Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles is a simple concept: a retelling of Resident Evil 0, Resident Evil, and Resident Evil 3: Nemesis with some extra backstory in the form of narration from series supervillain Albert Wesker in lightgun shooter format.
…and it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, at least at first. There were a few elements that frustrated me. For one thing, it’s not a purely arcade-style rail shooter. Optimally, you’re supposed to use more than just the Move controller so you can look around your environment and find items off in corners that you wouldn’t necessarily see without seeking them out. This has unfortunate consequences on gameplay. Since you can look in any direction to a limited extent, enemies will occasionally come at you from just offscreen, often above or below you. I found myself frustrated by the fact that I was occasionally looking the wrong way when an enemy got close… a strange experience for a lightgun game.
Secondly, for a game of its genre, Umbrella Chronicles has some very long levels. There are only two checkpoints each, one halfway through the level, and one just before the each boss. It’s a tad frustrating to tear through the majority of a level without a healing item in sight, then die due to enemies attacking you just below your field of view only to restart 5 minutes earlier… and then die in the same spot. Boss checkpoints are appreciated, but often those fights can kind of overstay their welcome. When you’ve figured out a boss’s weak point, there’s little more to do than just keep pumping bullets into it and making sure you successfully perform all of the QTEs that pop up.
The bonus missions were more densely packed with enemies and shorter than the main missions: this meant that I picked up more items more quickly and had to make use of them. Making the missions more about utilizing the tools at my disposal than endurance made me enjoy the game quite a bit more. The fact that I could carry any weapons I found in the side missions into the main story and also sweetened the deal, since the side missions generally had better firepower lying around.
When I’d gained some extra weapons and used the “Stars” I received for completing missions to upgrade some of my weapons, I managed to get into the rhythm of the game. I used submachine guns and grenades for keeping multiple enemies away or getting rid of fast enemies, pistols to get headshots on standard zombies, and shotguns for tougher enemies or bosses. I still had some troubles with being attacked from offscreen and brutal checkpoints, but I was having fun.
Meanwhile, Resident Evil: Darkside Chronicles is built along similar lines, except this time telling its own story alongside retellings of Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil Code: Veronica.
While Darkside Chronicles is far and away my preferred game of the two in the collection, I think the game’s “shaky-cam” design turn people off. It’s almost distractingly implemented, and assuming it’s supposed to be your player’s view directly, it seems like whoever you’re playing as seems drunk. The constant bobbing around makes headshots harder to pull off and shooting down projectiles can be a challenge.
That said, I personally love the shaky-cam. I think it does a great job in terms of making things a bit more exciting and even making some of the game’s jump-scare moments work a little better than Umbrella Chronicles’ relatively static and underwhelming takes on what would normally be jump-scares (like the game’s take on the zombie dog jumping through the window in the first Resident Evil) which were occasionally relegated to QTEs.
I also liked that the shaky-cam removed the ability (and need) to control the camera outside of my lightgunning, so enemies no longer felt as though they were attacking me from offscreen. Sure, it was harder to hit enemies while they were attacking at some points, but on the whole, I preferred Darkside Chronicles’ approach to Umbrella’s.
Part of my preference comes from the way that they’ve streamlined things from the first game. Each weapon is assigned to a direction (or a button if you’re just playing with a move controller alone), so you’ll only ever have four weapons equipped as opposed to having a list of (occasionally empty) weapons to cycle through like in Umbrella Chronicles. Green herbs have also been changed around. In Umbrella, green herbs were used as soon as you picked them up, but in Darkside, you can save up green herbs until you need them, which makes bosses much more manageable as you get used to their attack patterns.
Most of my complaints with Umbrella Chronicles are remedied in Darkside Chronicles. Levels are shorter and more focused, fitting with the arcade feel. The enemies are mostly standard zombies, but I prefer those to the random bats, crows, and apes that filled the first game. The QTEs seem to be just a tad more lenient, too, which makes boss fights less annoying. After playing Darkside Chronicles for an extended length of time, I found it hard to go back to Umbrella.
Food for Thought
1. Headshots in both games are very finicky. You need to shoot zombies at the very tops of their heads (when your reticule glows red) to make their heads explode. The more headshots you get, the better grade you receive. I found that after playing Darkside Chronicles for a while, I became much better at getting headshots in the less-shaky Umbrella Chronicles.
2. While some lightgun games reward you for accuracy, you’re pretty much supposed to shoot at everything in the environment in both of these games. Occasionally you find healing items or collectible files hidden in lightbulbs and dressers. While having infinite ammo with the pistol doesn’t make this particularly risky, it’s kind of weird to try to shoot out every light you see.
3. Both games look quite nice in HD, particularly Darkside Chronicles. There are definitely some lip-sync issues going on though.
4. It’s a little detail, but because the two Playstation Move-specific buttons are kind of similarly-shaped (and the same color), I found myself having more trouble with QTEs than I expected. Curiously, Darkside Chronicles actually spells out “Press the Move button” above the graphic, which helped me distinguish what button to press better than the graphic alone. It’s a bit distracting, but it did help me.