Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Wii Hidden Gems #4 - Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles

There have been quite a few attempts to adapt the Resident Evil franchise into an on rails light fun game over the years.  I actually quite liked Survivor at the time of its release on the PS1, though it has dated really badly now.  Having heard bad things about the sequel (that was based on Code Veronica) I gave it a miss, but then I did pick up Dead Aim for the PlayStation 2.  It was OK, though the controls were somewhat clunky.

Nintendo's Wii seems like the perfect fit for a new Resi shooter, as it has already proven it can handle the genre extremely well through titles like Link's Crossbow Training, Ghost Squad, and the downloadable Wild West Guns.  So in 2007 Capcom released The Umbrella Chronicles, which features various scenarios taken from earlier games in the series: namely 0, 1, and 3.  Fan favourite Resi Evil 2 has been skipped over for now, though it's included in the sequel Darkside Chronicles that I will also be covering soon.

Interspersed with the stages based on the stories we know and love are side missions where you get to take control of characters like Wesker, Rebecca Chambers, Ada Wong and Hunk.  Poor old Barry Burton gets somewhat left in the cold, unfortunately!  With three missions for each of the three games, and another twelve besides those, Umbrella Chronicles has plenty to offer fans of the series.  How about the execution though, does it finally get right what the previous games have managed to get wrong?

Graphics: 8 out of 10
The Umbrella Chronicles takes its visual style from Resident Evil 0 and the remake of the first game, so it looks just like those two titles.  Capcom have really done an excellent job of ensuring that the geography of the locations visited in the game matches that of the games that levels are based on, which is a real treat for fans of the series who have completed these games multiple times and know their way around the Spencer mansion off by heart, for instance.  Enemies look like they did also, and there's a nice variety of zombie designs so you're not being attacked by clones the whole time.  Some of them are even wearing hard hats or body armour, which means you have to change your tactics as a result.

As good looking as the Resi 0 and Remake levels look, it's really the ones based on Resi 3 that will have the most impact, as this is the first time they've been given a visual overhaul since the now slightly crusty looking PlayStation original was released. Seeing how great the decimated streets of Raccoon City and the Nemesis looks, it makes me feel that it's a shame that Capcom never got around to giving the much loved second and third games in the series the same remake treatment they gave the original.  But I digress - this game really does look great on the Wii, and enemies even react to being shot in different places.  You would hope that this would be the case, but it hasn't always been so in the previous on rails Resi games.

Sound and Music: 8 out of 10
The menu music is quite memorable and suitably creepy and Resident Evil esque. The music that plays during the game itself is also fine for the most part, but tends to blend into the background a bit amongst all the gun shots.  It's good to hear that they've got the little details right like the same noises as you click through your inventory - you wouldn't think that things like this would be all that important, but it helps make the game feel like it is genuinely part of the Resident Evil "brand".

This consistency carries over to the voice acting as well, as the voice of Wesker will be familiar to those who have played more recent entries in the series (though if memory serves me right he's not the original actor who played him).  I didn't really recognise anyone else as being from other games in the Resi series, though that doesn't mean they weren't!

Umm, Rebecca? You've got red on you.
Game Mechanics: 8 out of 10
The game play in The Umbrella Chronicles is fairly solid and satisfying for the most part, but there are a few minor irritations.  Some of the bosses (in particular the big Leech monster at the end of the Resi 0 section) can be a nuisance to kill.  Of course with a bit of patience and some practise you will win the day eventually, but the first few times you will probably suffer a frustrating death.

It is good that you can go back to missions you've already cleared and earn more stars, though.  You can spend these stars on upgrading the weapons that you've found so far (and therefore unlocked).  The upgrades include total ammo capacity, clip capacity and fire power, and the weapons comprise the usual types that you find in these games: sub machine guns, shotguns, grenade launchers and more.  You will always have a pistol on hand that has infinite ammo, and that's pretty effective at taking out most fodder enemies, but you will definitely be needing the better weaponry when faced with lickers, hunters, and bosses like the Tyrant.

As the levels proceed, you can destroy certain items in the background to uncover hidden documents, more ammo for the special weapons, green herbs which heal you instantly, and first aid sprays that effectively give you a continue.  Each level typically lasts 10 - 15 minutes and is split up into smaller sections with at least one checkpoint in the middle.  If you reach a checkpoint, or the boss of the stage, you can restart from that point should you die.  You probably will, too - as the game can be fairly challenging even on the earliest difficulty.   The optional scenarios feel noticeably harder than the main ones, too - especially as you have to play these alone (at least to begin with).

Innovation and Cleverness: 6
Making a sort of "Greatest Hits" package out of the Resident Evil series is a great idea, and a real treat for fans, and Capcom really nailed the whole atmosphere.  That being said, it doesn't really bring anything radically new to the light gun genre.  That's OK though, where the game is lacking in innovation it makes up in polish - something which has been a bit lacking in the previous light gun games based on the franchise.

Value and Replayability: 8 out of 10
Light gun shooters are traditionally fairly brief experiences, but there are a lot of missions in The Umbrella Chronicles.  Throw in multiple difficulty levels, branching routes in some of the stages, and a two player co op mode, and you have a decent amount of content for you to sink your teeth into.

Basing the value on the current price that you can find the game for (which is around £5 used and £15 new), I can say that you definitely get your money's worth.

Overall: 8 out of 10
Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles is a great offering for fans of the series, and is enhanced greatly by the option to play along with a friend. Everything feels authentic and handled with care, which is sadly not always the case with this franchise! Although the game leaves out the best games in the series in number 2 and number four, what is on offer is still good and the fact that it fills in gaps in the story is great.  I will be back with another review of the sequel once I have time to play through it all, in the meantime you should seriously think about adding The Umbrella Chronicles to your collection!

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