Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles
Genre: Rail Shooter
Release Date: 11/17/2009
I’m really not a fan of the Resident Evil series. It’s a combination of the awful voice acting, nonsensical plots, horrible gameplay (up to RE4 that is), and a total lack of survival horror elements even though it’s considered the primary game in that genre. There’s no sense of terror, fear, or impending doom. It’s just an action game with zombies, making it as much survival horror as a Castlevania title. In other words, it’s not. Between Resident Evil, Dino Crisis, and the ruination of Clock Tower, it’s safe to say I have no confidence in Capcom making a real survival horror title – just action games with monsters. Thankfully we have games like Theresia, The Lost Crown, Barrow Hill, and Clock Tower for those that truly want a frightening experience.
Knowing my disdain for the overall series, it will probably surprise you how much I loved Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles. I love rail shooters, and the retcons made to the RE series with this game helped establish a tighter continuity, dramatically improved the overall flow of the tales, improved the voice acting and just took three games I previously couldn’t stand (RE0, RE1 and RE3) and made me really like the characters and tales being told. Of course, the bonus content where you could play as Wesker helped a lot too. A lot of our staff ended up picking up Umbrella Chronicles simply based on the fact this was the first Resident Evil game I truly loved, and it ended up winning our 2007 awards for Best Traditional Shooter and Best Horror game. In fact let me quote a line from Mark B.’s writeup on the BTS award…
…About the only depressing thing [about this game] is that it’s missing the stories from RE2 and RE Code Veronica, but it’s not like Capcom won’t release a million more of this game between now and 2010.
Well we’re a few weeks away from 2010 and not only to we get a follow up to RE:UC, but lo and behold, it’s light gun remakes of Resident Evil 2 and Code Veronica, which happen to be the two games in the series I liked best (and by like I mean, I didn’t outright hate them). So, is Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles a worthy follow up to Umbrella Chronicles, or did lighting only strike once in terms of Capcom actually getting the concept of horror right?
As mentioned in the preamble, Darkside Chronicles is a retcon/retelling of Resident Evil 2 and Code Veronica. However there is some new content as well. The missions “Operation Javier” starts the game and levels in this mission are used as segues to the RE2 and RE:CV storylines. Operation Javier takes place in 2002 and stars Leon Kennedy and Jack Krauser tracking down an ex drug lord who may have his hands on the Veronica Virus. This takes place in South America, knocking down one more continent in the RE series. I think they have only Australia and Antarctica left. This is Jack Krauser’s first encounter with Umbrella and its various viruses and it is interesting to see Leon and Jack as allies instead of enemies as they were in Resident Evil 4.
After you beat the first level of Operation Javier, which involves a mysterious young girl who seems to be able to use song to control or pacify the undead, you’ll then have to clear all eight levels of the Resident Evil 2 remake which is known as “Memories of a Lost City.” Here you’ll find the “classic” RE2 storyline, but it’s been tweaked a bit so Leon and Claire stay together instead of running through Raccoon City by themselves. These changes are definitely for the better and there’s a lot more logic and common sense to what happens here than in the original RE2. Of course, all the main characters and villains show up. You’ll have to fight William about six times and Tyrant three times, and although things unfold a little differently, all the important and big moments are still the same.
After beating this, you’ll move on to another level of Operation Javier where a lot more of the story in revealed. Once you beat this, you’ll have to progress through all the Code Veronica storyline missions before returning to, and completing, Operation Javier.
One big difference between Darkside Chronicles and Umbrella Chronicles is that DC offers only three storylines (OJ, RE2, and CV) and instead of devoting three VERY LONG levels to each storyline a la Umbrella Chronicles, Darkside Chronicles gives you approximately eight levels per story line. Most of these levels are between eight and ten minutes in length while the last one or two stages will be about twenty to thirty minutes. This means each storyline takes roughly two hours to beat. Umbrella Chronicles had ten different storylines: RE0, RE1, RE3 and then SEVEN new storylines like “Beginnings,” “Rebirth,” and “Dark Legacy” which are Wesker’s storylines, “Nightmare” where you play as Rebecca Chambers and Richard Aiken, “Death’s Door” which let you play as Ada Wong, “Fourth Survivor” which lets you play as Hunk, and “Umbrella’s End” which has Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield. Each of these were only one or two levels long, but holy hell were these levels so long your elbow and wrist would start to hurt after a while. Still, you’re getting less overall content and unlockables in Darkside Chronicles which is rather lame considering this is the sequel. Both games had approximately twenty levels, but UC had more original content, more characters, and a lot more diversity. If you had to choose between one of the two games, Umbrella Chronicles would win hands down for story reasons alone.
