While Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles managed to expertly marry the plots of Resident Evils 0, 1, and 3 with the on-rails light gun genre, the absence of Resident Evil 2’s story in the lineup was impossible to ignore. 2 did have fewer narrative ties to the other titles, but Capcom would not leave the players hanging, releasing a follow-up title in the form of Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, a game that not only seeks to cover the stories the other game missed, but tries to fix the problems found in the first game.
As older Resident Evil titles were beginning to show their age, The Darkside Chronicles transplants the plots, settings and monsters of two of them, Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil: Code Veronica, into a more accessible and arcadey shooter. Notably, there are fewer games being covered this time than in the previous title, but Darkside Chronicles tries to make up for this by spending more time on both games as well as creating a beefier original story than the previous game’s, the game showing us how Leon Kennedy and Jack Krauser met before the events of Resident Evil 4. Leon and Krauser are sent to a South American country where a dictator has purchased the powerful viruses the Umbrella Corporation made many years ago. These viruses are twisting men into zombies and animals into monsters, and while Leon had been sent to this fictional country because of his expertise and experience with such bioweapons, Krauser is going in blind and asks Leon to fill him in on the history Leon had with virus outbreaks as well as the source of the specific strain they are facing. Resident Evil 2’s plot of Leon and Claire trying to escape Raccoon City after the zombie outbreak and Code Veronica’s plot of Claire and Steve Burnside discovering a new strain of the virus at an Umbrella owned prison do make up the bulk of the gameplay despite the new tale being told, but they’ve definitely got the room needed to introduce all the important plot details of the old titles, serving as decent substitutes if you can’t get a hold of those games. The new story being told also explores a few elements the series had never touched before and a dramatically different setting than prior games, ensuring that it isn’t merely filler to facilitate the flashbacks. There are a few odd typos in the subtitles and some collectible files have errors like having their text swapped, but the story on the whole presents itself well enough that even new fans can follow it despite the small slip-ups.
Compared to the Umbrella Chronicles, Darkside Chronicles is a much darker game in a literal and figurative way. There are plenty of unique areas you will be exploring as you gun down the zombie hordes, but while Umbrella Chronicles leaned a lot more towards the action oriented design of titles like House of the Dead, Darkside Chronicles tries to preserve the horror of the old Resident Evil titles despite the game design’s focus on quick action. The game has plenty of dark areas you will skulk about in, the characters advancing through them slowly to build up dramatic tension. There are still some over the top characters like the giggling uppercrust brat Alfred Ashford, but the cheesiness doesn’t detract from the gloomy atmosphere or the grotesque monsters the game tries to pitch as actually terrifying. Enemies will often ambush you in what nearly boils down to jump scares, and since they are trying to attack you while doing it, you’ll need quick reflexes to shoot them before they get you. This is complicated by the game’s love of shaky cam. Your vision of the action is restricted to only what’s on screen, all the movement being done for you. To make targets harder to hit and things seemingly more terrifying, the screen tends to shake and move around a lot during the action, making it hard to land accurate shots or react to a sudden ambush. This does help to make boss fights more difficult as you can’t guarantee your shots will land so much, but it can be nauseating at others times and frustrating when your character is bobbing like they’re on a stormy sea even though they’re standing in place. It can be acclimated to with time but still crops up as an annoyance too frequently to say that the shooting system has improved from the Umbrella Chronicles.
Almost every other change made to the shooting since the previous title is, at least, positive. No doubt to accommodate the shaky cam, weak points on enemies are more lenient, and landing headshots on the most common zombie type can be done fairly well if your aim is good. Where you are pointing is where your bullets will go despite the game trying to make it feel like your character is all over the place, it’s just a bit difficult to aim at a world that might move abruptly. Equipped with an infinite ammo pistol that is weak but still effective at its task, you’re always set to face enemies no matter how bad you are at ammo conservation. However, right off the bat you are given a few back-up weapons, and you can keep finding more along the way that you’ll always have on you. Besides your pistol, you can set three weapons for quick access and can pause the game at any time to swap in new weapons to your small loadout, meaning that conflicts can push you a bit harder and ask you to whip out the likes of your shotguns, machine guns, a bowgun, rocket launchers, or grenades. You have a knife to swing as back-up as well and it’s perfect for clearing away tiny enemies that crowd you, but most of your weapons will earn their place based on how well they can handle bosses or crowds. Because you can access your stash at any time, individual weapons are doled out ammo somewhat conservatively, but the previously punishing and pigeonholing upgrade system from the Umbrella Chronicles has been completely retooled to better support a broader weapon use range.
