Review: Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles (Nintendo Wii)

Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Genre: Rail Shooter
Release Date: 11/14/2007

It’s well known that I am not a fan of the Resident Evil series. I had the first one for the Saturn and thought it was a piece of crap. Any game that emulates the console version of the AitD controls in bad in my book. Factor in plat dialog and a crappy plot and you have a recipe for disaster. The sales for the original game weren’t amazing, but they were good enough to warrant a sequel. Again, I thought the game was pretty poor, but damn was it popular. It was one of the biggest selling games of 1997 and cemented RE as the biggest survival horror franchise out there. At least the story was better. RE3 was okay and Code Veronica was enjoyable at times, but I’ve always felt that RE was overhyped and shadowed the better survival horror games out there. Even RE4, which was a massive step in the right direction was only an above average game to me. In all the only thing good I could really say about the RE games to this point was I thought the movies were entertaining crap.

So you’re probably wondering why I agreed to review Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles. Two Words: Rail Shooter. I am a huge fan of rail shooters, even though I don’t especially like FPS games. House of the Dead, Vampire Night, Carnevil, it doesn’t matter. I love the wacky gameplay and generally awful plots. They were one of my favorite arcade genres and I’m happy to see them make their way back to the Wii. For the past year, I’ve only had the rail shooters in Raving Rabbids to satisfy me.

Rail shooter + zombies generally equals House of the Dead though – a series that has been both very good, and very bad (along with one of the best pinball games ever made). Does RE:UC manage to stand out, or is it simply House of the Dead 4 with Capcom needing a bigger fourth quarter profit?

Let’s Review

1. Story

The plot of Umbrella Chronicles is both a complicated and simple one. The game goes through the plots of RE 0, 1 and 3 in a faster paced format. A lot of the story is still there, along with the cheesy dialogue (see the conversation during “Train Derailment 2” where the two protagonists are having a deep conversation while shooting zombie baboons.). However, I find myself preferring the story that unfolds here. Maybe it’s because of the cryptic mysterious narrator discussing the downfall of the Umbrella Corporation. Maybe its that the plot of all the games is smooshed into one game, with each section only being an hour long (and that includes the cut scenes and narration). This cuts the crap to a bare minimum and leaves only the most important/exciting/enjoyable bits. To me this is what Resident Evil should have been in the first place when it comes to pacing and story telling.

Then we add in some extra unlockables like side quests involving familiar characters like Albert Wesker. The fact you’ll actually play as Wesker in a few adventures may be fan service, but it’s some pretty cool fan service indeed.

Some longtime RE fanatics will find there to be a bit of retconing/time line shifting, but most of these subtle changes won’t be caught by the majority of the gamers. To Capcom’s credit, where the changes are made to the occasional event or personality, RE:UC keeps the continuity with these changes throughout. If you do take issue with the changes, just remember this game is being told from the perspective of the mysterious narrator as he delves into Umbrella’s files (And yes, you do eventually learn who the narrator is), so instead of whining, think of it as a different perspective that allows for a slightly different retelling.

Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles is the most fun I’ve had with an RE game ever. After Dead Aim and Gun Survivor, this is an incredible breath of fresh air as an RE spin off is finally awesome instead of craptastical. RE Gaiden? BAD. RE Outbreak? BAD. The aforementioned FPS games? BAD. That’s not just my opinion either. If there’s one series where even the die hard fans have to admit the spin off genre games from the franchises have been pretty awful, RE is near the top. But Umbrella Chronicles? I really enjoyed it. Any game where you change the style of play, and focus in on only the most important aspects of the story while jettisoning the rest is going to get a thumbs up from me. I hate padding, so to see Capcom make a non-fighting game without it for once pleased me greatly.

If you’ve never gotten into the RE games before, then you’ll have fun with this. Each game is summed up in about an hour and you’ll understand exactly what it was about, but this time you’ll have faster paced action with better controls. If you’re a long standing RE fan, you’ll more than likely love this retelling of several RE games with a new feel to it. If you’re a light gun fan, get ready for more levels and plot than you’ve ever had in this genre before.

In all, this isn’t just the best told RE game in terms of pacing and story, but I’d have to say it’s the best light gun game I’ve ever played in terms of story as well. The best overall rail shooter games still have to be from the Panzer Dragoon family however.

