Friday, 7 August 2015

Book Review - Resident Evil Revelations: Official Complete Works

Publisher: Titan Books

Review by Richard Williams

Resident Evil is a series that seems about as inclined to lie down and stay dead as it's shambling antagonists. The first game came out on the original Playstation in 1996 and now, in 2015, is going as strong as ever despite Hollywood's best efforts to decapitate it, burn it and put this survival horror/action adventure down for good. And in the 19 years since the first game took the world by storm there have been considerable changes to the horrors plaguing S.T.A.R.S. From the run of the mill brain dead zombies and large insects to parasitic infections and grotesque monstrosities there has been a steady escalation in the enemies faced by gamers. And not just in terms of monsters but the human threats too, from Umbrella thugs to Wesker's superhuman developments.

To be honest, though, I'm kind of done with the games. I loved the originals and still sometimes get the Gamecube set up to have a Resident Evil marathon playing through the Resident Evils zero, one, two and four. Three sucked. But recent games have left me disinterested and not inclined to part with my money. However that reticence to give these modern iterations the time of day does not extend to the design of the games. I'm still a fan of the concept art and so, when I heard about Revelations Complete Works, I knew it was something I had to get my hands on. And sure enough, this book delivers.

Where this book is strongest is with character design. The special forces, secret agents, main characters and all the various (and sometimes bats**t crazy) supporting cast are all done in that distinctive not-quite-manga Japanese style that I like. There are some decent character bios for the main characters and the rest have some insightful comments from the artists explaining costume choices and why certain poses are so important. I'm not an artist so I'm not going to judge that last one, I'll just accept that it's important. There are quite a few pages showing the design process and how characters were brought to their final form. There is a mix here between traditional 2D artwork and rendered CG images (the kind I'm not fond of) and it also includes alternative costumes that are unlocked by players.

Next up in terms of the pieces I enjoy most here are the environments. I think the way the environments are designed here owes a lot to the way the games were originally created using pre-rendered backgrounds. This is what created that game style where the camera angles had to change all the time in a way that was both excellent for ramping up suspense (like when you could hear something slurping along 'off-screen', for example) as well as frequently annoying (like when you couldn't see the damned thing making a slurping noise somewhere in the room with you unless you rotated your character just right and took three tentative steps forward to try and trigger the camera change). The environment artwork in Revelations, just as with earlier titles, breaks down into rooms. Resident Evil has always been about moving from one room to another, find the object/clue you need and then move to the next room/corridor/crazy lab. As such the designers create rooms that are intended for the game creators to easily see what they have to code. Whilst I appreciate this may sound obvious it differs from many other games' concept art in that many of them, with the massive improvements in terms of graphics and processing power, try to convey the 'feel' of a location and use lighting to test the 'mood' of scene. The language of game design now borrows heavily from film design and the artwork has changed accordingly. Except here. While there are pieces that show artistic flair there are a lot of pieces that are very straightforward room designs and while that might sound like a criticism it isn't. I can appreciate a well designed space and will often use such artwork when planning a roleplaying game or a bit of writing.

Obviously I can hardly review this book without commenting on the creature designs. Characters are great, environments are crucial but without monsters the only people playing Resident Evil would be a bunch of home improvement fanatics saying 'crickey, just think what you could do with this mansion if you just knocked that wall through and got rid of all the weird locks and electrical system that requires a series of chess pieces to activate'. And while that is a game I'm possibly sad enough to play (I definitely would) I can't deny that it's better with the monsters. As you can well imagine there are quite a few creature designs for a Resident Evil game and sure enough there are loads. I can't say I'm much of a fan of the direction the monstrosities have taken in these games, from basic zombies and large spiders to twisted and deformed lumps of flesh and inexplicable mutations, but on the other hand I can't complain about quality of the design work. There are still a few of the old favourites such as mangy zombie dogs and insectoid terrors but due to the setting and storyline there is a greater preponderance of water based creatures, many of which look like a seriously messed-up version of Davey Jones' fish-headed crew from the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels.

So what to say in summation? This book is precisely what you would probably expect from a concept art book from one of the Resident Evil games. You've got monsters galore, creepy settings and a slew of characters ranging from the square-jawed heroes such as Chris Redfield to the sinister and faceless henchmen of the Umbrella Corporation. The book is nicely put together and can withstand a lot of flicking back and forth (you'd be surprised how many start to come apart after just a few flick-throughs) and the only problem I have with the layout is that too many of the backgrounds for the pages are solid black. This becomes particularly a problem in the environments section as the page is so dark, and the designs so dark for the mood, that it's not the easiest thing to look over and pick out details.

But aside from that it's a good book and one that should please fans of the series, concept art and horror in general.