Version tested: Wii
As mindlessly enjoyable as The Umbrella Chronicles was, the absence of the Resident Evil 2 and Code Veronica storylines was conspicuous. Capcom said there wasn't enough time to include the full story and has tried to make amends by releasing a follow-up to its successful on-rails take on the franchise.
Like so many Capcom titles, The Darkside Chronicles follows the formula of the preceding release almost entirely. Presented like an old-school lightgun shooter, it lets gamers relive memorable moments of key Resident Evil titles in an on-rails context with the focus entirely on filling zombies full of holes. With Resi 2 and CV in the frame, Claire Redfield is joined by rookie cop Leon Kennedy and escaped prisoner Steve Burnside. Together they must take down the mutated menace via the wonders of the unlimited ammo pistol.
To kick off proceedings the opening chapter skips forward to the previously unseen 'Operation Javier' scenario, set just prior to the events of Resident Evil 4 in 2003. Leon Kennedy and future troublemaker Jack Krauser (both playable from the start) are on a mission to find a girl named Manuela in the South American village of Amparo. It doesn't take long for them to figure out that the whole place is overrun by an infection that has gripped not only the locals, but the wildlife as well. Cue gunfire.
No sooner have you fought off the attentions of a gigantic aquatic beast than the game flits off on a tangent, offering up around two hours of Resident Evil 2-based fun. Complete with all the best bits that you may or may not remember from the late nineties classic, the formula is a joyous rollercoaster ride of almost non-stop blasting.
The section is split into eight chapters and the premise couldn't be any simpler: shoot at anything that moves, shoot things even if they don't move, and then shoot everything again just to make sure. It's the same deal with the seven Code Veronica chapters (titled 'Memories of a Lost City') with all the highlights of the last-gen epic present and correct. Once the two 'old-school' Resident Evil tales are over the game switches its full focus to Operation Javier, and you explore the murky depths of a dam complex before everything spirals out of control.
As you'd expect, enemies come thick, fast and in many forms, from the standard shambling zombies to giant moths, dogs, bats, giant spiders, wall-running lickers and horrendous triffid-like aberrations. As for the bosses, well... If you've played the original games you know what you're in for, which is to say far too many tentacles.
Thanks to the inherent suitability of the Wii remote to lightgun-style gameplay no extra peripherals are required to play, though the game has Wii Zapper configs for those who prefer to wield extra plastic mouldings while they shoot. As before, you simply aim the reticule at the screen, shoot as fast as you can with the B button and collect loot with the A button. Aiming is precise and swift and you can now - rather uselessly - add a laser pointer if you wish.
Weapon-switching is make somewhat easier this time around. The somewhat superfluous ability to move your head slightly with the nunchuk stick which featured in The Umbrella Chronicles has been abandoned. Instead weapons are mapped to the four stick directions, and flicking between them during the game is as simple as pressing the required direction.
Hitting the minus button also enables you flick to an inventory screen and hot-swap weapons in and out of four slots during the game, meaning you now have the facility to call upon rarely used items (like grenades or a rocket launcher) when the opportunity arises. Reloading requires little more than a flick of the remote, leaving you able to focus almost entirely on unloading your clips into mutant brains.
Fortunately motion-based controls and Quick Time Events are kept to a minimum, excepting the occasional boss-based button combo and rare zombie grappling, where frantically wafting the Wii remote is generally deemed suitable punishment. Once again, you'll find yourself blasting idly at random scenery elements even during lulls, lest they harbour hidden loot such as extra cash or hidden files for you to read later.
As you might recall from last time around, weapon upgrades become more important as the game progresses. This gives you the opportunity to not only improve your mission performance but eventually tackle the game at higher difficulty and gain access to the numerous secret unlockable modes.
To add a modicum of replayability to the five-to-six hour-long game, each level is playable from two character's perspectives. Branching paths in certain stages ensure that you have to play them at least twice to stand a chance of unlocking all the secrets. But with the game positively begging to be played with a friend, chances are you'll want to play it again with someone else anyway. As before, each level is graded, giving you something to aim for in subsequent replays.
But the best result of Capcom's decision to go back and revisit the old classics isn't the dumb fun of on-rails shooting - it's how lovingly they've been brought up to date. Although in our mind's eye the old Resi Evils still look great, firing them up can be a sobering experience when exposed to the harsh mistress that is the modern high-definition telly. If these on-rails affairs serve any purpose at all, it's to let us relive the hammy storylines, whizz around those locations we spent so long poring over and tackle the boss battles in a way that does justice to our treasured memories.
Technically, The Darkside Chronicles stands up alongside the best that the Wii has to offer - beautifully rendered environments are complimented by a procession of superbly recreated enemies. The boss sections are an absolute delight. With vast hordes of foes filling the screen, a quickfire re-imagining of some of gaming's most viciously memorable sequences is offered up for our delectation. Even if you missed out on certain portions of the sprawling Resident Evil timeline, it's hard not to be seduced by what is an undeniably first-class on-rails shooter.
On the downside Capcom still hasn't figured out an online mode, citing lag as the key reason it wasn't included. To be fair, for a game that's tailor-made for living room co-op, that's not such a big deal. What you do get are online leaderboards which - assuming you can be bothered with Friend codes - provide a means of tracking your level performance across the entire game.
As a companion offering to The Umbrella Chronicles this game is a neat fit, presenting a beautifully concise context within which to enjoy the some of the Resident Evil series' most intense high points. It might not be too complex or demanding but once the zombie hordes descend and your trigger finger starts pummelling the hell out of the Wii remote, you won't care one bit. For fans of twitch-gaming this surely ranks up there with the best that this anachronistic sub-genre has to offer.
8 / 10