Genre: Survival Horror
Release Date: November 13, 2007
For most of Resident Evil' history, the primary antagonist, besides the iconic monsters, was the Umbrella Corporation, the nasty folks who actually invented the multitude of logic-ignoring viruses that spawned the zombies and other beasts. After the events of Resident Evil: Code Veronica, the stage appeared set for the various heroes of the Resident Evil titles to finally take down Umbrella once and for all. Then came Resident Evil 4, where we discover in the first five minutes that Umbrella went bankrupt and collapsed off-screen. For gamers who had been waiting for years to finally finish the fight with Umbrella, this was, to put it bluntly, an unsatisfying conclusion. Thankfully, Capcom has seen fit to do a bit of revision to the Resident Evil history books and bring us the true story of Umbrella's demise with Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles.
Umbrella Chronicles is made up of four scenarios. The first three are retellings of Resident Evil 0, Resident Evil and Resident Evil 3, while the fourth is a new scenario called "The Fall of Umbrella," starring Resident Evil protagonists Christ Redfield and Jill Valentine as they infiltrate one of Umbrella's facilities in order to find information to bring down the company. Unfortunately, none of these scenarios are going to be very satisfying plot-wise to the die-hard RE fans who are so desperately seeking answers to the franchise's many plot threads. Few of the plot threads are concluded, but even more confusing and bizarre twists are introduced without satisfactory resolutions.
Even more annoying is that the game has some very glaring omissions. Fan favorite Barry Burton is all but missing from the game, his name being only mentioned offhand in one of the hidden files, which is rather nonsensical since he played a large role in Resident Evil 1 and is the only missing cast member. More noticeable, however, is that Resident Evil 2 is completely missing from the game, and it only references half of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis' plot. While this leaves room for a sequel, these omissions are rather glaring to Resident Evil fans and certainly don't do anything to make Umbrella Chronicles's incoherent story any more understandable to franchise newcomers.
For those unaware, Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles isn't like the usual Resident Evil titles. It's an on-rails shooter, easier to compare to Sega's House of the Dead franchise than even the light gun entries in the franchise, like Resident Evil: Survivor. Either in single-player mode or with a friend, players take control of various RE characters and shoot everything onscreen. It's fairly simple, but it can be a lot of fun, especially with a good partner involved. There is no need to move: The game moves for you, and all the players have to do is shoot enemies and ensure that Umbrella's monsters don't get close enough to take a chunk of their health. There is, however, one unusual twist here: Unlike most rail shooters, if one player dies, both die, so skilled gamers may have to work extra hard to ensure their partner remains as healthy as they do.
Usually, rail shooters require a light gun to play correctly. While most titles allow the use of a controller-guided crosshair instead, this is awkward and slow, turning what should be a fun game into a frustrating exercise. With the Wiimote, gamers can now aim the crosshair just as quickly as an actual light gun. The controls are fairly simple: One button shoots your gun, while the other is an all-purpose action button. Pressing the action button allows you to pick up items, while holding it down allows the player to slash monsters with a knife. Pressing the action and fire buttons at the same time will throw a grenade, which does massive damage to any enemy in its blast radius, and the d-pad is used to change weapons. Reloading is done by shaking the Wiimote. Any player who connects the Nunchuck can also use the C and Z buttons as action and weapon switch, respectively.
The controls for Umbrella Chronicles are fairly simple, easy to pick up and don't take long to master; they're a good fit for the Wii, but they're not perfect. The imperfection comes in the form of God of War-style, button-pressing cut scenes, which appear from time to time and require you to press a random button in a matter of seconds or suffer serious damage or death. However, there is little difference between the icons for the A and B buttons, compared to the multi-color PlayStation or GameCube buttons, and the split second that it takes you to register which button prompt has flashed onscreen could be the difference between life and death.
In most rail shooters, extra weapons are temporary power-ups. They're useful, but your own pistol is more than capable of handling anything that comes at you. Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles handles things a bit differently, at least in single-player mode. While your character is given a hefty amount of ammunition for secondary weapons, players want to use this as rarely as possible in order to conserve ammunition for the end-of-stage bosses. Most enemies in the game can be handled with just the pistol, but your primary peashooter just doesn't have the power or speed required to stop the bosses' attacks. Without the aid of heavier firepower, a gamer who is playing alone may struggle to do enough damage to avoid being gutted by a Tyrant's claws.
Of course, in two-player mode, this isn't the same issue because two guns are more powerful than one, and even pistols can easily take down the mightiest of foes. Another reason to conserve special weapon ammunition is that unused ammo is added to the stockpile and can be brought into the next mission. This means that gamers who are having trouble with a particular boss can stockpile rocket launcher ammo and go in armed to the teeth, or they can save machine gun ammo for when they're being gang-rushed by Hunters.
