Fans of Resident Evil are well aware that Resident Evil 4 was quite a departure from the series. Not only did it ditch the franchise's trademark zombies in favor of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"-style monsters and change to a more action-oriented style, but it also skipped many years ahead. A lot of things occurred during that time gap, but Resident Evil 4 was mum on the details. The previous Wii game, The Umbrella Chronicles, was focused on what happened to the pharmaceutical company Umbrella and its biological monsters between Code Veronica X and Resident Evil 4. Even with an entire game dedicated to bridging the gap, some questions were still left unresolved, particularly involving Krauser, a man who claimed to have some history with Leon S. Kennedy during that time gap. Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles aims to fill in that last bit of detail, although the answers may be less satisfying than loyal Resident Evil fans were expecting.
Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles is divided into three segments. Operation: Javier, a brand-new adventure starring RE 4's Leon and Krauser, is the primary focus of the story. The pair hunts down a mysterious man named Javier, who is working with remnants of the evil Umbrella Corporation. Along the way, they encounter some of Umbrella's deadlier creations, which are inexorably linked to Leon's past. At the end of the first and second chapters of Javier, the game diverts to a flashback to the other two parts of the game: Memories of a Lost City and Game of Oblivion. These two sections are retellings of the events of Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil: Code Veronica X, and they provide a backstory about what is happening during the events of Operation: Javier. Memories of a Lost City follows Leon and Claire Redfield as they try to escape the zombie-ravaged Raccoon City, while Game of Oblivion stars Steve Burnside and Claire as they try to outwit a cackling madman named Alexander Ashford, who has turned the prison island into his own personal game show.
Compared to The Umbrella Chronicles, The Darkside Chronicles offers significantly less content. Operation: Javier is the only new section of the game, but anyone who follows the Resident Evil story line won't find a lot of new information here. It mainly explains why Krauser went from being a reasonably nice soldier to an evil mutant monster in Resident Evil 4. The Resident Evil 2 and Code Veronica segments are far more interesting, although die-hard fans may be displeased with some of liberties taken with the games. Resident Evil 2 has been trimmed, but Code Veronica is almost unrecognizable, with most of the major characters and plot events having changed. Code Veronica comes across almost as a parody of itself, which actually makes for a significantly more entertaining experience than a straightforward retelling of the adventure. Anyone who doesn't care about the Resident Evil plot will likely be lost, as the plots are borderline incoherent even in the best of situations, and the in-game files and script manage to contradict only other games in the series — and themselves. Like other Resident Evil titles, if you're simply looking to kill zombies, the plot is mostly fluff and can be ignored in favor of blowing off the undead's heads.
The Darkside Chronicles follows in its Wii predecessor's footsteps by being a fairly straightforward rail shooter. You can play with one or two players, and your goal is to shoot everything that looks even remotely threatening. Like another recent Wii rail shooter, Dead Space: Extraction, The Darkside Chronicles tries to be a bit more cinematic than the usual House of the Dead-style title. The pace is a bit slower than most rail shooters, although nowhere near the glacial pace of Extraction. In addition, the game uses a system that has you seeing through the eyes of one of the characters. This means that, even in two-player mode, the other character will occasionally wander on-screen. This is mostly a visual effect, although there are a few occasions when you have to save your partner from a zombie attack. There are also a few annoying cinematic moments when you damage or defeat a boss or enemy, but it won't actually "die" until the most properly dramatic moment, forcing you to fend off attacks from an invincible foe for no reason other than because it looks more dramatic if he died in a slightly different position.
Like Umbrella Chronicles, The Darkside Chronicles is a rail shooter that is more focused on accuracy than the number of bullets you can pump into a foe. Almost every enemy has a weak point on his body. A direct shot to the brain will instantly kill a zombie and earn you a score bonus, and consecutive headshots actually multiply this bonus. For other foes, the effect of a weak point shot is less dramatic, but no less essential. Hitting a foe in his weak point will stun him, allowing you to get in a few extra shots before he starts up the attack pattern again. Against bosses, this is particularly essential, as multiple shots to the weak point are the only way to prevent him from dealing massive damage to your characters. However, compared to Umbrella Chronicles, the overall need for accuracy has actually decreased. Enemy weak points are slightly larger or easier to hit, and they're also in more obvious places.
One element of The Darkside Chronicles that is likely to annoy gamers is the inclusion of a constant "shaky-cam" view. In order to add extra tension, the game's camera will shake and spin at the slightest chance, much in the style of the "Cloverfield" film. While it certainly adds an extra sense of style to the game, it also makes some segments more annoying to play. It isn't so bad when you're facing down zombies, who are slow and weak, but against faster enemies, especially bosses, it can be deeply aggravating. As mentioned above, you have to aim for enemy weak points to stun or stop them. While the weak points are easier to hit than in Umbrella Chronicles, the jerky camera can make it exceptionally frustrating to target them, especially when you only have a second to hit your mark before you take damage. This leads to many moments that feel like you're taking "unavoidable" damage, especially during the first playthrough.
Another returning feature from the original Umbrella Chronicles is the ability to find new weapons, which include shotguns, magnums, grenade launchers and the almighty rocket launcher. Unlike your main handgun, these weapons have limited ammo, so you only can carry a limited number of shots for each. At the beginning of a chapter, your ammunition will be refilled to a bare minimum amount, but that ration is rarely enough to be useful. Fortunately, there is another way to get ammo. As you progress, you'll find ammo for various weapons; the more powerful the weapon, the rarer the ammunition will be. Any ammunition you find carries over to other stages, so if you hoard your magnum rounds through earlier levels, you can have a tremendous surplus to use on a tough boss later on.
