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Resident Evil: Revelations hands-on preview

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Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D is the first game released in the classic survival horror series for Nintendo‘s 3DS handheld, but it’s not actually a survival horror experience. You’re going to have to wait until next year if that’s what you’re looking for, as the upcoming Resident Evil: Revelations is supposed to have been cut from a more traditional genre cloth. A small slice of the game is included as a bonus demo with The Mercenaries, but we got to play a little more than what you see there at a Capcom demo in New York City last week.

Revelations is set between the events of Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 5. The Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance has just been formed, founded by two of the series’ key characters, Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield. The story opens on Jill, who has been sent to investigate a cruise ship in Europe, which a GPS signal from the missing Chris and his partner Jessica has been tracked to. Jill is joined by a partner of her own, Parker Luciani, but she’s running solo when the hands-on demo that we played opens.

Control-wise, this is Resident Evil. It’s not quite tank controls, but nowhere near the freedom of movement you have in RE5. Jill can be made to strafe with the right button combination, but moving and shooting simultaneously is, as ever, a no-no. The pace is slower–at least in this initial demo–than RE5‘s was, and the enemies are fewer in number. They take more bullets though, and there are fewer resources to work with. At one point toward the end of the demo, we literally had to run past an enemy and through a nearby door because there were literally no bullets left to fire.

Really, the demo seems to exist for the express purpose of showing off how the game controls. There’s no hint of the weapon upgrade mechanics that have been popular in the series’ more recent games, and only a minimal amount of puzzle-solving and a linear series of corridors that cut down on the potential for exploration. That’s not to say these features won’t manifest in the final game, they’re just not the focus of the demo.

Instead, you guide Jill through the cruise ship’s cramped hallways and guest rooms, with one notable (but largely uneventful) rest stop in a cavernous, mist-shrouded dining hall. The demo serves up a pistol and a shotgun, both of which quickly run out of ammo as a few too many enemies pop up along the way. Nothing new for a Resident Evil game, really.

What is new is the ability taken from The Mercenaries 3D to seamlessly switch between items using the lower screen on your 3DS. Basic actions are easily and instantly accessible, and weapons can be swapped with the tap of a finger. It’s quick, painless and doesn’t interrupt play in the slightest.

While the game’s 3D elements look fine, even great at times, a large portion of fans are likely to play with it turned off. The core games in the Resident Evil series are tense affairs, the sort of games where you huddle over your controller while staring wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the screen, on the edge of your seat anticipating the next scare. Those kinds of emotions do not mix well with a platform that must be held absolutely steady and level in order to make its unique 3D features work. Turning off the 3D solves that problem immediately.

Visually, the brief slice of Revelations that Capcom’s shown is one of the most impressive we’ve yet seen for the 3DS. We’re certainly not on the level of Resident Evil 5, but the game still looks like a big step up from the Wii remake of RE4.

The demo continues to follow Jill until she meets up with Parker. After a brief exchange, they set off for the ship’s bridge, where they’ll be able to broadcast a message out to their superiors and get back home. That’s not how things go down though. The tugboat that would have been their way out explodes and, making matters worse, a mysterious man with a gun appears and threatens them. A tense stand-off ensues, one which we don’t see the end of due to the demo ending.

Overall, Capcom appears to be on the right track with this second Resident Evil release for Nintendo DS. Fans that have been worried over the increasing departures from the genre as seen in cases like The Mercenaries and Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles can look to Revelations as the big hope for the preservation of the franchise’s ideals. We’re still a long ways out from release and there’s a lot more to see, of course, but for now at least this ship appears to be right on course.