I'm not convinced that shooting zombies in the face will ever be a dull thing to do. Maybe it's the satisfying way their brains explode all over the screen with a 'thunk', or the rasping guttural moan in that split second of realisation as their arm splits off from their torso. Even Capcom's really bad Gun Survivor games had a certain charm about them. It's about disconnecting your brain, adopting a spaced-out expression and focusing your entire being into your trigger finger.
But, to date, Resident Evil shooters have been a story of massive, inexplicable missed potential. The first two in the series were, frankly, awful, and even the relatively well-regarded Dead Aim on PS2 was ultimately a bit shallow, way too short and blighted by some pretty bland sections. Combining the explorational, puzzle-solving adventure side of Resident Evil with proper light-gun thrills was an ace idea, but not one Capcom seemed confident enough to fully flesh it out.
You might imagine that The Umbrella Chronicles would take the Dead Aim mechanics a step further. After all, the Wii's controls seems absolutely tailor-made to allow you to move with the Nunchuk, and aim/fire/reload with the Wiimote, but instead, Capcom has gone back to the old school 'on-rails' approach, presumably to ensure it's a game with wall-to-wall zombie-shooting action.
In many ways, The Umbrella Chronicles is a Resident Evil fan's dream. It takes you on a 20-hour journey through the main bulk of the series, encompassing Resident Evil Zero, the original Resident Evil, right through 2, and climaxing with 3. The idea, as the title suggests, is to deliver a back-to-back retelling of the "truth" behind the fall of the nefarious Umbrella Corporation, as well as giving an insight into 'never before seen' parts of the back story.
At Capcom's annual Gamers' Day in San Francisco, producer Masachika Kawata speaks of a "more direct style that you don't get in a third-person game", and dismisses any suggestion that The Umbrella Chronicles is "not a true Resident Evil game".
"I can assure you that once you experience the action you won't think that," he asserts.
One thing he's keen to stress is that "it feels really good to shoot" and that they're "going to balance the game so you can be quite gun-happy", with the focus not just on shooting lurching zombie scum, but practically everything in the environment too, from doors and windows to lights and chandeliers - often to your own detriment once you realise that you're left alone in the dark.
Like every Resident Evil adventure, a large part of your adventures are spent helping out other characters, and co-operating with one another, exchanging information and seeing who can come out with the cheesiest lines. As you'd expect, all the familiar characters take the lead at some point, so we'll get to admire Billy's mullet and guns one more time, revisit the creepy mansion with Chris and Jill and "other surprises" that remain a filthy, dark secret for the time being. The rather wonderful clip montage was like a nostalgic run through some of the finest survival-horror moments of the past 11 years, except entirely reworked using a delightful new engine that instantly makes it look like the finest technical achievement on the Wii to date.
As soon as the lengthy Capcom presentation was over we got an all-too-brief hands-on with a ten-minute segment set in the familiar confines of the Resident Evil 1 mansion. As with any on-rails shooter, the controls are simplicity itself: simply point the targeting reticule where you want it and blast away. As you'd expect, pointing and shooting feels extremely responsive, intuitive and natural, and with no requirement to focus on movement or camera control, it's all about speed and accuracy. Having said that, the game does grant you the ability to shift your viewpoint within a few degrees with the Nunchuk, and often doing so gives you a chance to snag otherwise hidden ammo and health, not to mention the chance to shoot approaching zombies earlier than if you'd kept the viewpoint centred. On the other hand, there's a risk-reward element to shifting the viewpoint, and while you're busy looking the other way, you can just as easily find yourself blind-sided by your own greed. Take note, greedy ammo man.
Needless to say, all the familiar weapons make an appearance, with the more powerful ones appearing somewhat fleetingly - just as with a typical Resident Evil game. Flicking between weapons is just as simple as anything else, with the d-pad cycling between firearms that include old favourites such as sub-machine guns, knives, shotguns and pistols. We're told to expect rocket launchers, grenades and everything else in between, though none of them were in evidence in this early demo.
As we've touched on already, the game looks absolutely stunning, and easily the best-looking game we've seen so far on the Wii. If you're familiar with the old static rendered backdrops of old, then breezing through fully destructible 3D versions of these ornate locations is a curious thrill. It's the best form of retro tourism, hitching a ride through a forgotten part of your gaming brain, and discovering that it looks even better than your remember it. Normally, delving into such wanton nostalgia only leads to dumbstruck disappointment, but you'll only feel admiration for the way Capcom has reinvigorated some of its finest work.
Blasting away at paintings, walls, doors and anything not nailed down is almost as much fun as the killfest going on elsewhere. There's almost a gleeful delight to be gained out of ruining the graceful old mansion, sending chandeliers swinging, busting up doors to get an early bead on approaching undead and then blowing their heads off with a few well-placed shots.
So far, so good. We meet a giant snake toward the end, die and resume where we left off, and wonder whether the whole thing has enough variety to entertain us for the claimed 20 hours of gameplay. It's undoubtedly a polished, well executed light-gun-style shooter, but it's one of those where you'll probably only be able to play in short bursts before the inevitable arm ache kicks in. There's no doubt The Umbrella Chronicles is a game that anyone with a passing interest in Resident Evil titles will want to take a look at, but concerns linger, despite the instant thrills. The main one is whether it has enough variety and long-term appeal, and whether you'll simply get bored of wading through the same old on-rails shooting after a few hours. But with a late summer release date mooted, we won't have to wait long to find out.