Story Rating: 7/10

2. Graphics

Wow. This game is amazing to look at. Compare the original RE versions of these games to what we have here and your jaw will drop. It’s even a massive upgrade from the GCN remake of RE1. This is easily the best looking game out for the WII right now in terms of realistic (and creepy) looking graphics.

One of my biggest complaints across the board for RE games, regardless of genre was how characters moved across your screen. It looks unnatural, and not in a zombie/undead sort of way. It was a “Do the developers not understand how legs work or how people actually look when walking/running.” Undead animals had the same problem as well. Here though, one of my biggest graphical issues has been relieved. Everything moves and looks realistically. One of my favorite touches in this game is how things react when shot. Shooting things in the leg slows them down. Shooting things in the chest makes them stagger back. Shooting things in the head? Well, if you do it just right, you’ll blow the head clean off and watch the body twitch and spurt a bit of blood before collapsing. Nice touches all around here,

There’re a lot of familiar characters who look better than they ever have before. From undead dogs to Nemesis itself, RE fans are sure to have a fanboygasm as they see classic antagonists in a whole new way.

Lighting and shadow plays a huge deal in the game as well. The last real boss battle you have in the RE0 set of games involves shooting a boss repeatedly in the mouth while you are moving upwards at high speeds. However it’s quite dark and so seeing the mouth is a task in and of itself. This makes the boss fight not only harder, but more realistic. There’s a lot of great little tricks like this that might not be appreciated the first time you go through the game as you’ll be too busy blowing things up to take a hard look at the level of detail in the game.

If you never thought ugly could be beautiful, here’s your chance.

Graphics Rating: 10/10

3. Sound

Most of what you will be hearing in the game consists of undead animal screeches, undead people groaning, and an inordinate amount of gunplay ranging from handguns to rocket launchers. Everything sounds great, and with a large variety of weapons to choose from, it’s interesting to see how distinct each firearm is from each other. Even the knife sounds like its splitting the wind in twain.

There’s not a lot of music in Umbrella Chronicles. The game uses silence to its advantage, like most quality horror games should. Even when there is a background, you’re not really listening to it because you’re either paying attention to dialog or you’re shooting the crap out of something and your brain filters out the music.

Voice acting is quite nice. Especially for a Resident Evil game. There are some characters that don’t sound right. Rebecca Chambers for example, sounds like she is 12. That’s more a casting error than an acting one however.

The best actors are of course those that have a hint of malice to them. Wesker for example has pretty much fully transformed from amoral scientist to bad ass supervillain here, and I love it. You also have characters like our narrator who sounds like he should be hosting “Biography” or an episode of “Masterpiece Theatre.” This is one of the few games by Capcom where I have to say they did a bang up job with the voice actors.

All the different varieties of sound in this game really add up to an exciting game experience. The aural and visual aspects of RE:UC gel together to give us one of the best light gun games of all time.

Sound Rating: 7/10

4. Control and Gameplay

If you’ve played one light gun game, you’ve played them all. You point your gun at the screen, press a button to shoot, and then either press another button or make a gesture to reload. Generally with these types of game, aiming can be spotty, depending on your controller, and there’s not a lot of depth to the game.

Not so with Umbrella Chronicles. Thanks in part to the incredible design of the Wiimotes and/or the Wii Blaster, aiming and collision detection is never an issue.

There’s also a few new options to this rail shooter. First we have the every popular knife. The knife can be accessed by pushing down on a button and waving your wiimote from side-to-side. This causes your character on the screen to slash wildly at anything in front of it.. This is great for enemies that are really close to you such as ever encroaching zombies or leeches that jump at your face. Unlike previous RE games, the knife seems to do a LOT of damage compared to some of the firearms.

You also have an option to use a grenade. You have a limited supply of these, but they are quite powerful. Using the grenade involves pressing down one button, then pressing down another as you flick the wiimote. It’s a bit of a pain to use at times, but there are times when it is your only real option.

I did find some control issues that can dampen gameplay. First is reloading. To reload your weapon, you have to whip your wiimote from left to right, or vice versa. You’ll have to do this pretty hard, as a light shake of the remote doesn’t seem to register that often. With the amount of bullets you’ll be using here, extended play of RE:UC can be pretty taxing on your wrist. You’ll find the problem of wrist wear alleviates with the Wii Blaster, but not the reloading issue.

It can also be a bit of a hassle to switch between the weapons, especially in later stages when you can have lots of guns to choose from. Like reloading, this can be a bit of a pain, but it doesn’t drag down the overall enjoyment of the game.

