The Year of the Wii Lightgun Shooter continues with a Resident Evil entry that is two-thirds fun retro, never scary yet surprisingly generous. Too bad it makes a poor first impression.
Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles is a follow-up to 2007's Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles. Both Wii games are lightgun takes on gaming's most famous horror series. The first presented Resident Evils 0, 1 and 3 in an on-rails shooting-gallery format. The new game remakes Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil Code: Veronica, wrapped with a short new pre-Resident Evil 4 adventure called Operation Javier. All three scenarios star returning Resident Evil icons — Claire Redfield and Leon Kennedy, Redfield and Steve Burnside, Kennedy and Jack Krauser — allowing a player to pick one to control or to have a friend shoot as the other one.
The new game has not just its Wii predecessor and the older Evils it remakes to which to be compared. It can handle that. But it also unwisely invites comparison to Resident Evil 5 and unavoidably to the ribald 2009 Wii lightgun game House of the Dead: Overkill (reviewed here) and the brief but bold 2009 genre peer Dead Space Extraction (reviewed here). That's quite the swarm of comparisons.
Three Tales...: Darkside Chronicles and its predecessor present a pleasant way to re-visit gaming's past without forcing dull re-hash. If you want to experience Code: Veronica or RE2, your previous options have been to play through the original games or read a Wikipedia summary. I enjoyed the middle path of playing them as re-imagined on-rails shooters. The Duck-Hunt-on-wheels format trims a lot of the creeping and snooping from the re-introduced Resident Evils, for better or worse, but it also helps compress some full-size games into eight-level experiences. That allows players to experience three narrative arcs, three culminating boss battles, and observe the connections across the three adventures in one fat-free game. That offers plenty more for the dollar than the comparatively skimpy Dead Space Extraction.
... With Just The Right Cheese: Someone is going to scold me if I admit to laughing at the giant alligator attack of Resident Evil 2, the awkward flirting of Steve Burnside and Claire Redfield, the proto-Arkham-Asylum menace of Alfred Ashford, the absurdity of crying boss monsters, and so on. If you take Resident Evil seriously, then, be sure to not unlock The Darkside Chronicles bonus mode that allows you to fend off rampaging chunks of tofu. And be forewarned that the game isn't preoccupied with scares but rather the pleasures of shooting lots of monsters, preferably in their weak spots. If you don't take it seriously... if you get a kick out of seeing whether you will next fight little man-frogs or next listen to your partner character curiously brand a boss fight as "whack a mole" nonsense, then, hey, Darkside Chronicles has got it. This game isn't as gleefully aware of its excellent wrongness as House of The Dead: Overkill, but its own brand of mad horror adventure is colorful and entertaining.
Lots To Shoot With: Ammo scarcity is itself scarce in Darkside Chronicles. You always have lots of guns and lots of bullets, all very helpful because there are so many bad guys to shoot. Gold found in levels can be spent to upgrade guns. There's nothing too crazy to fire in the game. Pistols, shotguns, magnum, etc. But it all works. The sense of empowerment achieved once you start improving the guns makes the temptation to replay the levels quite strong, another perk this game has over Dead Space.
The Dark And The Giants: In levels enshrouded in darkness — and, oddly, when the scenario calls for large-scale combat against giant enemies — the game looks very good. Darkside's designers have had a lot of fun with the monsters they've re-purposed and the new ones that conclude Operation Javier. The game has some significant graphical problems (mentioned below) that keep it from reaching the surprisingly high bar of technical achievement and art direction of Dead Space, but the best of Darkside Chronicles' levels look terrific. There are times (not in the first level) when a Resident Evil 5 gamer might forget that they are playing the latest RE on a less powerful console.
Control Options Galore: You can play this game with the Wii Zapper and try it in co-op. I preferred a Remote and Nunchuk set-up, minus the Zapper. You aim your targeting reticule with the Remote and pull the Remote's trigger to fire. I could change weapons on the d-pad but preferred using the analog stick. I could reload with a shake of the Remote but preferred to do it with the Nunchuk. The controls were comfortable.
The South American Sun: The game's first level, the one I previewed several weeks ago, makes a poor first impression. It is in this level that Darkside Chronicles tried to be Resident Evil 5, placing Kennedy and Krauser in a sun-splashed south-American village and using nothing of the darkness or clever art direction to hide how much worse — less detailed, more jagged — this kind of scene looks on a console that isn't an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. In the sewers, in the shadows, in mansions and in plant-filled greenhouses this game looks quite nice. But outside in the sun, it looks like last year's model. The problem is exacerbated by the game's limited enemy types and animation routines. In the sun, you will notice that the same handful of zombies keeps coming at you. And it will be more obvious in the bright outdoors that the little man-frogs all flop in the exact same way, sometimes, if there are two of them that are shot by the same shotgun blast, synchronized.
Breaking Their Own Rules: The rule is that video game bosses have health bars and that players, who shoot weak spots, can drain color from those bars. That's how bosses die (never from old age, except in one Metal Gear). But in Darkside Chronicles, you better not be shooting that weak spot and expecting that health bar to drain if the boss hasn't animated to the proper state yet. The boss has to writhe and attack you some more, and you — you who shot that bar too low, too quickly — will just have to wait.
Lots To Shoot At: Let no one protest the number of the undead that need to be given metal fillings the hard way in this game. But let's discuss the way money is earned in this game: By shooting up the scenery. Shoot the picture frames. Shoot the lamps. Shoot the white cardboard boxes. Shoot these things when you're supposed to keep quiet. Shoot them — and oops, sorry I hit the non-reacting character I'm talking to who was standing slightly in the way. As game design, it's not a problem to have to shoot all over the place to find the money you'll want to spend on weapon upgrades, which in turn make the game more fun. But as mood killer, this design is just deadly. There's no stealth and creeping horror in a game in which I'm encouraged to blast every pixel and polygon in sight to find some cash.
Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles makes the wrong first impression, but gets better from there. I understand that purists don't love the liberties taken with the edited presentations of Resident Evil 2 and Code: Veronica, but as someone who isn't so devoted to the canon and enjoyed taking three rides through a Resident Evil arc in one game, I was satisfied.
The Year of the Wii Lightgun Shooter is ending now, with a trio of enjoyable games. Overkill is the craziest. Dead Space is the most innovative. Resident Evil offers the most content. They're all good.
Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles was developed by Cavia and Capcom and published by Capcom for the Wii on November 17. Retails for $49.99 USD. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through on normal mode in a shade under nine hours. Unlocked tofu mode and uttered profane language during several boss battles, though not the last one.
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