Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles (Wii)
The further along it progresses, the scarier the Resident Evil franchise becomes. To some degree, this is because of actual shock value. (The series' fourth installment was easily one of the best/most eye-opening titles in recent years, and its sequel -- so terrifying many scenes are even staged in broad daylight -- is expected to be even more shriek-inducing.)
But on other fronts, it's also because the brand has been shamelessly exploited to produce horrifyingly underwhelming first-person shooters, e.g. Dead Aim and Survivor. Thankfully for by-now-surely-jaded survival horror enthusiasts, the franchise gets treated with a bit more care in The Umbrella Chronicles, a House of the Dead-style blaster intended primarily for use with the Wii Zapper peripheral -- which, we might add, isn't a mandatory requirement for enjoying the creepy saga.
Admittedly, you're still looking at a strictly linear on-rails blaster whose setup and visuals harken back to PlayStation 2/Xbox-era standards. But on the bright side, the tale -- a rehash (or mishmash, if you prefer) of past outings, including the original Resident Evil, Resident Evil Zero and Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (sorry, no word on where the other chapters went) -- will surely bring back fond memories for longtime fans. Told as a recap of the well-known disaster that started in Raccoon City, it helps to think of the adventure as a theme-park-thrill-ride version of prior events, complete with authentic stop-and-start pacing punctuated by occasional stomach-clenching moments.
While some series veterans may balk at the forced waltz back down memory lane, most will appreciate reconnecting with stars such as Rebecca Chambers, Billy Coen, Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield, among other familiar faces. What's more, as the adventure progresses, you'll experience several seemingly cut-and-dried happenings from entirely new angles, and be able to collect files or view plot sequences that help dive deeper into the greater underlying Resident Evil backstory and canon. Nonetheless, whether that's enough to get you to revisit tried-and-true locales -- like the speeding train Ecliptic Express, ye olde haunted mansion and everyone's favorite accursed police station -- or explore a new snowbound complex is a matter of pure subjectivity.
Actual gameplay is fairly straightforward: You simply point the Wii remote at the screen to control a targeting reticle, then press the A button to hose down advancing monster hordes. Creatures run the gamut from bats to leeches, diseased apes, lickers, spiders, giant scorpions and shambling corpses, with it necessary to obliterate your way through a legion of lesser foes before engaging in tense boss fights. General mechanics work well enough, with the standard point-and-shoot motif maintained throughout, though you'll need to waggle the controller to dodge incoming blows and reload at times. You can also dial up performance-enhancing special weapons such as machine guns, rocket launchers and pistols on-command, which boast various degrees of power, ammo reserves and firing speeds, with most limited to minute supplies of ammunition.
Learning when to bust out a powerful, but slow armament (i.e. a shotgun) vs. a more precise, yet weaker sidearm (the pistol) or area-effect attack (e.g. a thrown grenade) is half the charm. Because honestly, in most cases you're simply led by the nose from one scene to the next, held there for a set amount of time, and forced to fend for survival (though you'll leave mostly at predetermined moments, at which time you'll just get up and jaunt off, even in the middle of a zombie's charging attack).
Depth-wise, there's precious little to speak of here conceptually, though options are provided to upgrade your arsenal between missions (improving magazine size, damage effects, response rate, etc.). You can also decimate enemies by hitting weak spots that cause instant-kill effects, indicated by a blinking cursor, although some hits on cadavers' heads inexplicably result in exploding craniums, while others are virtually shrugged right off. It's further possible, by slightly tilting your head with the thumb-stick -- nice imagination there, Tex, but stuff it, there's no free-range movement allowed -- to spot collectible items such as health-restoring green herbs or antiseptic sprays, plus extra guns/ammunition and objects that unlock hidden narrative tidbits.
Learning to hunt for these bonuses while also keeping an eye on incoming assaults and monitoring current ammo supplies is predictably most of the challenge. As you might imagine, you're always given a painfully tight stock of shells with which to put down the large groups of baddies that ambush with troublesome regularity -- call it yet another concession to stereotypical genre convention, or just a nod towards the sort of trials for which most Resident Evil games are known. (You can also, however, call into action knife-slashing strikes when engaged in close-quarters battles, or support for launching corny counterattacks on grapple-initiating foes, by waving the Wii remote.)
You don't have to own the Wii Zapper to appreciate the game, and in fact you may be better off (from the standpoint of morning-after soreness) sticking to the standard remote/Nunchuk combo. But you do have to possess a sense of humor and be willing to overlook the tired graphical quality of most scenes and B-movie-esque voice-overs, which merely add to the overall sense of gaming antiquity the quest calls up. Further heightening the feeling of d&eacure;jà vu is an inability to inflict much visible destruction (read: flesh-rending holes or limb-amputating shots) on actual enemies, though background objects do shatter when struck. Still, you'll dig the cheeseball ambience and basic art direction put forth: Outdated as some aesthetic elements (i.e. menus and characters) appear, an impressive sense of detail has been poured into every set piece and environment.
Never mind presentation concerns, though. From the perspective of pure playability, while it most assuredly is not going to blow anyone's mind, the title does hold its own against competing genre stalwarts -- which, to be frank, considering what the franchise has produced before, is about all any of us true believers can hope for. Rest assured that Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles won't be setting the charts (or audiences' hearts) afire anytime soon, but it does offer a few hours' worth of happily brain-dead blasting, which just may justify you giving the game a well-deserved rental.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.