taunting them. And because this is a Resident Evil title, the facility is teeming with mutated monsters intent on eating them.

I played the first episode solo, and there’s a nice rhythm to the character-switching dynamic, as you scout the area with Moira/Natalia and then switch to heavy hitters Claire and Barry when enemies attack. But it isn’t particularly scary or challenging, with ammo and health plentiful enough that I never really worried about dying. It’s not nearly as frenzied and bombastic as RE6, but it’s also nowhere near as tense and claustrophobic as the original Resident Evil, which recently received an excellent HD remaster that reminded us of why we cared about the franchise in the first place.

With Revelations 2, Capcom seems a bit unsure of what makes a great Resident Evil game and tries to find the middle ground between survival horror and action game. The end result is a bit middling and safe, and the story feels slight in the first episode. Resident Evil is known for its hoary B-movie clichés and over-the-top campy dialog, so I’m hopeful that those aspects will be cranked up in subsequent episodes.

Fortunately, like any good miniseries, it ends on an intriguing cliffhanger that will have me tuning in for episode two, if only to see where the twists and turns lead. Even if it doesn’t give me a better indication of the franchise’s ultimate direction.