The Resident Evil franchise is one of my favorites of all time. After playing through this year’s stellar Resident Evil 5, I was reminded just how much I loved the series. Once I heard that the sequel to the Wii shooter Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles was going to take place during two of the best games in the series, I couldn’t wait to play it. Sure it was going to be another rail-shooter, but that didn’t mean Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles couldn’t be a good game. Thanks in large part to a solid story and a great presentation, Darkside Chronicles is a highly enjoyable experience; especially when played with a friend.
One of the characteristics that made Umbrella Chronicles so interesting was playing through the story from a completely different viewpoint. Darkside Chronicles takes a note from its predecessor, and presents recaps of Resident Evil 2 and Code: Veronica from Leon’s point of view, in addition to a completely new story (Operation: Javier) that takes place between RE2 and RE4, starring Leon and Krauser in South America. The game begins with you in the role of Leon as he and Krauser are sent on a mission to investigate the supposed sale of biohazardous organic weapons to a militia leader in South America. The game’s other missions are told as flashbacks as Leon explains to Krauser his previous experiences with BOWs. The extremely compacted, slightly revised versions of earlier games draw upon the key moments you remember, like first entering Raccoon City in RE2, or taking on Alexia in Veronica, while providing some new insight thanks to completely reworked dialogue. Getting to play though a seemingly TiVo’d version or Resident Evil 2 with Claire and Leon battling side by side for the entire campaign was really cool. However, staying partnered up with the spastic Steve Burnside in Code: Veronica was less enjoyable. The game’s new content sheds a bit of light of events that unfold in Resident Evil 4, and is a welcome addition to an already robust history.
With Darkside Chronicles being a rail-shooter, there isn’t exactly a whole lot of innovation or stunning new gameplay mechanics to speak about. However, that isn’t to say that the game is bland. A great deal of attention has been paid to hit boxing, meaning there are various locations on an enemy that you can hit (head) that can cause more harm than if you had shot them somewhere else (leg). There are even variations on the different types of headshots you’re able to pull off. There is one spot on all zombies, that when hit perfectly, will cause their head to explode. Miss just the tiniest bit, and their head will flop backwards, and slowly rise up as they continue walking towards you. The gamble you take is never really that risky because if the zombie gets too close you can just blast it in the chest until it drops, but it’s extremely satisfying to watch those heads burst into nothing more than red mist. Boss fights run the gamut from mind-numbingly easy when playing with a friend, to controller-shattering frustration when playing alone. It’s not that the game isn’t fun to play by yourself, but the game’s boss fights serve as a shining example of why it’s better to play co-operatively than it is to go it alone.
The game has a decent amount of weapons for you to earn and use, but since the handgun comes with unlimited ammo, you’ll hardly ever have to use any of the other armaments. It may have helped that I spent nearly every piece of gold I’d earned on upgrading the pistol to make it as powerful as possible. What makes using the other weapons even less enticing is the fact that if you’re playing two-player co-op, you share ammo with your partner. You’d be surprised how quickly you can go through shotgun shells when both players are using the pump-action piece. Of course, by the time I reached the end of the game, I had so much ammunition for the uzi, magnum, and grenade launcher, that I just started using the extremely strong weapons on everything just to see how different they were from the pistol. Money for upgrading your weapons is not only earned by performing well on a given level, but also by shooting damn near everything you can on any map. Many of the objects in a board, like paintings, statues, lights, and crates can be shot, and will often contain gold, or Umbrella icons. The icons earn you extras like enemy dossiers, cut scenes, or pieces of text that flesh out the universe. Finding them all is quite a challenge, so there’s definitely some replay value in trying to find all 200 or so pieces of extra content.
Resident Evil: Darkside Chronicles is without a doubt presents one of the more impressive graphical performances on the Wii to date. Both Resident Evil 2 and Code: Veronica have never looked better, and even the new locations showcase just what the Wii is capable of. The game’s lighting effects are the true standout, providing cascading shadows, impressive sunspots, and excellent depth of field. While it could be argued that the new missions that mostly take place during the day do look a bit rougher than the content influenced by previous, and darker, games, Operation: Javier builds a pretty strong case for an eventual porting of Resident Evil 5. Hey, Activision was able to do a pretty good job with Modern Warfare, so why shouldn’t we think that Capcom would be able to pull of something similar with RE5? There’s a ton of new dialogue here as well, and while it’s great to hear all the actors interact with one another again, some of the script is just excruciating. Steve Burnside in particular is one of the more annoying characters ever. The guy is such a rambling mess that it’s hard to take many of the Code: Veronica segments seriously. Thankfully, Leon remains calm and collected, and Claire has that same hope and confidence in her voice; enough so that you don’t mind the occasional moment of cringe-inducing acting from other characters.
Strangely enough, for a guided gameplay experience, Darkside Chronicles has a bit of a pacing problem. For every minute spent shooting dozens of zombies, there are five where you’re character is slowly walking towards the next area where you’ll fight more zombies. I understand that Capcom doesn’t want you zipping around these excellent recreations of some of the more memorable locales in Resident Evil history, but when characters are yelling at one another to hurry to their next objective, only to progress slower than a geriatric at a mall walk, it gets a bit bothersome. I’m not going to be so bold as to say Capcom was padding the length of their game by having players move like they were trapped in molasses, but if those moments were just a bit faster, the game’s 8-10 hour length would be drastically shorter. The other nagging issue with Darkside Chronicles is the poor subtitling. Littered with mistakes, the misspelled text at the bottom of the screen will drive people who are actually reading it crazy. At one point, Claire taunts Steve by saying, “Lady’s first.” Come on, Claire, I thought you was edumacated. Most of the time it’s nothing more than wrong homonyms, or misplaced apostrophes, so by no means does it ruin the gameplay experience, but it can draw you out of the game when you start asking yourself if what you just read was spelled right.
Resident Evil: Darkside Chronicles is not just a strong follow-up to Umbrella Chronicles, it’s also a welcome addition to a well-established franchise. Even though there’s no online play, only leaderboards, this game is a great way to spend a night or weekend with a friend. Fans of the series would be foolish to pass up this great tribute to past entries, and newcomers could jump in without missing a beat thanks to the way the game presents its story. Following the highly enjoyable, yet also a survival horror FPS, Dead Space: Extraction wasn’t easy, but I guess you could say it’s been a pretty good year for rail-shooters on the Wii.