There’s also a great deal of environmental exploration. At times, you’ll be able to take side paths in the levels, and you can shoot just about anything. Windows will break, candles will explode, chandeliers will fall (Remember that for a certain seemingly unstoppable character in one of the adventures), and practically everything will go boom if you shoot it. It’s a lot of fun to see what all you can destroy and you’ll actually be rewarded for doing so as it adds to your overall level score. There’re also hidden items that might be lurking inside various objects like Umbrella Corp. files or new weapons.

Finally, there’s a bit of an RPG aspect to this rail shooter as well. Your characters don’t level up, but the overall quality of your weapons do! Depending on how you do in each stage, you’ll earn a number of Stars (Get it?). These stars can be spent to level up your weapons, giving a higher max quantity of ammo that can be held, allow them to hold more bullets before reloading, and even more damage. This is a nice little touch that can help you make any gun extremely powerful.

This is easily the deepest light gun game I’ve ever played, and it joins CarnEvil and Mad Dog McCree as some of my favorite games in the genre ever. Just make sure to play the game in short spurts, otherwise your wrist will be feeling it the next day.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 7/10

5. Replayability

There’s a lot to go through in this game. Most light gun games are about an hour in length. Here you’ll be playing for about 6 hours or so to get through everything.

Not only does the game have a lot of levels in the main story mode, but you can unlock side quests and hidden adventures to play through. You can also go back to previous levels to get more experience for your weapons and try to find all the Umbrella Corporation files in each stage.

It was, however, hard for me to play the game for more than a 30 minute to an hour stint. My wrist just got exhausted from all the shooting and flicking. I guess I’m more used to a Guncon or Justifier. Again, the Wii Blaster makes things a LOT easier, but as most people won’t shill out an extra $25 for an accessory that can only be used with 3-4 games right now, I won’t factor it in here.

Basically you’ve got a lot that you can do in this game. It’s just a matter how long your limb can hold out.

Replayability Rating: 7/10

6. Balance

There are several difficulty levels in the game, although to be honest, there’s not much of a difference between them. At most I’ve noticed you take a little more damage from hits and you need more bullets to take down bosses with each step.

Like most light gun games, all you really have to do to win is be able to aim and press the trigger button pretty quickly. All weapons work on everything, including your starting handgun. It’s just a matter of how many shots and how long it takes. Of course, as your rating depends on how long you take, it might be better to go with the stronger weapons…

The only major balance issue I have is with the “dodging” of enemy attacks. You will be asked to press a random button in order to dodge, and sometimes, two buttons simultaneously. The problem here is that there really should have been an assigned dodge button instead of the randomization,. There’s also the problem that sometimes, it doesn’t tell you what button to press. I’m assuming this is a glitch in the game, but it’s a pretty big one. I’m bringing it up here instead of in gameplay as it affects the difficulty of the game, not the overall playability of the game.

Finally, due to the ability to power up one’s weapon, it’s quite easy to play one of the earlier, less difficult levels to collect stars to power up your weapons. It’s much like the munchkin aspect of any RPG with random battles, where players will have their characters fight over and over again until there are pretty much godlike for the rest of the game. It’s a little less likely to happen here, and thankfully the game has some of the more powerful weapons, like the rocket launch appearing more towards the end of the game. Still, it doesn’t mean that once you have it, you can’t play “Train Derailment” five or six times in a row to allow you to max out the weapon.

In taking some interesting and innovative risks with a genre many thought was nearly extinct, we see that although it improved the genre in nearly every way, there are some areas left a bit spotty because of it. RE:UC is a game that can be challenging on occasion, but with weapon XP, unlimited continues and the dodge bug, Balance is easily the biggest flaw in the game.

Balance Rating: 5/10

7. Originality

I will say this: If you’re going to rehash games you’ve already made, at least remake them with something that helps them to stand out from the pack. With RE:UC, we have a complete re-imagining of the series. Gameplay, graphics, even pieces of the plot are all new and its amazes me that for a throw away game, Umbrella Chronicles is the best the RE series has ever been in terms of controls, continuity and story.

There are a ton of RE games, and even multiple first person viewpoint games in the franchise. Yes, Capcom is revisiting the well of easy money once again, but it’s nice to see that the same quality that has generally gone into Street Fighter II or the Mega Man games has finally been achieved by the RE staff.

