Release Date: February 24th, 2015
Available On: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Reviewer’s note: I played this game on the PlayStation 4. There may be differences between versions.
2012’s Resident Evil Revelations was a surprisingly competent entry to the series, especially considering that it was a 3DS spin off. After successfully getting rereleased on consoles the next year, Revelation 2 skips the handhelds entirely and heads right to the consoles, turning episodic along the way. To my delight Penal Colony is a great start to what looks like a promising game.
Taking place some time during the events of Resident Evil 6, Penal Colony opens up with yet another anti-bioterriorism group, this one called Terra Save, hosting a party. Unfortunately the party is crashed by masked soldiers and both Claire Redfield and Moira Burton are abducted. Waking up in a prison on an island, they find themselves trapped with monsters, with mysterious bracelets strapped to their arms, and under the watch of a woman called The Overseer. Not all hope is lost though, as Barry Burton is en route looking for his daughter, picking up a psychic child named Natalia along the way. It’s a good mystery that suffers from some poor writing. Moira is basically a black hole of poor writing, and the game is constantly trying to remind you of how bad the writing in the original Resident Evil was, especially Barry’s lines. I get it: “Jill sandwich” and “master of unlocking” was really iffy writing. I don’t need to be reminded. Still, the central mystery is good enough to keep me focused and the ending plot twist has me excited to come back for episode 2.
In Penal Colony you’ll be taking control of four different characters. Claire and Barry both basically play the same: they’re action heavy characters with guns that can defend themselves from the monsters inhabiting the island. They can dodge, stagger enemies and follow up with melee attacks, and even stealthy kill enemies from behind. You can find weapon parts and upgrade your weapons at crafting tables as well, and Barry also has the ability to combine items in his inventory to craft new ones. That said, there should be nothing unusual in how you spend your time as these two characters. Moira is a little different: with no guns to defend herself she’s only armed with a flashlight and a crowbar. The flashlight can stun enemies if shined in their eyes, and if you get Claire to knock that enemy down then Moira can execute them with the crowbar. She can also use the flashlight to find hidden objects in the environment and the crowbar to open locked chests (using one of the worst unlocking minigames I’ve ever seen) and doors. Natalia is the weirdest of the four, working more like a radar to warn Barry of monsters behind corners, and with no combat ability other than being able to pick up and throw bricks. She too can unlock chests, find hidden items, and can also crawl through small openings to get to hard to reach areas.
The whole story can either be played solo or with local co-op, the latter of which may suck if player two constantly gets stuck as the “support” character. The monsters you fight aren’t really anything abnormal for a Resident Evil game, consisting of slow zombie-like enemies and faster “mutant” human ones. One unique enemy requires you to blow parts of it off to try and find its hidden weak spot, but most of the enemies are just the “shoot in the head and don’t think about it” type. That said, in the episode’s running time (which is a little under two hours), there were quite a few unique scenarios. Accidentally releasing a cell block of mutants and having to utilize traps to keep them back is pretty fun. A trip through a dark forest while being stalked by a new enemy type, constantly seeing them move around in the distance and hearing them behind you, actually manages to convey a real sense of terror. The game’s finale, a fight through a lumber yard to activate the power and smash through the exit gate, manages to be a pretty exciting event. Penal Colony manages to make the most of its two hour running time, holding on and never quite letting go. As an added bonus, finishing the story also unlocks two additional game modes. Countdown puts you on a timer and requires you to kill enemies to keep it from depleting, while Invisible causes all enemies to become invisible, only briefly visible when Moira or Natalia spots them.
Once you do finish the story the game provides replayability in the form of Raid Mode. Taking hints from RPGs and MMOs, Raid Mode has you (and another player if you want) running a course filled with enemies. Unlike the main game, here all enemies have health bars and the damage you do is visible. You can play as one of four characters (with more available in future episodes), each of whom have their own unique active and passive skills. As you run courses you’ll find chests that contain weapons and weapon attachments for you to give to your character, and you can gain XP to level up and learn more skills. It’s a surprisingly addictive mode that has the potential to be fun as more maps and characters are added to it. I also couldn’t help but notice that a good chunk of the maps were pulled right out of Resident Evil 6’s campaign, so maybe we’ll see maps from other Resident Evil games as well. It also lacks online co-op, but Capcom has at least promised that it will come once all four episodes are out.
Resident Evil Revelations 2’s first episode does a lot of things right. It has a story that has hooked me for future episodes, and gameplay that should keep the games fun as they come out. Penal Colony shows how to make a smart first episode, and also that you don’t need to have a narrative driven dialogue heavy game to do episodic. This is the best Resident Evil has been in a while and I’m hoping more good things are to come.