Review: Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles

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Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles is a welcome and mature addition to the Wii?s predominantly kid-oriented library. The Umbrella Chronicles takes many tried and true formulas from past RE games and combines them fluidly into a first person arcade shooter that certainly aims to please.

The Umbrella Chronicles is exactly that: a culmination of tales that briefly summarize key events in the Resident Evil story arcs. The key word here is ?briefly?, as the game is much more reliant on action than it is story-telling. Hard-core fans will likely cry ?heresy!? as the summarized scenarios aren?t exactly in line with what happens in the games it draws from, but it seems that it was done to easily push the story along, and doesn?t affect gameplay in the slightest. To be perfectly honest, I?m a diehard Resident Evil fan, and the fact that I was playing as a Chris and Jill tag team didn?t bother me in the slightest and nor should it bother you.

The game makes its entrance at Resident Evil: Zero, where you take charge of Rebecca Chambers and Billy Cohen aboard a zombie infested train wreck, and works its way through the Resident Evil story up to the fall of Umbrella. Each scenario will run you through a fairly accurate recreation of levels found in Resident Evil, shooting zombies and monsters while the characters you are playing converse. The conversations don?t add much to the story, but its a simple way to fill in monsterless transitions of walking down corridors. At the end of each scenario, you?ll encounter a boss battle, be it an actual ?boss? monster from the series, or a large swarm of ?normal? monsters. The boss battles, while challenging, usually pan out the same: aim for the weak point and fire away.

The gameplay in Umbrella Chronicles is both sharp and frustrating at the same time. This is mostly because while the Wii-mote is fairly accurate, sometimes getting pinpoint accurate shots off on zombie?s weak points can be very challenging, even with a steady hand. Though the game can be played with several different controller options, they really all pan out the same way. You can play with just the Wii-mote, with the B button being the trigger and the A button being the ?action/pick-up? button, or vice-versa, or use the Wii-mote in conjunction with the Nun-chuck controller. Using the latter, you can use the Nun-chuck?s analog stick to look around to a small degree, which doesn?t do much save allow you access to some hidden or hard to get items. Another option for players is to use Nintendo?s newest gimmick peripheral: the Wii Zapper. Being the schmuck that I am, I picked one up with some extra store credit I had lying around and while the Zapper is a fun idea, I really can?t justify using it to play this, or any fast paced action game. For the uninitiated, the Zapper is a plastic holder you slide your Wii-mote comfortably into, allowing you to handle the Wii-mote more like a gun. But, speaking from my own experience, the Wii Zapper?s trigger is not nearly crisp and responsive enough to be useful. Often times, my trigger would get stuck, and I?d end up being feasted upon by flesh-hungry zombies simply because I couldn?t blow off their decaying faces. Unacceptable. The Zapper feels good and solid in your hands and does a good job of getting you into the game, but there are other peripheral Zapper-esque devices out there, and you might be better off going with a third party gun housing for your Wii if you really want that ?authenticity? while playing.

While playing the game, you get graded on your performance on each scenario, calculating how many enemies you hit, critical hits, objects destroyed, secret objects found, and the time it took you to complete the level. Based on these criteria, you will be awarded a letter ranking (much like when you beat the original games), and are given points that can be used to upgrade weapons or collectable, nostalgic items. The levels are very destructible, and you?re encouraged to shoot at everything and anything to find secret documents, weapons, ammo, or health. Your main weapon, the Samurai Edge, has unlimited ammunition, but it?s a bit puny during later levels. This is offset by the abundance of other weapons you can find in the game, ranging from shotguns, to machine guns, even rocket launchers! In fact, it?s safe to say that almost every weapon used throughout the series can be found in the game, though most are just variations of other weapons, like the shotgun and the assault shotgun, for example. You can carry many different weapons at once, which can be a burden when trying to select weapons during battle. Though be wary, just like the original games, ammo conservation is still critical to survival.

A key point in The Umbrella Chronicles that I found quite interesting was the inclusion of Albert Wesker and Rebecca Chambers side scenarios. These side scenarios appear after you complete certain main scenario portions, and show what was happening to Rebecca and Albert behind the scenes while you were busy dodging hunters and chunkifying zombies. While it?s hard to say if these scenarios can be taken seriously in the Resident Evil canon, it?s certainly nice to get a bit of insight as to what these characters were up to when you weren?t able to interact with them.

Supplementing these scenarios as well is the abundance of collectable notes, memoirs, and items from the game that you can review in the game?s main menu. These documents and memorabilia offer a deeper insight into the realm of Resident Evil, and are often very interesting. Finding them, however, can be quite the challenge, considering you must take the time to shoot every conceivable object in the game to actually find them.

Graphically, The Umbrella Chronicles is about a notch above Resident Evil: Zero/Resident Evil 1 Gamecube area. While a bit dated, the graphics are still excellent and do their job of capturing creepy and rich environments. The sounds and voice acting is of the same quality; a little bit cheesy, but still good. The soundtrack really put me off, however, with an upbeat, almost arcade-like soundtrack. It doesn?t fit the series or the game well at all, but given the pacing of the game, I can see why they put it in.

Umbrella Chronicles also includes a co-op mode which really ups the game play and adds a very fun element to an already enjoyable game. Playing in co-op doesn?t seem change the challenge in the game at all, so it might be necessary to increase the difficulty when playing to even the odds, so to speak. Other than that, the co-op mode plays just like the single-player mode, there?s just one more person for monsters to munch on.

Another interesting aspect of Umbrella Chronicles is that it integrates several very good Resident Evil gameplay functions into one game. An example of this is the ability to counter enemy attacks using flash-bangs, tazers, or physical combative when zombies bite on you in a certain way, a la Resident Evil 1. Also, the ability to dodge critical attacks by pushing certain buttons at the right time also makes its appearance straight from Resident Evil 4, though this function is mostly predominant in the boss fights where dodging the enemy?s attacks is pivotal to winning.

All in all, the Umbrella Chronicles is a game that doesn?t really offer anything new, but plays off a tried and true formula executed exceptionally well. The game, while a bit on the short side, offers an experience you can play off and on, with friends or alone, and does so while offering a non-stop action thrill ride the whole way down. While the game definitely caters to fans, non-fans will likely enjoy the arcade style gameplay and frantic shoot-em-up action that the Wii is so desperately lacking.

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