Resident Evil, one of the biggest gaming series around today, has already landed on Wii with a port of the ever-popular Resident Evil 4. Capcom no doubt saw the innovative Wiimote and impressive sales figures as a new opportunity to expand the series even more. The Umbrella Chronicles was born, an on-rails shooting game, ala House of the Dead, that spans the story line of all five main Resident Evil titles released on Gamecube.
The story line is split into four main "scenarios", Train Derailment; events that occur in Resident Evil 0, Mansion Incident; events from the original Resident Evil, Raccoon's Destruction; events from both Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. The final scenario, Umbrellas End, is a new series of events detailing the demise of Umbrella set after Resident Evil 3 and before Resident Evil 4.
Each main scenario is further more split into three chapters with an assortment of sub-scenarios throw in to help fill-in the gaps in the now huge Umbrella conspiracy. In total there are 22 levels in the game with 8 characters making playable appearances. Along with telling the main story, Umbrella Chronicles has a heavy focus on what Albert Wesker had been up to during the entire time-line of events.
At E3 2007 Nintendo announced that Umbrella Chronicles would be compatible with the incoming Wii Zapper add-on, an gun shaped add-on which has received quite mixed reactions. I've tried playing the game with the alternate setups, with and without the Wii Zapper. To my surprise, I MUCH prefer playing Umbrella Chronicles without it, also coming to the same conclusion with SEGA's Ghost Squad. The Zapper is just awkward to hold and the trigger button feels all wrong, shame.
Firing is done with the main trigger button, holding the action button and firing with will throw a grenade whilst holding and swinging the Wiimote will result in a knife slash. The action button is used to pick up items and choose routes, reloading is performed by a quick Wiimote shake and the (D-Pad) is used to cycle through your different weapons. Shenmue style "real time events" are also available in cut-scenes, triggered by on-screen instructions telling you to quickly shake the Wiimote or press + to perform an action such as dodge, jump or attack.
The game features quite an arsenal of different weapons, ranging from simple hand-guns and magnums to rocket launchers and sub-machine guns. These different weapons vary dramatically in ammo and reloading times. Your health can be replenished by collecting the infamous herbs whilst extra lifes are represented as spray cans. You need to have quite a quick eye to spot all the pick-ups throughout the game, collecting extra ammo and health is vital to your survival.
You'd be forgiven for expecting Umbrella Chronicles to be almost identical to SEGA's House of the Dead, however you'd be wrong. Umbrella Chronicles is far deeper than your average arcade-shooter, with its vast array of weapons and sprawling story line it can feel epic at times. The stories are told at a reasonable pace with only some levels that drag on with unnecessarily slow sections. Missions often take between 10 and 20 minutes to complete, feeling much, much bigger than any House of the Dead game.
Umbrella Chronicles creates a great sense of atmosphere with captivating music and sound effects, the slow paced movement helps heightens tension at times but ultimately frustrates when you feel ready to move on. Early levels can come across as less inspiring and coverage of Resident Evil 2 is somewhat weak, however the game more than makes up for that with the later, original content stages.
It wouldn't be an arcade-shooter without impressive boss battles, all the main guys are back for Umbrella Chronicles, sharks, giant snakes, tyrants and the one and only, Nemesis. Capcom haven't fiddled with the boss sequences too much, they operate much the same as other shooters with our bad boy using randomising patterns of attack, which is overcome by systematic attacking of weak points bringing the foe down for good.
Graphically the game is slightly above average, running on the same Criware engine it feels similar to Resident Evil 4. The scenery is all destroyable with numerous secret pick-ups being found by blasting open boxes, crates or computers etc. Sequences where your character is using a flash light also adds to the game's scare factor, flicking your light around in the dark trying to locate the next target.
Umbrella Chronicles certainly breaks boundaries and sheds new light on the genre, it's by far the most in-depth arcade-shooter I can remember. Of course it isn't without its flaws, there are a few niggles with the control system, especially when using the Wii Zapper. Sections of the game feel too slow and a number of levels are so long that you feel you don't want to replay them. Perhaps if the game was organised into slightly smaller chunks it would of been more inviting to go back and get a better score.
Fans of the series will love the sheer amount of rich extra content the game has to offer, as a supplement to the main series of games Umbrella Chronicles is a huge success. For gamers that are new the series, or have only played a couple of the main games, will also find a lot of value in the game, it pretty much brings you totally up to speed with everything that has happened in the series prior to Resident Evil 4; Capcom's secret marketing tool that will try and convince you to buy Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition.
Overall the game has only a few, fixable, flaws but generally is a very well executed game that seemed to be developed impressively fast. I would certainly indulge myself in a sequel with those few problems ironed out.
An unexpected and refreshingly different addition to the genre, Umbrella Chronicles is a well executed on-rails arcade-shooter that is host to a huge amount of Resident Evil content that will please most fans of the series. Shooter fans will also be happy with the good range of weapons and 22 levels on offer here, well worth a purchase. I would however advise against getting a Wii Zapper for this particular title. It seems Capcom finally get a Resident Evil spin-off right, although far from perfect, but great fun nevertheless, bring on the sequel.