Don’t get me wrong, Darkside Chronicles does a great job with both RE2 and CV, and like Umbrella Chronicles, I prefer these retellings over the original games. I just miss the diversity and unlockables of the original game as well as the fact UC was nowhere as linear as DC. Still, DC does a great job of filling in the massive plot holes the original RE2 and CV games contained as well as giving background behind why Leon started working for the government. It’s pretty dark and it really changes how you will look at RE4.
Other modes include being able to look at items, voice files, and things you have picked up along the way. You can earn titles for fulfilling specific requirements and you can even upload your scores onto a RE:DC server via the Wii’s Wi-Fi connection. I should warn you this can take quite some time, so have something else to do in the meantime. You can also customize your weapons with gold that you collected throughout various levels and replay levels you’ve already beaten to earn more money, improve your score or find files you are missing.
Overall, Darkside Chronicles pales in comparison to Umbrella Chronicles although my arm appreciates there being many short levels instead of a few very long ones. I’m glad to see RE2 and RE:CV get the “Chronicles” treatment, but I can help wishing we had been given all the bells and whistles the first Chronicles game contained. You’re in for a fun time if you take the game on its own, but when you hold it up to its predecessor, you’ll notice this is a step or two backwards in terms of the overall product.
Story/Modes Rating: Enjoyable
Much like The Umbrella Chronicles, The Darkside Chronicles gives us some of the best graphics ever to grace the Nintendo Wii. This is especially true of the many cut scenes you’ll unlock in the game which are of such quality you could see them on the Xbox 360 or the PS3 and one would still consider them to be top-notch. I was really impressed by the level of detail, shading and animation that you see in these scenes and this just goes to show that high quality visuals on the Wii are doable. You’ll also be able to unlock the cut scenes and view them at any time which is a nice touch.
In game graphics are some of the best I’ve seen as well. Although the game is nowhere as gory as House of the Dead: Overkill, it’s a better overall looking game than Sega’s recent light gun title. This is the best Resident Evil 2 and Code Veronica have ever looked and it was a joy to see these games without the pixilation, jaggies and stilted movements I associate with the original PSX and Dreamcast games.
Although the game is prettier than Umbrella Chronicles, people that have beaten that game will notice that you never get a crazy battle like having to kill twenty lickers at once in Darkside Chronicles. I’m not sure if this is a case of the game not being able to do that or this was just something they didn’t put in because there were a lot of extremely hard missions in Umbrella Chronicles and Darkside Chronicles is noticeably easier.
Again, this is one of the best looking games ever to grace the Nintendo Wii and as odd as it is to call zombies, Tyrants, and giant flesh eating moths eye candy, that’s exactly what they are.
Graphics Rating: Unparalleled
A lot of voice actors return in The Darkside Chronicles. The original actress for Ada Wong, Sally Cahill, is back after being replaced by an unnamed actress in UC. Many characters retain their recognizable voices, which is both good and bad considering that RE2 and CV weren’t necessarily known for having good voice acting. In fact, they were known for just the opposite. Still, it’s great to see this level of continuity and longtime RE fans will no doubt be glad to see it’s the same actors and actresses in those original games, but with a noticeable increase in quality from over a decade ago. What was cheesy and lame in the action games is now actually pretty good and fits the rail shooter genre nicely, especially as this genre is known for having the worst voice acting in all of gaming. Seriously, everything from The House of the Dead to Vampire Night have acting that is so bad it’s great. It really makes you appreciate the RE voice cast in this setting.
Shusaku Uchiyama and Takeshi Miura return to the RE2 and CV levels respectively with new compositions and arrangements. These are the original composers for those games and again, it’s wonderful to see that Capcom isn’t just rehashing these two old games for a quick buck (a la Street Fighter II remakes in the 1990’s), but is actually retelling these games from the ground up with input from everyone involved in the original productions. With the original composers, writers, actors and producers, the teams of both games have gotten to refine and improve their original creations, which is quite different from most remakes that rarely if ever have members of the original teams working on them.
Although both the score and voice acting could use some work at times in Darkside Chronicles, it’s still vastly improved over the original versions of RE2 and RE:CV. Even taken on their own, you have some nicely fleshed out character and a decent amount of emotional range being given to these character who just want to keep from being eaten by the undead. Is that too much to ask?
