Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles Reader Review
So here it is; the latest attempt by Capcom to merge lightgun gaming with their popular Resident Evil franchise. You'd be forgiven for being sceptical about Umbrella Chronicles; Capcomís previous efforts to do a House of the Dead style game (the Gun Survivor series) were awful attempts to blend the two genres together, featuring lacklustre gameplay and pointless, unnecessary plot spin-offs. So is this more of the same? Thankfully, no.
While the formula still isn't perfect, it works so much better this time around thanks to a mix of great graphics, plenty of replayability and the fact that its based on the well-established events of the main (and most memorable) games in the series. Thatís right; you'll be re-visiting the Umbrella training facility, the infamous mansion and the doomed Racoon City once again, all resurrected with crisp modern day graphics which means no more ugly pre-rendered backdrops. This is evident straight away from the fact that a lot of the scenery can be shot to pieces in order to reveal hidden ammo, weapons and files.
The structure of the game is simple: Play is broken down into scenarios that each contains three chapters plus bonus chapters (more on them later). Completing a scenario unlocks the next scenario of which there are four in total. You begin by playing as Rebecca Chambers and Billy Coen, re-living the events of the Gamecubeís prequel, Resident Evil 0 before falling into the shoes of either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine as they explore the monster infested mansion from the 1996 original. Then itís on to Racoon city and the events of the third game, culminating in an inevitable showdown with the unstoppable Nemesis. Finally, there is an all new scenario which takes you to Umbrella's secret, never-seen-before Russian base to learn how the nasty corporation finally met its end.
Needless to say, there is plenty for the Resident Evil nostalgia freak to enjoy with heaps of files and character/enemy profiles to uncover within each chapter as well as classic enemies making a welcome return. Yawn, the giant snake, Plant 42 and the legendary Tyrant are just some of the bosses that need to be beaten in order to progress. Then there's the S.T.A.R.S hunting Nemesis monster himself and even a brand new threat lurking in Umbrella's Russian base...but it doesn't end there. To give the game a slightly healthier lifespan and please Resident Evil fans at the same time, there are bonus chapters within each scenario which take place at roughly the same time as the main events. These extra helpings cover parts of the Resident Evil storyline that have never been explained properly such as what happened to Rebecca after RE:0 and what Wesker was doing in between his mysterious re-appearances in the first game. In fact, a large number of these chapters have you playing as Wesker himself so expect to have a lot of gray areas of the plot to be finally cleared up.
So the Resident Evil fans might be pleased but what about a series newbie or even the casual gamer? What else is there in the game to make the whole package a more attractive prospect? Well, performing better on a chapter will result in a higher clear rank which adds to the replay factor for anyone wanting to perfect their scores or get the most out of the game. A higher rank means more star points at the end of a chapter which can then be exchanged for upgrades to weapons recovered from the various chapters. This is essential and will have you replaying levels so as to amass enough points to max out your arsenal of shotguns, bazookas, sub-machineguns and the like so that enemies and more importantly, bosses can be made to feel the pain.
Most importantly though, what's the actual gameplay like? Well, thereís nothing in there that can be considered broken as such but at the same time, thereís nothing here thatís particularly innovative. Its wafer thin at best but while the lightgun genre has never been the most in depth of experiences, the survival horror genre has. As a result, the convoluted plot of the series with its tense atmosphere doesn't quite manage to merge completely with the shooting as everybody would have liked. In fact, there are very few moments that have the power to scare the player which is a disappointment - it is Resident Evil after all. Overall however, The Umbrella Chronicles is still a great experience in the gameplay department and if you just want to shoot stuff, you'll find it a solid package. More importantly, there is the co-op option for two players so that you and a friend can team up to fill Umbrellaís foul creations with lead. Nice.
Unfortunately, Capcom has a history of making lightgun shooters based on its zombie franchise and all have suffered in some way whether it be the ugly-as-mud graphics of the original PSOne Survivor title or the unnecessary plot of the PS2's Dead Aim. The Umbrella Chronicles manages to set these previous shortcomings straight and is rightfully deserving of being the better offering compared with its spiritual predecessors yet there are still some areas that leave something to be desired such as shots lacking impact. There's some blindingly obvious technical issues too such as the occasional slow down when unloading on an enemy with an automatic weapon or the fact that the nunchuck is hard to shake in time with the on-screen action command prompts when using the Wii Zapper settings. This is just annoying because the game feels so much more fun when using Nintendo's lightgun accessory so its disappointing that the set-up is usable but flawed. Its all over too soon as well, especially if trying to get the best ranks and unlock everything isnít your thing; a few more chapters would have been nice.
Of course, these are largely minor gripes and as mentioned before, there isnít anything game-breaking in here to ruin what is otherwise an extremely playable title. All in all, The Umbrella Chronicles is a solid game that should please anybody into lightgun gaming - providing they donít set their expectations too high - while more than catering for fans of the series. Well worth picking up and enjoying despite the small, niggling flaws.
7 / 10