Review: Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles (Wii)

Do not underestimate the power of the Darkside!

When Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles was seen to only cover RE0, 1 and 3 it was pretty clear that a sequel would be in the offing; the positive reception and respectable sales figures it received probably didn't hurt. If you're a fan and expecting more of the same in this digest-version of the Resident Evil saga, then you certainly won't be disappointed as Darkside Chronicles delivers the goods for Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil: Code Veronica.

Whilst Umbrella Chronicles concerned the rise and fall of Umbrella from the P.O.V. of outside agents like Chris Redfield and his S.T.A.R.S. team and inside agents like Albert Wesker, Darkside Chronicles has a slightly less coherent narrative about the journeys of Claire Redfield and Leon S. Kennedy through the nightmares resulting from Umbrella's actions and its destruction. The game starts out years after the events of Resident Evil 2 and Code Veronica and presents their stories as flashbacks bookended with audio from Leon S. Kennedy. It's an interesting narrative choice and not unlike that used in Umbrella Chronicles which had opening and closing voice-over from Albert Wesker, though it was a bit surprising to start the game out in broad daylight in South America side-by-side with Krauser from Resident Evil 4.

The look and feel of Darkside Chronicles is jarringly different from that of Umbrella Chronicles. Darkside Chronicles has a bold, new menu interface which represents choices between different story pieces and characters as parts of a broken mirror spiralling out of a whirlpool. It's graphically quite impressive and you'll continue to be impressed when you get into the game itself. The opening level in South America is lush, vibrant and new -- people wanting Resident Evil 5 on the Wii can regard this as a preview of what that experience could be like. You'll see a mix of old and new character models in the Resident Evil 2 and Code Veronica game chapters, but everything is more crisp and colourful than in the previous game and many models have been updated: most noticeably the Hunters and Lickers.

The biggest new features in Darkside Chronicles are more dynamic camera work and focus on partnership. If you're prone to motion sickness in games with a first-person view, you'll probably want to self-medicate before playing: during running sequences the camera will bounce around actively making it difficult to get a good shot off, whilst elevating the immersion and excitement. It's very much more of a cinematic experience like Dead Space Extraction, though Darkside Chronicles has a lot less interactive narrative portions and isn't quite as tense given your comparatively massive arsenal. Whilst conceptually there were two characters in each of the Umbrella Chronicles chapters, in a single player game this didn't really mean anything. Darkside Chronicles changes that quite a bit by not only frequently displaying the second character on-screen, but also giving them a visible health bar. If the NPC dies the game is just as over as if your character dies, so defending them when they're under attack or giving them herbs when their health is low is a priority.

The controls have changed a bit from the first game with some give-and-take from the perspective of players familiar with Umbrella Chronicles. The (DPAD) is still used for weapons, though rather than simply toggling through them, weapons are mapped to specific directions. Furthermore, you can swap out weapons with any you've gained access to via a Status screen you can call up by pressing - or via the regular pause menu. The trade-off is not only that using the Status screen breaks game flow, but more significantly grenades are no longer automatically part of your arsenal and must be found and equipped like any other weapon. This also means that grenades must be selected then fired with (B), so gunning and chucking grenades is out. Of course that also means you won't accidentally be chucking grenades when you use your knife, which is still a combination of (A) and remote wave as before. Naturally (A) is still your action/context button for picking up or using items when prompted, but there's no true Quicktime events in this game; instead you'll be prompted to press combinations of buttons to evade some attacks during boss battles.

The player no longer has any camera control, so whilst the nunchuk was optional in Umbrella Chronicles, it's even more dispensable now. You can use a nunchuk shake to reload instead of a remote jerk if you like and the (STICK) can be used instead of the (DPAD) for choosing weapons, but why burden yourself? It makes selling the game with a Zapper pack-in an even more bizarre decision; especially since they recommend using the Zapper without the nunchuk installed.

Herbs are no longer automatically consumed but stored for later use and you'll still find a health spray on every level for an automatic continue; though if you perish again you can choose to continue from your last checkpoint when prompted. You can use herbs by pressing +, but if you're playing solo and want to top up your NPC health you'll need to go through the cumbersome process of calling up the Status screen and then click the herbs and choose who to give them to. Of course if you're paying attention you'll be blasting threats to your NPC friend who will return the favour by blasting threats themselves; the more hurt they get the less helpful they'll be. In a two-player match each player has a separate health bar, but you still have an incentive to look after your partner because either one of you dying ends the game. You'll now be sharing the ammo supply, so be sure to work together to maximise it or you'll have a tough time with the bosses, all of whom require hits to critical areas (marked by cursor flashing as in Umbrella Chronicles) to dispatch.

