Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles Review
When Capcom first announced Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, it seemed like a perfect fit. Lightgun-style shooting game on the Wii, revisiting the best moments from past Resident Evil games? We'll take it! And while the novelty of that idea quickly wears off once you get into this horror-themed shooter, fans of the series will still find plenty to love about Umbrella Chronicles.
Throughout the game, the narration tries to sum up most of the events of Resident Evil 0, 1, and 3 games (unfortunately, nothing from 2 or 4) and will pick and choose some of the best parts of these games to recreate. It's played from a first person perspective and movement is controlled entirely by the game, leaving you to only have to shoot the enemies with your Wii Remote pointed at the screen. The system works fine, just like it has for a couple of Wii-based titles like this one, and while this is certainly the most ambitious lightgun shooter for Nintendo's newest system, it follows the conventions set up in the genre many years ago.
The conventions I'm talking about are generally a slow, plodding pace through spooky areas, sudden groups of monsters popping up, sometimes right in your face, hidden objects to shoot for bonus items and weapons, and tough boss fights where your aim is what really counts. With the slow, plodding movement and sudden turnaround moments with zombies right in your face, the potential for big scares and thrills seems ripe, but the problem is that zombies just aren't terribly scary without an ideal mood set and tons of them slowly shambling towards you. And the mood in Umbrella Chronicles isn't quite as good as you might expect, mostly because its dim and drab corridors aren't quite as fun to explore when you're not really controlling where you're going.
But where you are going is pretty accurate; to those who haven't played the original games, you might wonder why the paths your characters take in UC lead in dead-ends, backtracking, and confusion, but all of that was part of the adventuring in the original games. If you're into reviving these classic moments in survival horror in a new way, then this game should definitely be on your list.
Even though the game's mood falters often and the lightgun game conventions can be tedious, there are still a few small innovations here - like the ability to hook up a Nunchuk and use the stick to look around a bit while the game autopilots you forwards. You'll need to use this to get to some of the bonus items and such, but overall you can still play through the whole game with just the Wiimote. Another new thing is the ability to find and shoot any enemy's weak spot for an instant kill, but these spots are very small and while your crosshair does change to show it, finding and shooting them still feels more like luck rather than skill. Headshots are not enough, as you'll need to actually pinpoint something usually even smaller. This can be a little strange but it won't take long to get used to. You'll also be able to shoot down certain doors and other obstacles to find alternate routes through small sections of some levels, although there aren't really enough of these to justify repeated playthroughs on their own.
There is one element of survival horror games that has made it through to Umbrella Chronicles, and I think it's a welcome one: limited ammo. While you do have a pistol with unlimited ammo, you will find quickly that you'll need the shotgun, submachine gun, and other guns and gadgets to win the tougher fights. Upgrading these weapons is nice, and peppered throughout the level you'll find more ammo for them, but the element of limited ammo for the good guns stays true to classic Resident Evil gameplay.
Capcom didn't just throw in a bunch of shooting with nothing else to do, though. Boss fights will have you tapping a button or wiggling the Wiimote to avoid enemy attacks, and when a zombie gets in your face, sometimes you'll have the option of wiggling to avoid damage and do a melee swing to kill your enemy. Holding down the A button and flinging the Wiimote around wildly gives you a knife attack, which can be helpful against the smaller and faster-moving enemies like bats and leeches. All of these add a little something to the game to break up the shooting, but it also means that any controller attachments that make the Wiimote feel more like a gun - the official Wii Zapper or any of the third-party ones - don't really work so well with Umbrella Chronicles. Another annoyance to me is that you've got to shake the Wiimote to reload; I liked pointing away from the screen and shooting instead, as you've got to give your Wiimote a pretty vigorous shake to do a reload.
The final section of the game is a new piece of story that involves you storming the Umbrella Corporation's headquarters, but unfortunately this section of the game manages to not live up to the earlier parts (especially the ones just previous, from Resident Evil 3, which are arguably the best parts of the game). UC does manage to last a good four hours plus, assuming you die very little, so it is pretty satisfying for a game of this type.
Two-player mode is in, and whether you're together with a buddy or not, there will still be two characters talking and fighting. They're not actually visible during the action and while you can choose which character to play as, neither has any huge advantages once you jump into a level. The game is definitely more fun when played together, but it does suffer from the issue of what happens when one player isn't as good at aiming as the other - the better player has to pick up the slack and keep the game going while the worse player has a hard time improving since they don't get to shoot as much stuff.
For $50 you could find plenty of worse games for the Wii, but I think you could do much, much better as well. For example, the other shooting game released on the Wii recently is Sega's Ghost Squad - it's easier and a bit more simplistic overall, but it also sports a more reasonable $30 price tag. Beyond that, one would argue that Metroid Prime 3 could substitute some of that precise-aiming action that makes lightgun shooters so fun. The replayable elements of Umbrella Chronicles pretty much require you to be a fan of the Resident Evil series to find enjoyable, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. This game could have been much better with a more rounded out story and a little polish, but what we get here is a good amount of raw fun and plenty of survival-horror nostalgia.