Much like the special weapons, your pistol varies a bit from the usual rail shooter fare. Even the weakest enemies in Umbrella Chronicles may require seven or more shots to take down with your pistol, and when you're being rushed by zombies, that isn't an efficient use of your time. Instead, the game encourages players to aim for "weak spots" on the monsters, which can vary from the dead center of the forehead for zombies to the exposed brain of a Licker monster. This isn't a huge change from other rail shooters, since aiming for the head or glowing spot is pretty common, but Resident Evil stresses this far more than any other rail shooter I've ever played.
The enemies are hardier, and the difference between a one-shot critical kill and an entire clip of ammunition is all that keeps you from being overcome by zombie hoards. The critical hit idea, however, suffers from one major flaw: Many monsters, including the formerly intimidating Hunters and even some of the boss creatures, have incredibly large weak points. The spots are so large that it's possible to hit them entirely by accident, and in the non-boss creatures, this is an instant kill. This means that some of the more formidable foes (that is, everything that isn't a zombie) can be downed mighty quickly, while the zombies somehow soak bullet after bullet due to their tiny weak points. It's not a game-breaking flaw, but it feels rather contrary when the weakest monster is the toughest to eliminate.
One of the most annoying game design choices comes in the form of breakable objects. Most on-screen objects can be shot to destroy them; chandeliers can be blasted to fall to the ground, doors can be busted open to find items and explosive barrels can be shot to damage a large group of enemies. The thing you'll be doing most often, though, is shooting out the lights. Almost every light in Umbrella Chronicles can be shot out, and players are encouraged to do this for two reasons: The end-of-stage ranking counts the number of items you destroyed and awards points for each, and certain objects conceal Umbrella files, which provide backstory on the game's characters and monsters. The files are also scored at the end of the stage, and getting a high ranking requires that your character vandalized every object he encountered. It isn't overly difficult to do, but it doesn't feel natural, either. It really takes away from the intensity of the game when you're shooting helpless lamps instead of bloodthirsty zombies.
Getting a high ranking is important for a number of reasons. Most importantly, the game can't be finished without doing so. Although the co-op scenarios are available simply by completing the previous mission, some of the special single-player scenarios, including the final boss and credits, require players to achieve a high ranking on other missions in the game. To be precise, an A or S rank is needed, which could seal off parts of the game to unskilled gamers. Another reason is that each ranking awards players with stars, which can be cashed in to buy upgrades to various secondary weapons, ranging from increased damage to infinite ammo. Low rankings only yield two stars, while high rankings can yield as many as four. The only problem here is that there's no real reason to worry about your ranking beyond the missions needed to unlock the final stages. Players who want to earn stars can just replay the easy-as-pie first level over and over again until they've maxed out all of their weapons.
Umbrella Chronicles does suffer from one glaring flaw that rises above everything else: It's short. Skilled gamers will probably finish the game in less than five hours, and even playing solo, there isn't much replay value. Furthermore, only about half of the scenarios are available as co-op, so gamers who buy Umbrella Chronicles to play with a friend will have even less to do than those gamers who play solo. After you've gone through the stages, all that is left to do is grind stars to customize your weapons and search for remaining files, neither of which is particularly fun or satisfying. The co-op gameplay means that it's a fun game to break out at parties, but gamers shouldn't expect it to have much lasting value beyond that.
Titles in the Resident Evil franchise have been getting better-looking at time progresses, but it's difficult to not say that Umbrella Chronicles takes a few steps back. The levels certainly look excellent, and players will recognize a lot of familiar locations from the games and even a few cameos from the "Resident Evil" movies. A few of the enemy models look fairly plastic, with the Lickers being particularly noteworthy. Furthermore, the few FMVs look awkward and artificial, so that it feels like you're watching action figures instead of actual characters. For the most part, it is a good-looking game, but it's a bit lackluster in some places.
Resident Evil has always been well-known for its voice acting — or rather, the lack of quality in its voice acting. Z-movie actors reading cheesy lines in the most exaggerated tones fill every Resident Evil title, but in a way, that's part of the franchise's charm. Umbrella Chronicles continues this tradition with some of the worst voice acting in the series' history. From Rebecca Chambers, who somehow has acquired an even squeakier and annoying voice since her last appearance, to Albert Wesker, whose attempt at a "British" accent sounds as if he's talking through a sock, all of the voice actors are simply laughable. Beyond that, the sound effects are reasonable, although nothing quite stands out. Monsters' attempts at scaring you just don't work in the rail shooter environment, and the background music is easily forgettable.
Gamers have been waiting awhile for a rail shooter for the Wii, especially with Nintendo's announcement of the Wii Zapper add-on, and Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles delivers, but it doesn't go beyond simple competence. Umbrella Chronicles is a completely average rail shooter, made distinguishable from House of the Dead only by the addition of the Resident Evil license. While Umbrella Chronicles is certainly fun to play, especially with a friend, its short length, incoherent plot and low replay value mean that only the most die-hard of Resident Evil fans will care enough to spend the time to unlock every file in the game. Anyone who can't tell a Hunter from a Chimera might just want to give Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles a rental instead.
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