You'll still find the familiar Umbrella icons hidden about which unlock text files relating to the story. Since there's some overlap with the events of the other games in the Resident Evil series you'll find a bit of repetition here with text files talking about Raccoon City and the Umbrella Corporation, but much of it is interesting and fresh. There's a new pick-up in the form of gold which you use to upgrade your weapons in place of earning stars, and unlike the Umbrella icons you can sometimes find gold bars laying about for the taking. Finding the hidden stuff isn't quite as straightforward as the last game, because rather than changing your targeting reticule overtly with white lines, red lines in your reticule move toward the centre. It's so subtle you're unlikely to notice it whilst running away from zombies, so just blast everything in sight in the hopes of getting some goodies and upping your score.

The trade-offs in the control and weapon upgrade system changes give the game a lot more balance. Easy difficulty level has easier to acquire head shots as well as a "lock-on" feature where you can hold the A button to auto-target zombies aimed at players who aren't terribly good shots, but want to follow through the story. Weapon upgrades are no longer lock-step; players now have a shopping list of features that can be individually improved for an increasing amount of gold. You can improve the reload time, rate of fire, capacity, damage and stopping power (enemy knock-back) of a weapon, though some will have a pre-set maximum and/or an upper limit: you still won't be increasing all your weapons to S-ranks in this game. This provides better flexibility, but also adds some balance due to a more restrictive set of weapons on offer (though there are still quite a lot to choose from). Lastly, your weapon ammo only increases according to what you find; unlike Umbrella Chronicles you won't automatically start out with each weapon fully loaded. You can equip a weapon to find there's only two rounds for it; avoiding the old scenario of maxing out the upgrades on the rocket launcher and laying waste to every chapter with it.

After finishing a chapter you're still given a grade from unthinkably low (surely there's nothing below "C?") to S, but which aspects are graded has changed a bit. Finding archives is no longer relevant; nor is there a "destruction" grade. Instead you're graded on score (a point total based on objects destroyed and enemies killed), number of enemies dispatched, number of head shots and completion time. You're then awarded an overall grade and your gold total and numeric score for the chapter are displayed. During play your score is normally hidden, though there is an option to constantly display this if you so desire. Your score and head-shot count can be uploaded to Wi-Fi leaderboards, but frankly the process for uploading and downloading was so tedious that it's really not worthwhile. Since you can only view the top 30 you probably won't see your score there anyway! Besides, the only reason to get the high ranks in the game is to unlock extra content, right?

Archive content can be viewed in a separate menu area and there's a lot on offer. Text files are found everywhere; many chapters have a dozen or more and you'll sometimes find two in the same area so blast the background liberally! Any videos viewed in-game can also be found here and there's further audio files to unlock as well as models to view for characters and enemies which you can zoom and rotate. Having on-screen partners means that you'll find also be able to unlock alternate costumes for some of them which can be equipped before replaying a chapter later. Most of this is only unlocked by playing through the Normal or Hard modes of the game, so replays are encouraged at different difficulty levels to see what you get as bonus.

Disappointingly there doesn't seem to be much in the way of bonus chapters to gain access to as the game unlocks new ones in a linear fashion, but you'll need to replay through multiple difficulty levels in order to find out for sure! Still, there is a lot of content here with the new South American storyline having 5 chapters and the Resident Evil 2 and Code Veronica stories having 8 or 9 each. The plot of RE2 will be very familiar to people who played through the original game, though Code Veronica has had some details changed for this presentation. The narratives can get a bit disjointed, but they're quite entertaining with the usual mix of occasionally awkward dialogue and good voice acting shoring up the insanity. If you've played Resident Evil 4 and Umbrella Chronicles you'll be pleased to note reappearing actors that provide continuity and playing the chapters in order across the two games should provide a very lengthy, if entertaining, journey for fans.

Conclusion

Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles is a worthy sequel to Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles. It nicely fills in the story gaps of the first collection and presents a very good-looking and deep light-gun experience. There are some interesting trade-offs in terms of the controls and some of the story lines are overly long (especially true of the Resident Evil 2 sections), but better visuals and more dynamic camera action keep the game fresh and exciting even hours into it. It's a shame there weren't the same amount of bonus chapters featuring alternate points of view like the first game, but there's still plenty to see and enjoy for fans of Umbrella Chronicles or the Resident Evil franchise in general. Here's hoping for a 3rd one covering Resident Evil 4, 5 and beyond!

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