On one hand we’ve got some innovation and creativity with the genre, as well as a new shot of life pumped into a series I never really enjoyed. On the other there about tons of Zombie shooting rail shooter/light gun games going back multiple console generations and there’s over a dozen games in the franchise in the 11 years it’s been around. More than one game a year kids for any franchise is going to thin out your herd. Except for Nintendo titles for some reason.

If Capcom can keep being this experimental with both their franchises and styles of gameplay that haven’t been updated since the genre began, then I am looking forward to the future of this company, And Street Fighter IV.

Originality Rating: 5/10

8. Addictiveness

I had a lot of fun with this game. Light guns and rare shooters are games that nearly anyone can pick up, regardless of skill level or genre format and blast away. They’re easy to understand and a lot of fun to play.

With most light gun games, you can play straight through to the end, but that’s because they have about 4 stages total. RE: UC has 4 stages or so devoted to each game (Yes, that includes the unlockables). That is a lot of gaming for a light gun game. The controls also make it hard to play for extended period of time without some wrist cramping. I know I’ve covered that repeatedly to the point of potential boredom in this review, but at least this way you can’t complain I didn’t cover it like 95% of the other reviewer types out there.

I seriously haven’t had this much fun with a light gun game since CarnEvil or a Rail Shooter since Panzer Dragoon Orta. I suppose the same can be said with me enjoying this more than any other RE games I’ve been forced to wade through.

This game can pull you in pretty easily, especially with multi-player mode. Co-op is a blast and it allows for you to have some witty commentary of your own, both about the gameplay and the story unfolding before you. It also ensures you’ll get more of the Umbrella files (due to the higher chance of you snagging them with two gamers).

Much like a lot of Wii titles, the game is great in the short run, but can get tiring if you play too much of it.

Addictiveness Rating: 6/10

9. Appeal Factor

Resident Evil games sell like hotcakes right? Well think of what will happen when you have an RE game that is high in quality, low in crap and on the most dominant system we’ve seen in a long time? Yeah, it’s going to be pretty popular.
Even if you don’t like first person games usually (I am one of those) or rail shooters, you’ll have fun with this. It’s a game anyone can pick up and play for ten minutes and find they’ve cleared a level and been smiling the entire time. The only people I can see not having fun with this are people who would prefer a more expansive game (hardcore RPG’ers) or people who aren’t a fan of gore or scary themed games.

I went into this expecting House of the Dead IV and came out actively being excited about a Resident Evil title. If I, Mr. Curmudgeonly Gamer can enjoy this title, I think you’ll be able to get some fun out of it too.

Appeal Factor Rating: 8/10

10. Miscellaneous

This is one of the best games I’ve ever played on the Wii. The controls are simple, there’s a ton of content and depth, and I’m not just talking for a light gun game. This has more content and playability than the main RE franchise. The story walks you through all the major points revolving around Raccoon City and the Umbrella Corporation. If you’ve never played an RE game or have dreaded the controls for the SH version of the the game, then this is perfect for you.

I’ve always said Capcom can’t make a survival horror game at all. The RE series was underwhelming. They RUINED Clock Tower after they bought the franchise. Haunting Ground was crap. Dino Crisis? Well, if there;s anyone out there that thinks that series was quality, then I know someone in need of a good pistol whipping. Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles is either the exception to the rule, or it’s the start of many wonderful things to come. Of course it could just mean Capcom should stick to light gun games, but I doubt that’s going to happen.

If you were scared by Dead Aim or Gun Survivor, this game will sooth the pain. If you sat through the hell that is Resident Evil Outbreak, then this is your salvation.

Awesome game right here people. If you have a Wii, then you have no reason not to pick it up.

Miscellaneous Rating: 8/10

The Scores
Story: 7
Graphics: 10
Sound: 7
Control & Gameplay: 7
Replayability: 7
Balance: 5
Originality: 5
Addictiveness: 6
Appeal Factor: 8
Miscellaneous: 8
Overall Score: 70/100

Final Score: 7.0 (GOOD!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Congratulations RE:UC! You are the fifth game this year to get a 7 or higher from me. This is arguably the best light gun game, best RE game, best horror based game, and best M rated game on the Wii that I have played. Those are some strong words, but I stand by them. For those of us who have spent years watching series like Silent Hill and Resident Evil ruin the name of quality horror/terror based gaming, this is a bit of redemption for one of the series. Rock on.



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