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Review: Revelations a good Resident Evil tribute - just not that scary

Sheva Alomar (foreground) and Chris Redfield in Resident Evil 5.

It's tough to be terrified by a movie that fits in the palm of your hand. Watch Insidious in a theatre and you'll likely shut your eyes in fear. Watch it on your phone and you'll probably shut your eyes for another reason: To go to sleep.

The same goes for games. Capcom's greatest challenge in making Resident Evil: Revelations – a gruesome interactive tale in which government bioterrorism agents fight mutated humans aboard an abandoned cruise liner – was bringing the series' signature frights to the Nintendo 3DS's three-inch screen.

The Japanese game maker didn't quite succeed.

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It's perhaps the most graphically sophisticated game yet to come to a Nintendo handheld – it looks like a Wii title played on a wee display – and provides a dark, layered soundtrack filled with spooky effects and a haunting score. And yet it delivers neither the shocks nor chills that come from the series' best entries. It seems you just can't get a legitimate goose bump from such a small screen.

But that doesn't mean it's not fun. Much of the game is designed as homage to the series' 16-year-old roots, and this retro flare will delight older fans.

The wooden-panelled interior of the cruise ship is decorated in a manner not dissimilar to that of the old manor we explored in the original Resident Evil for PlayStation. And, just like that old classic, Revelations has us slowly creeping along darkened corridors waiting for creatures to break through doors and windows. It may not be as scary as its predecessors, but the tension is still tangible.

When we're not fighting we're carefully searching our surroundings for keys to locked doors and useful items, such as weapon upgrades and tools to solve puzzles. We also discover some agreeably corny notes left behind by the ship's poor crew; unwitting journals of their terrible transformations into mindless, murderous man-eaters.

It's a refreshing return to Resident Evil basics. At least for the most part.

The story is presented in an out-of-sequence, episodic format. The deliberately paced shipboard levels are great fun, but we're sometimes pulled away to other times and places – a floating city on the verge of collapse, a plane crash in an icy wasteland – where the ammunition is plentiful and the fighting furious. These sequences were clearly designed to pander to players who want less creeping and more shooting.

Problem is, fast action is something Resident Evil has never done particularly well, and Revelations is no different. The series' signature stop, aim, and shoot mechanic – which can effectively heighten suspense when employed in moderation – becomes an annoying nuisance when surrounded by speedy, pouncing mutants.

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Luckily, these action-oriented levels aren't very frequent. Still, the experience would have benefited from their omission.

When Revelations stays true to its classic forebears it can be hard to put down, especially if you've any fond memories of the series' older entries. It's just a shame Capcom didn't stick to its guns and keep the old-school vibe from start to finish.

Resident Evil: Revelations

Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Publisher: Capcom

Developer: Capcom

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Classification: Mature 17+

Score: 7/10

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