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Written by T. Blake Braddy, @blakebraddy
With The Umbrella Chronicles, Capcom managed to cobble together the events just before and just beyond the first Resident Evil in the form of a first-person rail shooter, with mixed results. A hit for fans of the series, the game still had its share of mechanical and structural issues. To Capcom’s credit, in 2007, developers still didn’t quite know what to make of the Wii, but since it had motion controls, a couple of companies seemed to shrug and put out games that required pointing at the screen and firing.
However, with its sequel, Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, the Resident Evil rail shooter improves upon what worked with the predecessor, while also adding several ancillary features that take the game beyond being a slavish recreation of the early games. Several new mechanical elements provide some much-needed gameplay variety, while the responsive controls and dynamic enemy types also give the player a balanced and yet challenging experience.
While the original felt sluggish and monotonous, this iteration moves along with a more arcade-y feel, and the upgrades and modifications add to the overall gaming experience. Basically, this game is just really fun to play. It is a simple, yet thoroughly enjoyable addition to the franchise, one fans might want to have more than a single time.
I hate to couch so much of the review in how it relates to the original, because Darkside Chronicles isn’t just better in relation to Umbrella Chronicles but is definitively better, in my opinion. It deserves to be lauded for its accomplishments in absence of a previous game. It could have been a carbon copy of the original, without any creative distinction, but instead it pulls away from the original in very specific and meaningful ways, and is the better for it. It’s just a really good game.
The Darkside Chronicles primarily concerns itself with the events of Resident Evil 2 and Code: Veronica, although I’m pretty sure some things have changed from the originals. Players can choose between one of two characters in each level, generally, and a second player can join the game at any time, providing what I’m sure is a great couch co-op experience.
RE2 and Code:Veronica complement one another quite well, and they also make the vignette feel of each mission somewhat organic, rather than arbitrary. The developers make this game move a lot more quickly, and each mission is paced perfectly for a single gaming session, a great improvement upon The Umbrella Chronicles. Moreover, the checkpoints are frequent enough that dying isn’t such a miserable penalty, and oftentimes they do not interfere with the flow of the game for the sake of showing players that, hey, you’ve reached a save point, and here’s your score.
And speaking of scoring, the addition of gold, points for headshots, and semi-achievements (called Titles) give it a more traditionally game-y feel and provide players additional motivation for performance within the level. While an end-level score sometimes feels punitive, rather than encouraging, rewarding accurate marksmen with score multipliers within the level provides some secondary motivation for doing a better job.
The gold is not merely an end in itself but can be used to purchase weapon upgrades, which pushes players to “explore” environments by shooting lights, paintings, and crates for added entertainment. It might also entice players to revisit earlier levels in order to find more gold, especially if they’re having a more difficult time with later levels. The Titles (Achievements) are rudimentary but are somewhat reminiscent of Left 4 Dead, and players can receive kudos for reaching 100 headshots or scrabbling together 50000 gold, for example.
Guns can be selected both at the outset of a level and in-game, so running out of ammo for a particular weapon type isn’t necessarily as much of a pain as it could have been. Players get four slots, and unlocking a weapon during a chapter means that the weapon is selectable in the next level. Ammo for the specialty weapons generally doesn’t show up over the course of a normal level, however, so players should probably save the grenade launcher for the bosses or some other strenuous zombie encounter.
The latency is less noticeable this time around, so aiming and firing feels more natural. The reticle is more responsive to movement, as is every other controller action, so fighting off particularly quick enemies is a challenge, rather than an eye-rolling hassle. On that same note, the controller scheme is more conducive to the Wiimote and seems to have been designed with the controller in mind, meaning that players do not have to fight controls in order to enjoy the game.
All of the weapon customization seems to complement interactions with the various enemy types. Some weapons are more effective on some enemies than others, and though players might develop a favorite – unlimited ammo pistol? Yes, please! – situational encounters require mastery of a few weapons. To that end, the enemy types are just varied enough to differentiate themselves, but there aren’t so many monsters as to become ridiculous. It’s actually quite a nice balance, all things considered.
The writing is still bad and melodramatic but is entertaining in that awkward Resident Evil fashion, and it nevertheless feels like an improvement upon the original. The sidekick character isn’t relegated to shouting “Shoot it in the head!” from the corner of the game, and s/he even becomes an active participant in the shooting at various points throughout the story. You wouldn’t believe how much it helps to see your companion actually do something – like fire a gun – rather than just be a weird voice in your head.
Where the game still struggles is in the boss battles. Now, the two-act structure has largely been cut from this game, and players are not required to fight a giant, disfigured zombie creature and/or plant at the close of each chapter, but occasionally, one is required to take on a superhuman figure, sometimes two or three times in a row.
However, what is different is that in these limited instances the boss battles feel warranted and earned. They come at the end of a lengthy struggle with zombies and do not directly follow a similar boss battle, so even when the they are particularly frustrating or overlong, they still can be forgiven, because some thought was put into level design and pacing.
And not to put too fine a point on it, but some of the later boss battles are quite epic in both scope and length. If ever there was a thing Resident Evil could convey, it’s that genetically-modified people can be a nagging bitch to kill. The game takes players to both jungle and arctic climates, sending them into crumbling ruins and abandoned scientific bases, mansions and aircraft carriers alike. It’s quite the adventure, and despite Resident Evil’s history of making narrative nigh-incomprehensible, The Darkside Chronicles feels oddly coherent, by comparison.
The Final Word:The truth of the matter is, The Darkside Chronicles improves upon most, if not all, unflattering failures of the first game. It looks better, sounds better, handles better, and moves better than The Umbrella Chronicles. It is also more customizable, and the story, despite dealing with some more minor parts of the fiction, has a cohesion that the first game couldn’t manage.
Most importantly, it is really fun to play, and with the upgradeable weapons and various paths for completion, The Darkside Chronicles turns out to be a Resident Evil game I’d really consider replaying. I’d suggest it for anyone who likes rail shooters, even those who aren’t necessarily followers of the franchise, because – ultimately – the gameplay comes first, and the story second. Or third. Maybe even fourth.
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