(Warning: Minor spoilers below.)
A rare handheld "Resident Evil" game, 2012 spinoff "Revelations" was defined by what made it different from mainline games in Capcom's action horror series: smallness.
It saddled you with no partners. Its setting was one derelict cruise ship with drab cabins. Its story was unbound to what, as of "Resident Evil 6," had become worldwide knot of people, viruses and NGOs waging wars of bioterror and bad one-liners.
"Revelations 2" inherits most of these traits. It takes place on a prison island whose cell blocks and spillways are every bit as dingy and claustrophobic as the cruise ship. It's also an interquel — set between "Resident Evil 5" and "6" the way its predecessor was between "4" and "5" — so it doesn't move the saga forward. And it features only the series' B-team and new supporting players, so inconsequence is in its bones.
However, "Revelations 2" is also, genetically, a console game — unlike "Revelations," which debuted on the Nintendo 3DS before being ported to PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 a year later. So in addition to those cramped interiors are more open exteriors, like a beachside shanty town or a labyrinthine lumber yard. New ghouls the Afflicted and Revenants mob you in greater numbers. And the partner system is back.
The result is the best "Resident Evil" game since at least 2009's "5." The shooting is sturdily fun, the story and dialogue surprisingly decent, and the partners less unhelpful than ever.
But what really elevates the game above the first "Revelations" is its will to experiment. In its story, in its play and even in its distribution, "Revelations 2" is a game about transcending limits.
The most obvious example is its release model. Broken into four episodes made available each week beginning Feb. 24, "Revelations 2" unfolded like a TV show, even book-ending installments with recap and teaser montages. The first "Revelations" did that, too, but still stuck everything on one disc. The second took the next logical step, perhaps because Telltale's adventures have made the game world safe for such gambits.
Some of the effect was lost on me, though — I still binged on every main episode and two exclusive bonus ones via the game's March 18 disc release. So my experience of "Revelations 2" diverges from that of its weekly players almost as much as my marathon experience of "The Sopranos" diverges from that of HBO subscribers. Still, it was a good experience.
Thematically, the game's roll-out is as radical as its story — in particular, its villain.
"Revelations 2" begins with Claire Redfield, of "Resident Evil 2" and "Code Veronica," as well as Moira Burton, daughter of "Resident Evil" backup man and walking cringe Barry Burton, being kidnapped and imprisoned on the remote island of Zabytij. They wake up there with wristbands that measure their level of fear and, should it signal flashing red, inject them with a virus that'll turn them into Afflicted.
The culprit is Alex Wesker. Like longtime series antagonist Albert, she was injected with a different virus (see, it's complicated) by Umbrella CEO Oswell E. Spencer. He assigns her to the island to research immortality, and she finds the key to achieving it in the pre-teen Natalia, another prisoner. It's also Natalia who greets Barry when he arrives on the island six months after Claire and Moira's escape attempt, searching for them.
Every episode begins with Claire and Moira, and concludes with Barry and Natalia. Capcom smartly uses the time jumps to chip away at the mystery of Wesker's grim work. Keeping the cast of characters small and the dialogue coherent, it's really some of the best storytelling in a "Resident Evil" game. It could lean a little less on the wealth of proper nouns in the "Resident Evil" universe, though.
The writing also serves the characters well. Where Chris Redfield and Leon Kennedy and Jake Muller spoke the same meathead language in "6," Moira carves out her own space with an unending flow of curses you've probably never heard before. And Barry — well, you laugh with him more than at him. Especially when he hears a recording of his daughter's potty mouth and obliviously tells Natalia, "That's her. That's my baby."
Though the duos tread a lot of the same ground on the island, Capcom molds the rock-solid third-person shooting of "Revelations" and "6" into a distinct tone of play for each. Claire starts with nothing, so at first she scrapes for weapons and ammo to fend off the Afflicted: zombie variants that come in normal, weapon-wielding and exploding pus sacs a la "Dead Space."
Barry, meanwhile, arrives on Zabytij with a fully loaded pistol, magnum and assault rifle, so in no time he's shredding the limbs off Revenants. The creatures, stitched together from discarded body parts and reanimated by yet another different virus, negate Barry's firepower with a speed and ferocity that makes the series' 180-degree turn useless.
Thankfully, Revenants and Afflicted can be swiftly killed with stealth takedowns, which go from a niche part of "Resident Evil 6" to an available tactic throughout "Revelations 2." As for Wesker, her wish to transcend mortality is, in the end, snuffed by the same thing that snuffs every other thing in "Resident Evil": bullets. The series' status quo isn't that shaken up.
Claire and Barry's partners also inject "Revelations 2's" theme of innovation into the game's play. Moira's flashlight can stun enemies, and her crowbar lets her open doors Claire can't. Natalia can lob bricks at foes and, more usefully, detect them through walls. She can even see the invisible Glasps — her guidance makes killing them a nerve-racking but less impossible task.
So Moira and Natalia are partners worth controlling — and for the first time in a "Resident Evil" game, you can switch to them at will. It's also worth noting — and celebrating — that the game's cast is so abundantly female. It's yet another example of "Revelations 2" pushing against the status quo — and excelling for it.
Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox, or find him on PSN or Xbox Live under the name davewiththeid.