Version tested: Wii
What's this? An on-rails zombie shooter as good as The House of the Dead II? In 2007? Shame it's taken Capcom eight years and four attempts to get it right. Shame the genre is as outdated as 56k modems. Shame it's so short and that there's not a single new idea in the entire game. But hey, it's never too late to have fun shooting undead Umbrella employees between the eyes. Right?
Right. Almost despite itself, there is something bafflingly moreish about the whole on-rails genre when it's handled in the right way, and Umbrella Chronicles has a reasonable stab at rehashing the age old 'blast everything that moves' premise.
For starters, the concept of revisiting Resident Evil's 'Umbrella' storyline chronologically is a fantastic means of getting you right into the action, and taps into any fan's latent nostalgia for how the key events, set-pieces and boss monsters unfolded in the original survival-horror classics. Kicking off on the train in Resident Evil Zero, you can choose to play as escaped convict Billy Coen or S.T.A.R.S. Bravo team member Rebecca Chambers and work your way through a sequence of short scenarios which approximate the timeline - minus the puzzling, of course. Each crams all the key events into roughly ten-minute chapters - complete with the exact same enemy types, locations and even some of the dialogue, culminating with a boss encounter.
If you've played the original games, then Umbrella Chronicles is admittedly short on surprises, but that's kind of the point. Knowing what's going to happen next doesn't stop it from being a great deal of fun to relive some of the set-pieces in a more action-focused setting - especially as the game engine has been radically overhauled and no longer has that pre-rendered look. As you can probably imagine, the game takes care of the movement for you, leaving you to simply get on with pointing and aiming at the onslaught of mutated beasties pouring out of each and every location. The control system strips away added complications of ducking behind cover, and simply adds a somewhat superfluous degree of head movement in any direction via the thumbstick on the Nunchuk. As useful as this is for being able to nab pick-ups at the last minute, for the most part your main focus is on pulling off headshots and trying to save the more powerful weapons for enemies and situations that demand it.
So, while you'll get by just fine with your unlimited ammo handgun, when you're crowded out and under pressure, you'll invariably be forced to switch to the shotgun, sub-machinegun, machine pistol, magnum, grenade launcher or grenade to deal the maximum possible damage in the shortest possible time. Cycling between weapons is a simple, intuitive process of pressing the C button (or up and down on the d-pad), while reloading functions involve either shaking the remote briefly, or simply pressing the fire button again once you're dry.
Just like in the original, you'll see ammo and health-giving herbs and first aid sprays lying around, but in Umbrella Chronicles you'll also get used to shooting breakable objects and glancing around for otherwise hidden pick-ups. Getting through to the next checkpoint is crucial, so you soon find yourself making the most of the powerful weapons and ammo by learning when the real danger points of the level are coming. On the game's Easy difficulty, it's a useful exercise in not only learning the 'script' as it were - preparing you for the game's more ferocious harder settings, and giving you a chance to know where the quick time events are, as well as knowing how best to respond to the occasional melee attack. Shake boy, shake!
As you go along, the game also unlocks some interesting side-quests, such as Wesker missions which flesh out what this devious little sod was up to at the time. Although they tend to recycle locations and monsters in filler fashion, the real series obsessives will no doubt be thrilled to find some of the plot holes filled in by the typically hammy cut-scenes.