While in levels, shooting the enemies to move on is the main objective, but the areas are packed with little environmental objects you can shoot without penalty. Objects can contain ammo or weapon pick-ups, health that can be used at any time, first-aid sprays that can revive you if needed, files that will better explain the series lore, and the most prevalent thing you’ll find: money. Money is how you upgrade your weapons this time around, with every weapon type having specific areas you can upgrade. Firepower, ammo capacity, stopping power and more all can be gradually upgraded over the course of play, and while its definitely smart to invest in your basic pistol the most, the abundance of cash, price scaling, and effectiveness of your other weapons encourages broader investment and thoughtful expenditure. Levels do rate you on your performance at the end, accounting for time, kills, destruction, and other factors, but the unlockables for getting high ratings are mostly just files and similar items rather than secret levels or upgrade bonuses. In fact, the only real side missions in this game are a bit of a lazy retooling of the final missions to make them harder and change the perspective on them, but the main game at least has enough meat that it won’t make you feel like you’re being underfed content.
The improvements to the loadout system, upgrade system, and healing all help Darkside Chronicles stay at least on par with Umbrella Chronicles despite the issues with the shaking screen and the ambushes with little warning. The core is where the game gets it right, and the enemy variety includes classic creatures from previous Resident Evil titles, new monsters and bosses made for the South American story, and some unique battles like the sniper duels with Alfred Ashford or the exploration of a plywood training range where you have to shoot ring targets before bombs detonate. The boss battles are definitely a test of your accuracy and reflexes, with powerful attacks either testing your ability to hit the right buttons in time or the player being asked to shoot the weak spot enough to stagger them before the animation finishes. There is an unusual flaw with it though, mainly that a boss’s life bar can be entirely depleted and the boss won’t be able to die until it’s completed whatever action it was in the middle of. One specifically egregious moment was during the Nosferatu fight, where the boss had a three strike attack that could have been stopped if he could still take damage, but his life bar was empty and he just had to finish his actions. Luckily I had a first-aid spray to prevent an unfair game over, but there are enough checkpoints and healing items to avoid potential frustration without completely sapping the game of threat and challenge. A minor touch added to the gameplay is that you’ll always have your partner walking with you even if you aren’t playing co-op, your character choice before a level actually determining which character will appear during play. They can fire at enemies on their own or get caught up by a zombie, and they’re never a burden since they take so little damage so long as you don’t slack on saving them the few times they might need it. There are a few moments you can choose your path forward as well, but they always meet up at some point, serving more as a way to find variety if you’re replaying a level to search for collectibles you missed.
THE VERDICT: In most ways, Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles is an improvement on its predecessor. It spends more time exploring the plots of the games it adapts, giving a fairly full picture of the events of Resident Evil 2 and Code Veronica, while also constructing a new plot with new characters and monsters that fills in a bit of history about the characters of Leon and Krauser. You have greater access to your weapon reserves this time and its balanced better for their use, more moments that ask you to switch up your weapons cropping up and the upgrade system letting you spread the love across your arsenal. The overuse of shaky visual angles is meant to play into a bigger focus on horror and help make enemies more challenging, but it mostly frustrates the otherwise fairly accurate and satisfying shooting and complicates dealing with abrupt enemy attacks. These shortcomings don’t compromise the whole however, Darkside Chronicles managing to set up intense boss battles and enjoyable hordes of undead creatures for you to test your aim on.
And so, I give Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles for the Wii…
A GREAT rating. Building off the base of The Umbrella Chronicles meant that The Darkside Chronicles had a lot going in its favor. A pre-built engine for the shooting design, the stories of two games to draw from, and the knowledge of what needed to be improved to better please the players. Most of its changes are definitely for the better, the shooting on the whole more solid, battles and confrontations more engaging and varied, and the plot having more room to grow, explain itself, and delve into its new elements. Unfortunately, the desire to better explore the series’s horror roots seems to mostly hurt the title, with all the improvements to the shooting system unable to shake off the impediments of constantly shifting views and the small window of warning for attacking enemies.
Darkside Chronicles and Umbrella Chronicles are a good pair of light gun games for showing the potential of the genre to mix plot, design, and gameplay instead of resting on simple shooting galleries. Both have their flaws though, but perhaps if you found the spot in-between you might be able to make something approaching the best game in the genre. As it is, it’s a bit hard to say one is better than the other. For arcadey fun, Umbrella is the way to go, but Darkside packs a more serious and focused experience. Both games were eventually released together for the PS3 both in about the same state as before, so you might not even have to choose either if you have the Move controllers to make it match the tight controls of a Wii light gun game. No matter how you choose to play it, fans of Resident Evil and light gun games both have a lot to love across these two titles.