Sound Rating: Good
4. Control and Gameplay
For the most part, The Darkside Chronicles plays much like The Umbrella Chronicles. However, the few changes that have been made are definitely for the worst.
First, while both games work with just a Wiimote, a Wiimote and numchuck combo, or a Wii Zapper configuration, Umbrella Chronicles played better with the Wiimote and nunchuck combo while Darkside Chronicles actually plays better with just the Wiimote. This is because UC allowed you to use the nunchuck analog stick to control the camera and give you a bit of an illusion that you weren’t always on rails. Now in DC, it merely duplicates the Wiimote’s D-pad and its ability to choose your weapon selection.
Then there is the camera. My god is the camera in this game shaky. I swear to god, there were times I thought Kennedy and the Redfield clan has Parkinsons, this camera was shaking so badly. Now I am totally down with the camera moving slightly while walking, running or jumping, but why, when you are being chased by hordes of the undead does your character LOOK DOWN AT ITS SHOES? Shouldn’t you be looking ahead or behind you? Who looks directly at the ground below them when sprinting? NO ONE. As well, when you run and aim, you still should have pretty good control over the latter. Not so much in The Darkside Chronicles where your camera is so shaky, there are times it completely ruins your aim. This is best shown in my second to last battle with Williams where you have to hit him with the Rocket Launcher, but even though you are standing still, the camera was so shaky I missed an otherwise easy shot by a few inches. I don’t know what made the development team think having the camera shake as if your character was having a grand mal seizure was realistic, but it definitely ruins the feel and the fun of the game at times. It’s just way too much. Your knife attacks also seem to be weaker and they’re definitely far more ineffectual than before. Finally, grenades are now simply grouped with other special weapons instead of having their own special command. This means you can only have one weapon at a time instead of a weapon and a grenade. Kind of lame.
There are two other changes made to the game play, but these are actually for the better. The first allows you to reload by pressing B OR by waving the Wiimote, instead of just using the latter. The second is that if you set the difficulty to “Easy” you can use an auto-lock on your opponents. This is great for kids or people new to rail shooters, but why would you let small children play a Resident Evil game in the first place? As well, the lock on tends to go for the chest cavity of a character instead of where it would really be helpful. Alas. It was a good idea, but it was poorly implemented.
Other than these poorly implemented changes, The Darkside Chronicles plays much like any other Wii light gun game. You aim your Wiimote and press the B button to fire. I am really glad the game gives you three control schemes and I’m also happy there is now a button devoted just to herbs, but I honestly can’t think of a reason to use the Zapper or Wiimote and nunchuck combo in DC. It’s amazing how much these changes in controls can change which controller option works best.
Much like the amount of content and the way it unfolds, the controls in The Darkside Chronicles are a step down from The Umbrella Chronicles. Of course much of it is the now exceedingly shaky camera that actually hurts you more than it helps you and fans of the first Chronicles games will be longing for the camera controls that had by the time you are halfway through the retelling of RE2.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Above Average
Again, The Darkside Chronicles takes a bit of a back seat to The Umbrella Chronicles as the first game had more flexibility in terms of what you played and when, along with offering a lot more unlockables. Darkside Chronicles is a little too linear for my tastes , but it’s still fun. It’s just hard to want to go back and replay specific levels as you did in UC.
However there are reasons to go back besides just improving your high score. On higher difficulty levels, you’ll find more items that help flesh out the RE series in general (although there will be less healing items…). You’ll also earn gold, which is a strange thing to be collecting during a zombie rampage but you can then spend gold between levels on improving your various weapons. You can improve the amount of damage they do, how many rounds they hold, how fast they reload, and more. This way you can make even your standard handgun as powerful as a shotgun, and considering the hellish loading times you have for your shotgun, this is something you should probably do quickly.
Yes, there’s not as much replayability as UC since this game doesn’t have as many unlockables and it’s three big stories instead of ten shorter ones, but there’s something about light gun games that keep people coming back for more. However, compared to RE: TUC and HOTD:OK, The Darkside Chronicles just doesn’t pack the punch of its two year old ancestor.
Replayability Rating: Decent
It’s interesting to see the little things that have changed here. In Umbrella Chronicles your knife was amazingly strong and the submachine gun was rather worthless. Meanwhile in Darkside Chronicles, the reverse is true. Your knife sucks and the SMG, even without a single upgrade, is tremendous against William in the RE2 levels. It just slaughtered him and the Tyrant. It’s really interesting to see how different the weapons play out here. For me the SMG and the handgun ended up being my main weapons since the shotgun’s (My preferred weapon in UC) reload times are awful and the better you make the gun overall, the longer the reload takes.
