One of the first big third party games announced for the Wii back at E3 2006, Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles has been an anticipated title by fans, even before the genre of the game was announced. There was some surprise and disappointment when the title was revealed to be a light gun shooter, in the vein of classic arcade games such as Virtua Cop and House of the Dead. The Resident Evil series has already had a fair share of light gun themed games, and none of them were very remarkable.
Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles sadly, does not break that trend, but it certainly puts up a better effort than Survivor, or Dead Aim did. The biggest draw of the game is the story and presentation. Fans upset with Resident Evil 4's quick and abrupt description of the end of series villain corporation, Umbrella, will at least be happy to see a more epic conclusion to the end of Umbrella. The game recaps three previous Resident Evil titles and adds a new bonus chapter set in Russia in 2003.
One of the biggest draws is also one of the games bigger problems, Resident Evils 0-3 were reasonably long games, with drawn out plots, The Umbrella Chronicles attempts to abridge these games by moving through the previous games areas and stories in an on-rails system without any puzzle solving. Despite this, the previous games have large portions of the their stories missing and cut out. Each scenario is divided into three sections, While there is a narrated opening and ending to each one, there is simply a static image and a slow typewriter written wrap up of each scenario with only small descriptions of what was huge parts of former games. For example, in Resident Evil 0 you never see the train crash into the Umbrella management facility, its only briefly mentioned in between sections. This leaves the scenarios based off older games feeling oddly chopped together with very little reason or explanation for the sudden changes in scenery between sections.
Since Resident Evil 4 was a graphical masterpiece on the GameCube, it would seem then that The Umbrella Chronicles would follow suit, but sadly very little of the Wii hardware is actually put to good use here, and most of the time it is for reflective or wet surfaces. The game runs at a fairly consistent framerate, but if things get overcrowded slowdown is noticeable. Another huge disappointment is the fact that much of the game is reused assets from Resident Evil 0, Resident Evil Remake, and even some from Resident Evil Outbreak. The zombies and creature models come mostly from the previous games, as well as snakes ripped straight from Resident Evil 4.
One may even notice certain animations and textures from the Outbreak games in the Resident Evil 3 scenario. If your a diehard fan of the series, or even one who jumped on during the GameCube lifespan and played those to death, then this game will feel less like a new original entry and more like something from a gaming mod community. Whats even more disappointing is many of the cutscenes and FMV are ripped straight from the old games, even the opening FMV to the Resident Evil 3 scenario is using the same footage from the playstation one era.
As for the soundtrack, the game is a mixed bag, with some tracks that are really well done, while the majority of the soundtrack is largely forgettable. The sound effects are good for the job they do, though mostly recycled from Remake and 0. Some sound effects, such as the gasps of the chimeras, caw of the crows, and moans of the female zombie are ripped directly from Resident Evil 4 without anything to conceal them or change it up.
It might be easy to write off the game as a House of the Dead clone, but it's actually far from it. The Umbrella Chronicles is really a survival horror light gun shooter. most shots do little damage unless they are absolutely perfect into an enemies weakpoint, you can also collect and store weapons and ammunition as you progress through the game, and level it up with point stars awarded at the end of each section. The gameplay is extremely challenging, it might even be the hardest light gun game I have ever played.
Producer Kawata said in an interview the style of the game was chosen to attract new users to the Resident Evil universe, this game might actually scare them away if they play it. Resident Evil 4, while not a very hard game, is somehow much easier then this game despite being on rails. The biggest problem with the gameplay is that moves and bullets can be extremely hit or miss. if a zombie is getting up, or swinging his arms, then much of the time bullets clip through them or simply do not register. this can be a huge issue during boss fights when firing a rocket launcher and watching the missile go right through its head because it was performing a recovery animation. The game has counter attacks just like Resident Evil 4, but they only work 60-70% of the time, which gets very old fast.
Luckily each section is further broken by checkpoints to respawn if you die, and if you die on a boss you start at the beginning of the fight. This can also be a hindrance, if you are ill equipped to tackle some of the later bosses in the game, you are basically forced to replay the whole level and come back with a better ammo stock. Originally the game was said by the producers to play very similar to Resident Evil 4, I can't imagine that being worse then the finished product delivered here. However, a game can't be reviewed for what it isn't but for what it actually is, and The Umbrella Chronicles is an above average shooter plagued by odd animation and detection glitches, but it is a very long shooter, ensuring your moneys worth in at least rental form.
Where The Umbrella Chronicles really shines is the hidden scenarios, These added levels, built around characters during the events of the main scenarios, are far more interesting and play out much better, likely due to the fact they are not trying to fit an entire Resident Evil game into one level. These scenarios mostly revolve around Wesker, long time series villain and enigma. The Umbrella Chronicles does not really add anything new to Wesker's story, but what his levels do add is two new characters to the series canon, Sergei Vladmir and the computer A.I. The Red Queen.
Sergei is a former Soviet Union General who now works as a top Umbrella executive, The Red Queen is a data log of all of Umbrellas history. Sergei and by extension the Red Queen are shoehorned into fitting within the stories of the old games, despite never being mentioned previously. The real reason for the existence of these new characters is to provide a basis for the end of the story in Russia and provide a more fitting end to the Umbrella Corporation. These added missions not only provide a deeper glimpse into secondary Resident Evil characters, they offer much more unique feeling to the game, especially when you can leap up and down three stories and still spout off a one liner.
Overall, Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles does its job of offering a nice send off to the Umbrella arc of the Resident Evil story and provides fantastic fan service in the form of secret scenarios based on characters and events only hinted at in previous games. The game could have used more development time to polish off the hit detection and possibly added in more original creatures and character models, if your not familiar with the series though, and you don't mind a tough light gun shooter challange, then dive in. there is a lot to see and do for a game in this genre. With a friend added in for two player mode, the replay factor increases.
Final Verdict - 7/10
A tough light gun shooter that offers a good length. Weird glitches and detection problems, as well as heavily recycled assets hold this game back from becoming a triple A title in the Resident Evil caliber.