Resident Evil: Revelations 2 has the secret best survival horror in the series

I'm playing as psychic girl Natalia when an orange glow turns red. This is a problem. It means one of the enemies she detects at a distance has seen me, even though I'm crouchwalking and according to video game law should be undetectable. Natalia can brain enemies with bricks but I'm all out of those, so I tab over to the other character, Barry Burton. The walking meme generator who's been appearing in Resident Evil games since the first readies his signature Magnum, but can't see what Natalia saw—it's an invisible glasp, a slack-skinned flybeast that appears out of nowhere to one-hit kill you then open its belly and rain larvae on your corpse. I take aim, trying to remember exactly where it was. Natalia points and as I open fire shouts “More left!” and “Higher!”

Later, playing as two other characters – Resident Evil 2 survivor Claire Redfield and Barry's daughter Moira – I hear the buzzdrone of another glasp approaching. But this time I don't have a psychic girl to point at it and all I can do is spray wildly, wasting bullets that are as precious and rare as good Resident Evil games.

Resident Evil: Revelations 2 was overlooked when it came out in 2015. It was a sequel to a spin-off made for the 3DS, although it doesn't continue that story and is by Resident Evil standards pretty self-contained. Also, it was episodic, and like every episodic game that meant it attracted the usual shouting about how unfair its pricing was. Which is a shame, because Revelations 2 is one of the best Resident Evil games there is.

While Resident Evil 4 reinvented the series as action, the Revelations games stepped back toward survival horror. Ammunition's scarce and you're forced to use dangerous tactics to conserve it. In Revelations 2 that means character-swapping. Natalia's ability to see monsters through walls makes it easier for Barry to sneak up and stealth-kill them with his knife. Moira uses her torch to blind zombies so Claire can kick them down, before Moira jumps back in to crowbar their heads like ripe fruit. Against lone enemies these are solid plans, but against groups things easily go wrong and then you're overwhelmed and wasting bullets. 

Having four main characters works well with the B-grade horror movie tone that Revelations 2 evokes. The bigger the core cast of a horror movie, the less likely they all are to survive it. Each of the four plays into an archetype horror role: the protective father, the hardened survivor, the panicky teen, the spooky girl (she even dresses like one of the sisters from The Shining). It's B-grade in the best possible way – schlocky but well-written, especially for Resident Evil. It recasts Barry's badly translated one-liners as lame dad jokes, and contrasts them with his daughter's dialogue, peppered with inventive swearing. When she responded to a situation with “What in a moist barrel of fucks?” Moira became my favourite character.

That situation? Being trapped on a prison island off the coast of Russia by a woman calling herself The Overseer, who performs bizarre experiments on her captives. It's a bit Code: Veronica, a bit Cube. The Overseer is turning the locals into zombies, creating mutants, and bringing outsiders in with collars on their wrists that track their fear levels while she subjects them to a meatgrinder of puzzles and setpiece battles like, well, a sadistic video game designer.

What in a moist barrel of fucks?

Moira Burton

Though it references the convoluted backstory of the series, with a Wesker showing up and jokes about the dialogue from the original game, Revelations 2 stands independent from most of that stuff. It doesn't bog you down in exposition about which strain of the T-Virus got loose this time or which local franchise of the evil Umbrella Corporation is responsible for it all. Each of the four episodes is split into halves, each played as one character pair, beginning with a “previously on” and building to a daft cliffhanger. It finishes when it should, and climaxes with an extremely over-the-top boss fight that brings together every glorious cliché the series has built up over the years, from last-minute helicopter rescues to red barrels full of explodium.

Screenshot via Steam user Moon_Shine.

However, you only get that all-action climax if you're on track for the good ending. I'm going to spoil how the endings work now, so skip ahead a paragraph if you want, though I think you'll enjoy the game more knowing how it works up front. Revelations 2 has two endings, and the bad one's not just bleak but abrupt in the way that makes you feel like you're being punished for playing the 'wrong' way.

At the end of episode three you choose whether Claire or Moira kills Neil, the fellow survivor who betrays you because there's always one. Claire had a crush on Neil and feels especially deceived, so letting her finish him would nicely tie that up – but that's how you get the bad ending. Instead Moira, who hates guns, has to overcome her feelings like Reginald VelJohnson in Die Hard and shoot Neil in the head because guns are actually very good, I guess?  

That misstep aside, Revelations 2 is everything you want from survival horror. Regular horror is all about fear, but survival is more about tension. Most of the enemies are barb-wire zombies or shambly twitchmen, and they're not what's really worrying. Having to crowbar open a door with Moira while Claire protects her, and realizing you don't have any molotovs or shotgun shells left—that's what's frightening. Recent Resident Evil games turned their heroes into unstoppable machines able to punch through boulders, but Revelations 2 dialled it back. With restricted locations and survival horror as its focus, Revelations 2 feels like it was pointing the way towards Resident Evil 7.

Raid mode is a worthy successor to Mercenaries, with RPG leveling and tons of unlocks.

Even though the combat's not over-the-top it's still great, with enemies who can be stunned or hit in weak spots or blasted right out of the air when they leap. Pin-point aiming is possible because for once the mouse-and-keyboard controls work as well as a controller, unlikely as that seems in a Resident Evil game. Plus there's a proper dodge button rather than the mad situational dodging the previous Revelations had, which worked entirely at random. 

And like Resident Evil 4 with its Mercenaries mode there's a way to keep enjoying the combat after finishing the story: Raid mode. Presented as a virtual simulation created by the Red Queen AI, it transforms Revelations 2 into fast-paced pure combat, playable alone or in co-op just like the campaign. There's a stream of unlocks and upgrades to keep you going and for some reason they appear as vinyl records that have to be plugged into a jukebox between missions.

Yet that's not the weirdest thing about it. No, the weirdest thing is the emote system, with a range of actions, commands, and dance moves that mean you can finally see Barry Burton dance the robot. And that's the other secret best thing about Resident Evil: Revelations 2. 

The master of robotics.