Confusion can be problematic in the grand scheme of understanding things
. Take the Resident Evil franchise for example; there are officially
five chapters to the series’ main plot, with a sixth on the way (Resident Evil 5), but amidst these six chapters, Capcom have riddled the series with spin-offs, updates and secrets so convoluted, if you haven’t been with the franchise from day one, you’re bound to be completely lost in all things Umbrella, T-Virus, Wesker and Zombies. It’s kind of like watching the first and last episodes of Heroes or Battlestar Galactica and nothing in between – you’d be completely lost.
Thankfully Capcom have a sure-fire way of getting everyone up-to-date for those out of the loop, and in the process they’ve managed to use some old technology alongside some new to create an enjoyable, interactive “You Are Here
” story update for Resident Evil.
The Wii is the home for this on-rails arcade shooter, and the Wii Remote is a fitting and fun way to engage the game. Essentially The Umbrella Chronicles takes you through the first three and a half-ish
episodes of the series, while offering up a few extra missions and plenty of background information to ensure you’re on the track to fully understanding just how and why everything in the Resi universe has been/is happening. Right up we’re given a romp through Resident Evil 0, a prequel which appeared on the GameCube once Capcom saw how popular the remake of the original Resident Evil was on that system. Zero tracks the journey of Rebecca Chambers prior to her finding herself in the auspicious mansion alongside run-away rogue agent, Billy Coen.
Unfortunately for The Umbrella Chronicles, while Zero – chronologically – is the correct place to start, it really doesn’t help keep things attractive for this catch-up saga. The first few missions are unbearably easy and the slow pace at which the game progresses makes it feel like an exercise in tedium than a raucous romp through the land of zombies. I can honestly foresee anyone having a crack at this before
purchase having serious misgivings, but trust me when I say it most definitely does
While the game does run you through the chapters in the first-person, they’re really just shortened divisions of the original experience; just the important areas and discoveries, really. However, this is not at all detrimental to the experience given the new way in which you play the game. The original Res Evil titles locked
you into an interactive horror experience; the game’s static camera system working over-time to not only frustrate you when facing zombies, but also keep you out eye’s sight of the next corridor, or what you just might [not] see if you activate this
switch or open that
door. Umbrella Chronicles has no such system for scaring you, and so the game instead relies upon difficult enemies and overbearing bosses to keep you on your toes, but it must be said at no particular juncture throughout the game did I once ever feel scared or overly threatened.
That said, for those of us who’ve played through this series before, going back to familiar territory with no worries about what you’re going to face is actually quite empowering and as I mentioned before, once you get past the Res Evil Zero ‘training grounds
’ the game picks up in a great way. Trouncing through the GameCube version of the initial mansion is a hell of a lot of fun, and the surprisingly robust environmental damage model goes a long way when considering you could barely make a scratch on the environments back in the old days.
This time around the game encourages you to shoot out the environment as you’ll not only be marked on your effort with a level summary at the end of each section, but it’s also essential for finding weapons, herbs, health sprays and the huge amounts of Res Evil back-story fans will be picking this up for. It’s also a good way of having players retry levels which is going to help in the lastability factor of the overall game. On top of destruction, there’s a two-player co-op mode which will also help in keeping you interested, it’s a shame there’s no online though, this could have helped push Ninty’s renewed focus in this area.
Each level you can choose an extra weapon to take into the field with you alongside your trusty Samurai Edge pistol. Once in the field, however, you can also find other weapons which are then added to your small firearm list. You’ll find Res Evil traditionals like the shotgun, grenade launcher and machine gun as well as grenades (good for clearing out a few enemies or blowing up a lot of the environment at once) while each character always has a knife which can be used by simply holding down the A-button and swinging the Wii Remote about. You’ll also earn stars for how well you perform in each level, and these can then be used in a customisation screen to upgrade your weapons. It’s something along the same lines as upgrading in Resi 4, but there’s no sign of the cool mysterious merchant which is a shame.
On a visual level, Umbrella Chronicles is a bit of a mixed bag. At times the game shines and looks stunning, but others it just seems flat, uninspired and plain lazy. The aforementioned differences between the Zero level and the Mansion level are massive, while teetering into Resi II territory sees things stripped back again. Everything changes as well, right down to how much
of the environment can be shot up. This is where the game really lets itself down – consistency. (Or its lack thereof). Some bosses feel like a joke, while others are relentlessly difficult, and despite usually having more then enough ammo for each step through a level, you’ll almost always end up finishing off a boss with only your pistol, which is just frustratingly annoying.
Moreover, while I’ve always enjoyed the cheesy dialogue and acting throughout this series, it’s never been worse than it is now. Every line and delivery is an exercise in pain and no amount of Res Evil fandom can save Umbrella Chronicles in this department, it really is that bad. Cut-scenes from the original games have all been filtered for some consistency, but the fact the voices have been updated from hilariously bearable to painfully excruciating is a real minus. Tsk, tsk Capcom.
You may be encouraged to pick this up if you’re planning on buying a Wii Zapper for the Link’s Crossbow Training game, but I can tell you now it’s far more comfortable and satisfying playing this with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk completely free of that awkward casing. It doesn’t make sense that Nintendo (or someone else) wouldn’t just create a separate comfortable
(and functional) light-gun for games of this nature, though they are still few and far between. Umbrella Chronicles is a good place to start though, and despite its flaws, it still has many redeeming features. It’s not cute and cuddly, and the two-player factor really makes a case for this replacing some of the party games you’ve been dabbling in. It’s also a great catch-up for the Resident Evil series for anyone looking to be
caught up in it, just make sure you brace yourself for the unsettling dialogue and voice-acting. There was plenty of potential here, and who knows, maybe we’ll see a completely original Res Evil light-gun game come as a result of this… well, here’s hoping, anyway.