Resident Evil 2! Resident Evil 2 is my favourite of all the Resident Evil games, refining and intensifying the suspense and isolation of the first and embedding it in an equally coherent and surprising new setting. Good news for me then, because Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles' chief producer Masachika Kawata, fresh from his work on Resident Evil 5 with Jun Takeuchi, describes the transition from last year's surprisingly good Umbrella Chronicles in similar terms.
"One of the biggest things is we wanted to put it in Umbrella Chronicles," he tells Eurogamer. "We just didn't have enough time to - so it felt like this was us finishing the job we started out to do initially. The second thing of course is yes, we know this is a very popular game within the series itself, and to be able to work with Cavia to create this, to base The Darkside Chronicles on this story, we knew was going to be a lot of fun."
The results - renewing the pixellated vows of friendship forged between Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield in the Racoon City Police Station all those years ago - return the gameplay firmly to rails and wrest back control of the camera, which may seem like a step backwards, but it's done with dramatic intent. Kawata has clearly been watching Cloverfield (actually, he says so), and the game's camerawork is of the handy variety, full of bouncing runs, explosive disorientation and dramatic twists of the head.
In fact, the visuals are among the best the Wii has even seen, thanks in large part to game director Yasuhiro Seto and his team at developer Cavia, who have concocted scaled-down shaders and lens filters based on principles adopted from Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 groundwork elsewhere. There's more environmental detail spread across the game's claustrophobic corridors than we saw in House of the Dead: Overkill, to use an obvious comparison, as well as a comparably diverse range of atmospheric effects, giving the zombies, dogs, giant spiders, wolfy things and man-size claw interruptions a solid foundation to strut their dramatic stuff.
Both characters are visible on-screen at all times, even in single-player, says Kawata, and the script is supposed to be more realistic than wisecracky so as not to detract from the gravity of the situation. Watching Seto play through the opening section, beginning in a fireball on the streets of Racoon City and trotting through alleys - flinching as zombies wrestle for you from the other side of a chain-link fence - and shops on its way to the front doors of the Police Station, the handicam dynamic looks as though it might interfere with aiming by jiggling zombie heads around, but in keeping with the sense of urgency, you don't have to kill all the zombies to move on.
The game also revisits plenty of Resident Evil 2 touchstones, like the zombie attacking a shopkeeper early on, and a headspin to meet the sight of zombies banging on the glass, enhanced with a stab of frantic strings from the low-key soundtrack. There are numerous cinematic interludes, like rescuing Claire from a zombie at her throat. Later in the demo a SWAT van explodes and knocks Leon down, so Claire has to defend him while he clears his head, and there are a few branching pathways to consider, like ditching the streets to descend a stairway (only to be mobbed by crows). There are explosive barrels to hit and unlockables, too.
Hitting pause brings up a basic inventory screen and Wiimote graphic, which allows you to assign weapons (including the shotgun, assault rifle, SMG, pistol and grenades) and herbs to the d-pad buttons for real-time weapon-switching. Combat ranges from picking off rank-and-file shambling aggressors to quick-witted blasts at the series' iconic former mutts, while the grenade does a good line in crowd control. A composite gameplay trailer shown aside from the demo suggests that things get more complicated, too, with managed retreats from tougher enemies, and numerous bosses - some familiar, some not. Motion controls don't seem to feature (beyond pointing to shoot), although there is some waggling to free yourself from zombie clutches.
Kawata admits that The Darkside Chronicles won't include online gameplay (he blames the potential for lag), but he seems eager to bring in global leaderboards, even though nothing's decided. On the local end, boards for individual sections will allow you to compare kill counts, and there should be further replay value in further playable characters judging by his slightly embarrassed "hush" gesture when one of the other journalists present raises the question. Perhaps we'll see something akin to the original Resident Evil 2's A and B scenarios, although sadly I don't get the chance to ask during a clipped interview slot.
One thing we do get to, however, is Kawata's attitude to R&D chief Keiji Inafune's globalisation strategy. It's noticeable that while many of Capcom's games - most notably Dead Rising 2 - have been part-placed with European or American studios to try and enhance their worldwide appeal, Resident Evil remains staunchly Japanese, outsourced to Cavia. And Resi 5 producer Jun Takeuchi's new game, Lost Planet 2, is internal. Are Kawata and Takeuchi in line with their boss?
"Yes, you know I'd love to see what a Western company could do if they were going to make a new Resident Evil game," says Kawata. "And by that same rationale I'd love to see what Cavia could do if they were going to make a brand new Resident Evil game. I don't think that just because it's Resident Evil it needs to be made internally, but I can say our internal teams work very, very, very hard, and if we were to give this franchise to an outsource company then they'd need to be able to work with the same gusto in order to achieve the lofty expectations that the series has."
Kawata also responds to the poor US sales of MadWorld, made by some of his former colleagues at PlatinumGames, and whether adult content can succeed on the Wii. "I'm not afraid at all," he says about The Darkside Chronicles' prospects. "I think it's going to sell. If you look at the previous instalment, it sold quite well, and again the Resident Evil brand is incredibly strong, and it's known throughout the world."
Later, when the recorder's off, he asks me why I think it didn't sell. I tell him that Platinum, like Clover before it, makes very good but very esoteric games, which are hard to market (which may or may not be true). But, and not just to suck up to him, I add that I don't think The Darkside Chronicles will have the same problem. It's not just that it's a remake of a popular game in an evergreen series; after accusations that Resident Evil 5 lost sight of the horror and suspense that underpinned so many of the preceding instalments, The Darkside Chronicles is taking an interesting turn. Plus, of course, Resident Evil 2 is the besterest.
Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles is due out exclusively for Wii later this year.