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Resident Evil Revelations: The best of old and new

Hands-on with Capcom's ambitious handheld Resi...

Resident Evil: Revelations has the scariest door in all of gaming. It lies in wait for intrepid explorers in the bowels of the Queen Zenobia, Capcom's luxury ocean liner turned floating ghost house.

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You can sense its pure evil from the second you lay eyes on it. For one, there are bloody smears around the base. Unless they're using raw steak as a draught excluder, something ain't right with that. Secondly, there are chains festooning the outside, rattling as... something hammers the inside. Thirdly is the voice of said... something. Not only does it call for help, it does it with two voices at once.

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It's silly. It's hackneyed. And dare we say it, a tiny bit unnerving. Isn't this Resident Evil in a nutshell? Since 1997 Capcom have been mixing hokey horror cliché with high-strength cheese and a tiny pinch of dread to create a uniquely melodramatic horror experience.

It's the only universe where zombies hide inside washing machines. It's the only universe were a tiny nip on the finger can cause a man to mutate into a human/industrial mill hybrid. It's the only universe where a character can stand in a gore-spattered room and say, straight-faced, "I've got a bad feeling about this".

CRUISING FOR A BRUISING
And it's a universe long thought abandoned. Resident Evil 4 took an undead lurch towards action respectability, ignoring low-key oddness for a fiercer rollercoaster ride. Amazing game though it was, we did miss the dry-throated dread of exploring Spencer Mansion's nonsensical crannies.

Revelations brings it all back. Just ten minutes in and Jill Valentine and partner Parker Luciani are creeping through the guts of the Queen Zenobia. Locks demanding novelty shaped keys - anchor, lifeboat and so on - tell us that we're in for a ghost house as labyrinthine as any before it.

Jill and Parker are on board in response to an emergency beacon set off by Chris Redfield and newcomer Jessica Sherawat. There might be a problem with that, what with the action cutting to Chris and Jessica as they explore a mountain range. Hmmm.

Factor in two new BSAA agents (that'd be the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance), Keith Lumley and Quint Cetchem, and you've a bustling cast full of B-movie acting and worm-food-to-be. How they all intertwine is part of the fun, so we'll keep things spoiler free. Just know that the Zenobia's snaking innards are where the majority of the action takes place.

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But it's a labyrinth filmed with Capcom's new-found eye for lean action. Corridors connect as a winding whole, but the Zenobia works predominantly as linear story-driven stretches. We start with a nervous creep through wrecked kitchens, flashes of darting skin spotted in the eerie glow of drinks dispensers. The darting skin belongs toRevelations' Ooze Creatures.

Made up of milky skin and spasming limbs, these foot soldiers could have shambled from Silent Hill's meaty bestiary. While lacking the star power of a zombie, they're a suitably gristly foe, especially when they grow projectile arms and lay organic mantraps.

As for killing them? Revelations' over-the-shoulder gunplay has RE4's feel, if not the rhythm. Ooze Creatures aren't as reactive as Los Ganados. Their meaty trunks absorb bullets and their heads can't be blown clean off.

Hitting weak spots fazes them and staggers their attacks, but we miss the satisfaction of a bloody geyser. It lacks the crowd control element of RE4's village throngs, though the 3DS would likely melt with more than five mutants on screen at once. We'd definitely take a smooth frame rate and decent combat over a juddering attempt at incredi-combat.

Not that Capcom skimp on bum-clenching moments. One early twist sees Jill stripped of her guns and dumped among the Ooze Creatures. With nothing but an evasive dodge between her and a head nibble, even one monster becomes a major hurdle.

At the other end of the combat spectrum we see Chris armed with plenty of guns but no ability to move. An incapacitating cliff fall forces him to fend off wolves with dwindling ammo, with every missed shot bringing him one bullet closer to being an all-you-can-eat Redfield buffet. Is your heart palpitating at the very notion? Just wait 'til you see what awaits you in the Zenobia's ventilation shafts...

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