Your weapons can also be upgraded with money, which can be found in the stages; the upgrades will increase the weapons' damage, stopping power, reload speed or ammunition capacity. One downside is that the limited ammunition makes it very likely that you'll spend all your cash on the handgun. There's little reason to upgrade the other weapons, since you won't be relying on them nearly as often as the good, old-fashioned handgun. The handgun is so ridiculously effective that it is unlikely you'll bother upgrading any of the sub-weapons, except for perhaps the submachine gun and the grenade launcher, until after you've finished the game a few times.
Compared to the original game, you choices are decidedly more limited. In Umbrella Chronicles, there were multiple classes of weapons — such as shotguns, magnums and rapid-firing weapons — but each of those classes had multiple weapons types, allowing you to customize your weapon loadout. In The Darkside Chronicles, there is only one of each weapon type, although you can switch between all weapons at will. For weapons like the magnum or rocket launcher, there isn't a tremendous loss for being forced to stick with one weapon, but for guns like the slow-loading shotgun, you'll wish you could exchange it for one that's a little faster. The massive reduction in weapon choice feels very strange compared to the original game, and it's one of the areas where The Darkside Chronicles is a step backward from the original.
As in Umbrella Chronicles, you're encouraged to go for high scores in The Darkside Chronicles. Fortunately for those who found Umbrella Chronicles too restrictive, very little of the game is sealed away behind high rankings. You can access almost all of the game's content just by burning through the game normally, and unlocking the Darkside Chronicles segment of the title is determined by how quickly you defeat a boss. The scoring system has also been drastically simplified from Umbrella Chronicles. Now you are ranked primarily on enemies killed, the time it took you to clear the stage, the number of headshots you made and the overall score you earned on the stage. With the exception of headshots, most of these requirements are easy to clear, and the headshot requirement has been drastically lowered. You also can earn bonus points for finishing the level without using a first aid spray or without taking damage. The primary purpose of a high score is actually to upload it to the leaderboards and show off your shooting prowess to other Resident Evil fans. At the time of this writing, the leaderboards were almost empty, but this is likely to change as more people play the game.
While The Darkside Chronicles is roughly as long as the original Umbrella Chronicles, it feels like it is lacking something. The weakest part of the game is the Operation: Javier segment, which is the only brand-new content. Compared to the other levels, it feels a bit bland and unmemorable, and most of the exclusive enemies lack the flair of the classic Resident Evil foes. The biggest problem, however, is that they really skimped on the ending. When you fight the game's final boss, there is actually a time limit. If you finish fast enough, you unlock a "good" ending, which also activates the titular Darkside Chronicles, two extra levels added to the end of Operation: Javier. However, these two additional levels are a tremendous disappointment and provide a very unsatisfactory ending. The problem is that both of these levels are an exact repeat of the previous two levels of Operation: Javier. The enemies, items and stages are identical, but the difference is that Krauser occasionally narrates a few extra lines, and all the enemies are a little more durable. It feels like an extremely lazy way to assure that the game is as long as the previous title, and it adds almost nothing to the experience.
As with most rail shooters, The Darkside Chronicles' replay value depends primarily on how much you enjoy replaying stages. The entire game can be finished in four to six hours, which is a fairly respectable length for a game of its type, but it may still be too limited for most gamers. There isn't a lot of extra value to the game beyond the fun of shooting zombies, either. There are unlockable "archives" you can find by shooting objects in the stage, but most of them are only of interest to Resident Evil die-hards, and more than a few are badly translated. Beyond that, the only real extra features are the aforementioned Darkside stages, and a strange little mode starring the unlockable character Tofu from Resident Evil 2. The latter mode is a funny nod to a long-forgotten joke, but it's probably going to confuse those who didn't master every single element of Resident Evil 2 in order to find Tofu the first time.
Visually, The Darkside Chronicles has its ups and downs, especially when compared to The Umbrella Chronicles. Some of the environments look better, but others look far worse. The shadows are certainly uglier in this game, and the visual jaggies are a lot more noticeable in bright sunlight. It's a problem since large portions of Operation: Javier take place during the daytime. The zombies are of unusually mixed quality, and some of them look noticeably worse than others. The new enemies are well animated but not very memorable in design, something that stands out particularly heavily after playing through Memories of a Lost City and Game of Oblivion. As somewhat of a franchise trademark, the voice acting is of B-movie quality at best, and there are more than a few lines that will have players groaning aloud. To their credit, some of the voice actors put forth an honest effort, but the lines they are being asked to read are so silly that there isn't much one could do with them, and putting effort into the lines just makes them feel even more ridiculous. Overall, the soundtrack is solid; it does a good job of adding tension to the game and keeping things frantic during more extreme moments.
Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles is a solid sequel to The Umbrella Chronicles, but it's not really much of an improvement. Some of Umbrella Chronicles' more annoying problems were fixed, but not a lot of note-worthy content was added, and some good elements were even removed. The new "cinematic" features, like the shaky-cam view, are interesting to watch but don't really add to the gameplay and, in some cases, even make the game less enjoyable. There are a lot of places where it feels like the game could cut corners as well, such as the last two levels being a copy-and-paste of the previous two. If you enjoyed The Umbrella Chronicles or if you just enjoy blowing the brains out of zombies, you'll probably find a fair amount to enjoy here, but there isn't really anything to recommend this game above most of the other excellent (and cheaper) zombie-based rail shooters available for the Wii.
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