The game also gives you three difficulty setting, much like Umbrella Chronicles. Here however, the game rewards you for choosing a higher setting by making more items available to you. In the original game, all hidden items were there regardless of level, and healing items were more plentiful on the easier settings. I have to admit though, regardless of difficulty setting, it was crazy hard to find more than half of these items per level. You have to shoot everything and anything in the game just in hopes of an Umbrella logo popping up or some gold being found. It’s definitely more obscure to find the hidden items in the stages, and not as much fun since it becomes a guess and check operation.
Although none of the levels or even the bosses are really that hard, you’ll find the camera’s shakiness is your leading cause of death. It ends up that your character will flinch or twitch so severely that your aim will be off and your bullet will miss its intended target. This really sucks and as you basically then have to memorize the stage and your characters’ Parkinson’s Disorder and then compensate for the shakes. This is a huge step in the wrong direction and I imagine a lot of people are going to be thoroughly put off by this gameplay flaw.
Finally, there’s the weapon experience. In the original game I complained it was far too easy to power up your weapon and that you could replay certain stages to get weapons maxed out quickly. In Darkside Chronicles, it is the exact opposite. It takes forever to earn enough gold for a single adjustment to a weapon which means you’ll have to replay say, ALL of the RE2 levels three or four times just to improve a weapon somewhat. I think Capcom lost the plot here of what exactly an on-rails shooter is supposed to be.
Overall, a thumbs in the middle here. The game isn’t any harder when it comes to testing your reflexes or skill, but it does have some pretty big eyebrow raisers when it comes to gameplay elements actually negatively affecting your game in ways it surely wasn’t meant to.
Balance Rating: Mediocre
Two years ago, The Umbrella Chronicles was a pretty innovative game as it not only improved the plot and pacing of three of the Resident Evil games, but it single-handedly brought the rail shooter back to prominence. Sega took note and gave us The House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return, and would follow it up a year later with the all new (and totally awesome) The House of the Dead: Overkill. EA would bring the Dead Space franchise to the Wii in light gun form in the critically acclaimed but horribly selling Dead Space: Extraction. Even Majesco got into the act by re-releasing a Mad Dog McCree compilation. None of these, however, were as successful as The Umbrella Chronicles which is no doubt why Capcom decided to make a second.
Well, sadly The Darkside Chronicles is nowhere as successful itself. It’s prettier and arguably the best looking game on the Wii, but the controls have stumbled and the amount of content is noticeably less than the first game. To be blunt, The Darkside Chronicles is just trying the same formula as The Umbrella Chronicles but with less innovation, creativity and content while charging the same MSRP. I appreciate the retelling of RE2 and CV in such a way that it’s not a direct port with new Wii controls or just a slight remake, which Capcom is infamous for, but at the end of the day, this game is about a year too late. In 2008, this would have shined, albeit it slightly less than UC. In 2009, there are just too many other options that not only get what light gun games are supposed to be, but provide a ton of extra content to boot.
Originality Rating: Mediocre
My big problem with the first game is that the levels were just too bloody long at times. I’d end up taking a break after each level because there is only so long I can hold my arm up for a light gun rail shooter. The Darkside Chronicles somewhat fixed this by giving us much shorter levels, except then the last few levels of each scenario are up between twenty or thirty minutes. That’s a long time to keep your arm(s) up in a shooting position. Hell, most actual arcade light gun games are only thirty minutes to an hour long TOTAL, so having even two levels at this length is pretty demanding. Of course, I prefer to look at it as a positive because hey, look how much content we’re getting. Then I remember The Umbrella Chronicles had even more content…
It’s odd. Although I preferred the stories of CV and RE2 in terms of the original action games compared to RE0, 1, and 3, I really preferred The Umbrella Chronicles to this. It’s probably because of the amount of different stories we got in UC combined with the amazing amount of new storylines and scenarios that really helped to flesh out the RE universe. Here, it’s 90% old stories retold in light gun form and the really interesting new Operation Javier storyline. I really wish that the game wasn’t so straight up linear, as I’d have loved to have played OJ all on its own.
Another detriment was my hatred for the camera in this game. For me a bad camera can really ruin a game. While that didn’t happen here, it did come close a few times. It gets REALLY bad on occasion and it’s a huge gaming pet peeve for me, so when I would beat a level with severe shakiness going on, I’d have to take a break or risk spending the next level like I was Agent Washington in HOTD: OK.
