ONLY for the Nintendo WII!

Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, isn’t quite a lightgun game, nor is it a first person shooter; think of it as an on-rails whirlwind tour of the series (sans Resident Evil 4) with elements of both genres. This retelling serves up ample fan service for the devoted by delivering the experience from the perspectives of most everyone involved. It never really amounts to more than its concept, but it’s an accessible, mostly satisfying shooter that has plenty to offer nonetheless.

While the game overexplains its mechanics while playing through the first chapter, it’s really a very simple concept with sensible controls: Your Wii-mote controls a gun reticule onscreen; you pull the B trigger to fire, shake to reload early (it will automatically reload at the end of your clip), hold A while shaking to slash with a knife, and tap the C button on the Nunchuk to change weapons (or hold Z to chuck grenades). The Nunchuk can also be used for looking around slightly while you’re being lead through each level. This limited free-look mostly serves to better shoot enemies that aren’t fully onscreen or to catch items that you couldn’t hit before they left your normal scope of vision. While the rails you’re on are otherwise deliberate, it’s nice having a modicum of flexibility in what you’re actually focusing on.

Since you’re generally fighting crowds of slowly lumbering zombies or wasps/sharks/zombie baboons that come right at you, the difference in pacing from traditional light-gun games takes some getting used to. Zombies always seem to take slightly too long to kill, and the damage you deal feels inconsistent; it generally takes seven to 12 hits to bring one down, and since your final blow seems random, it’s never quite as satisfying as it should be. Headshots in particular — a satisfyingly visceral staple of the series — are a total crapshoot, most times dealing an indistinguishable amount of damage and only occasionally one-shot popping enemies like a tomato. Oddly enough, the faster, more intimidating creatures (hunters, lickers, etc.) seem to go down with more consistency, and getting rid of swarming creatures (bugs/birds/bats) is simply a matter of brandishing your knife while they throw themselves at you. The other combat annoyance is the lack of pinpoint aiming; it doesn’t matter much when you’re gunning down larger enemies nearby you, but on the odd occasion of having to deal with distant targets, or, say, a boss hurling projectiles at you that need to be shot down, you can’t help but notice the imprecision.

Thankfully, the action-packed pacing doesn’t leave much time to focus on the flaws in the combat, allowing you to relish the variety and strategy that it does offer: beating story chapters awards you stars, which you can use to upgrade the weapons you’ll amass over time, one of which you can choose to bring into each stage as a secondary weapon alongside the handgun (though you’ll pick up others to use within levels). Switching weapons effectively is a major component of the combat, and it’s quite necessary to success; the singular shots of the handgun don’t provide much split-second defense, and knowing when to have more powerful weapons at the ready — while making sure you conserve ammo — is integral to staying alive. The bosses also go down far more easily with the right weapons handy, and they make for some of the more interesting battles in the game. If you were ever fond of a particular boss creature in any of the stories Umbrella Chronicles spans, there’s a very good chance you’ll run into it again. A few of the battles definitely go on too long, though, causing the on-rails path to loop infinitely (annoying!) until they’re defeated.

While the first few chapters take place in the settings of the lesser-played Resident Evil Zero, the concept really hits its stride when you reach the mansion where the series began. The sense of nostalgia from seeing that first red-mouthed zombie again is almost as strong as the terror we felt the first time around, and it only grows stronger as you explore the rest of the grounds from the seemingly new angle (with a few key enemy additions from the affectionately coined GameCube “Remake”). It looks the part, too — while Umbrella Chronicles’ worlds and creatures don’t look light years better than we’ve seen them before, there’s enough focus on lighting and visual scripting that it doesn’t really matter or detract from the experience at all. Just don’t plan on being scared; while the toughness of the creatures can make certain encounters intimidating, the “horror” aspect gets lost along the way, since there’s precious little time to build tension. The omnipotent force controlling the camera does a decent job of glancing over its shoulder when you’re easing along tunnels, but there are surprisingly few scares considering you’re locked into seeing what they want you to see.

Umbrella Chronicles is a surprisingly meaty experience for a scripted shooter (seven hours or so the first time through, including side missions), and having a second player gunning alongside for the main story chapters allows you even more time to shoot up the environment for hidden goodies (more guns, ammo, healing herbs, items to read later). Destroying every painting and light bulb in sight is oddly satisfying and even encouraged, as it’s one of the things you’re graded on at the end of each level. The files, notes, and diaries you’ll often attain while doing so are just one example of the copious fan service that seems to be the true driving force behind the entire experience. Whether you’re playing from new perspectives in old scenarios or filling in story gaps with cut-scenes or entire levels, there’s a ridiculous amount of information and background for Resident Evil nuts to absorb. The convoluted, poorly acted narrative is as dismissive to newcomers as ever, but they’ll be in it for different reasons anyhow (zombies + guns = fun).

While Umbrella Chronicles doesn’t accomplish much of note besides solidifying the Resident Evil story thus far, it provides plenty of point-and-pull-the-trigger satisfaction for your buck (especially with a friend in tow). It offers the welcome accessibility of the Wii amidst a more thematically mature setting, providing an enjoyably casual trip through a slice of gaming history. Series fans will devour it as an excuse to flesh out the Resident Evil canon, but there’s enough casual slaughter of the undead for anyone to enjoy.



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