I liked this game. It’s probably my second favourite Resident Evil title after Umbrella Chronicles, but it’s not a game I can play for long spurts due to some issues that lower the overall gaming experience, especially compared to the first Chronicles game.
Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre
9. Appeal Factor
Although some gaming journalists labeled The Umbrella Chronicles a surprise hit, I knew it was going to be a huge seller when it was first announced. Why? Most gamers enjoy rail shooters. They’ve always been big hits in arcades and the gameplay is simple enough that anyone can pick it up and have fun with it. Even Katie Couric loved Mad Dog McCree! Then there’s the Resident Evil factor. Gun Survivor sold, even though it sucked. Resident Evil Gaiden sold, even though it sucked. Resident Evil Outbreak sold, even though it sucked. The list goes on and on. Resident Evil games sell, so why wouldn’t the game with the best overall gameplay and graphics the series had seen up until that point?
The same holds true for Darkside Chronicles. While the control scheme of RE 4 & 5 is a vast improvement over every RE game that came before them (save UC), there were still some issues with both, although nowhere as bad as the overall plot holes. It’s proof that Resident Evil + solid gameplay = dump trucks full of money. So with Darkside Chronicles taking the two most popular RE games and then giving them rock solid controls (especially compared to the original action games), you would think that this would be a recipe for success as well.
For the most part, this is true. Some gamers will be turned off by these games being rail shooters simply because they are rail shooters. Some gamers will miss the ability to fully explore levels. Some gamers might even miss the god awful controls of the original versions. To each their own. While I’d rather play this than the original versions of the game thanks to improved storytelling and better controls, the fact the gameplay and camerawork are pretty inferior to The Umbrella Chronicles will probably push more gamers away than Capcom would have liked. Hopefully it’ll at least push them to RE:UC.
The Darkside Chronicles is still a positive experience for the most part, and unless you truly hate light gun games or would rather have the ability to do fetch quests and a lot of backtracking and horrible gameplay, DC is definitely the way to go to experience RE2 and CV, especially with the added depth to the stories. It’s definitely the way for people new to the series to experience RE as well, as per Masachika Kawata’s own words, there was finally an actual emphasis on HORROR in a Resident Evil game with the Chronicles titles. Plus you’re getting controls even someone brand new to gaming could understand. What’s not to like?
Appeal Factor: Great
Sure, there’s less content in Darkside Chronicles than in Umbrella Chronicles, the gameplay is noticeably weaker, and Capcom REALLY overdid it with the shaky-cam to the point when Sam Raimi would say, “Dude, that’s way too much.”, these are all relatively minor issues as the core of the game is still a really fun on-rails shooter that lets the RE teams focus on the aspects they’ve always wanted to: better storytelling and more of a sense of horror. Considering those are the two things I care about most in a survival-horror game, it’s no wonder I’d rather play this than Resident Evil 2 or Code Veronica. The added Operation Javier bits (which are my favorite in the game) just make it even better. Sure it’s a step down from Umbrella Chronicles, but sophomore efforts usually are. I’m still highly looking forward to a third game in this series. The question is, what will Capcom do next? Resident Evil 4 and 5? Maybe some of those side story games out there like remaking all the Gun Survivor titles? Perhaps all new content and characters? No matter what they do, I’ll be there.
Miscellaneous Rating: Enjoyable
Control and Gameplay: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Great
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles is a step down from the overall experience that was Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles. Darkside is more linear, has less overall content, far less unlockables, and has not only lost the ability to somewhat control the camera that the first game had, but at times the camera is so shaky that the game feels like it is suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. Still, the game is gorgeous to look at, especially the cut scenes which are amongst the best graphics the Wii has ever displayed. The Darkside Chronicles actually fills in a lot of plot holes that the original Resident Evil 2 and Code Veronica suffered from, while adding some depth and continuity between the games. There is no denying that The Darkside Chronicles is a fun light gun/rail shooter experience, but it’s just not as well done as The Umbrella Chronicles or even other rail shooters that have hit the Wii this year like Dead Space: Extraction or The House of the Dead: Overkill. The Darkside Chronicles is worth picking up even if you’re not a big RE fan as the controls (save for the camera) are tight, fun, and rewarding. It’s just you can get a better, deeper, and more rewarding game in 2007’s Umbrella Chronicles and for a fraction of the cost, so if you haven’t picked that up yet, get that first and go from there.