Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles

Frustration wrapped in a shiny package.

Posted on November 16, 2009 at 3:17 pm by Matt Simmons

Back in 2007, the Wii was just getting off the ground and Capcom was throwing some support into the new machine in the form of "Zack and Wiki," as well as two "Resident Evil" titles. The first was "Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition," which was modestly priced, but the fact remained that the Gamecube version was instantly playable already on the machine for a cheaper purchase price. The second title was an outsourced on-rails light gun shooter "Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles." Despite being a new title, the traditional style "Resident Evil 4" port sold better. So Capcom decided to make a sequel to "The Umbrella Chronicles." At first one would probably ask why, and the answer is it's cheaper to make than a full-fledged "Resident Evil" title, sales data and fan interest be damned.

The first thing that is immediately noticeable in "Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles" is the visual upgrade. No longer is the title a mishmash of sights and sounds from previous games. It is now a genuinely more refined effort to bring the most out of the system. This is helped by the fact that the game is still on-rails and that free look segments have been stripped out. The new "cinematic" camera heightens the mood and adds another bullet point to the box. This is what is commonly referred to as "shakey cam." This was a major problem at E3, but for the most part it's been toned down in the final game. It's only really apparent in transitions between areas, such as running from monsters. However it is still a problem, particularly in boss fights. Even when staring directly at a creature, the camera sways left and right. Honestly, who shakes their head when aiming at something trying to kill you? This presents an unavoidable problem with the game, where a feature actually impairs the gameplay. This is a prime example of why gameplay is always more important then graphics. If a graphical effect is actually stunting the player then it should be removed completely.

If there is one area in which the game truly shines above everything, it would be the soundtrack. Going with a full orchestra and choir, "Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles" offers some truly outstanding music. When the game is not working against you, it really helps up the enjoyment factor of the title. It employs both entirely new music pieces, as well as classic music from previous titles. The sound effects are good, and the voice acting itself is also well done. That doesn't save the title from a horrendously bad and laughable script. It also can't save certain characters from being plain annoying. Still, for the fanbase it will bring lots of warm memories of better times and better games in the franchise.

Getting into the nuts and bolts of the title, "Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles" covers the two missing games from the last outing as well as a brand new mission. While years of pleading for a "Resident Evil 2" have seemingly fallen on deaf ears at Capcom, they intend to throw gamers a bone with the longest segment of the title based around the events of "Resident Evil 2." Unlike the first "Chronicles" game where each previous title was broken into three levels, "The Darkside Chronicles" spends eight on "Resident Evil 2." This helps alleviate large jumps in the story. However, fans may be a little disappointed to see abridged areas of the game, Kendo's gun shop in particular. Controls have also been streamlined, the Nunchuck is now completely unnecessary and the entire title can be played with just the Wii remote. The game still supports two players and now each character has a separate life bar. Unlike "Dead Space Extraction" the game does not offer drop in and out co-op. Instead, to play two players, you must start the level with a buddy beforehand. Sadly, the game does not offer new or alternate takes on the storylines of previous games with hidden chapters like in "The Umbrella Chronicles." The only consolation is a secret level that will probably bring a smile to the faces of fans of "Resident Evil 2" and nothing more. The game retains the weapon upgrade system of the first title, using money you pick up in levels to buy extra power, rate of fire, reload speed, capacity, and more stopping power to each weapon. Herbs are now stored when you pick them up and are used with the plus button. First aid sprays still act as a recovery device when you die. You cannot carry herbs or first aid sprays over to other levels which also a bit disappointing.

While it may look nice and sound amazing, the Wii system is full of light gun shooters now. "The Darkside Chronicles" brings nothing new to the table, and expects to sell itself on nostalgia and presentation alone. This will likely work, as the "Resident Evil" fanbase is a pretty loyal bunch, but it's really hard to overlook some of the major design flaws in the title. While titles such as "The House of the Dead: Overkill" are designed to offer instant and fluid satisfaction, other titles like "Dead Space Extraction" attempt to bring a slower paced, but far more moody and cinematic experience to the player. "Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles" very clearly tries to fit itself in the latter camp. But where "Dead Space Extraction" brought new weapons and multiple uses for them into the mix, "The Darkside Chronicles" sticks to a standard stock of handguns, shotguns, submachine guns, grenades, a worthless bolt gun, and a few heavy duty weapons. Where "Dead Space Extraction" took a "Gears of War" style of reloading, "The Darkside Chronicles" actually forces the player into a lock when reloading. This is only a major problem with the shotgun. When reloading the shotgun the player will place every single bullet missing into the chamber, and you can't stop or switch to another weapon once this has started, you simply have to stand there and watch your character reload his or her weapon while they take damage unavoidably from enemies. The biggest offenders to the gameplay come from the boss fights. Multiple boss battles require the player to defeat the boss in a specific manner. However, you can actually "kill" the boss, destroy their life bar completely, but still have it attack indefinitely until a specific sequence is carried out. Another huge oversight is some bosses have unavoidable attacks, forcing the player to take damage. This becomes even more of a problem when the game has autosaved a checkpoint, forcing the player to restart from it without any heal items if they have used them up. What this means is that players will actually have to restart whole levels. You can work around the checkpoint system by intentionally not using any heal items and die right after a checkpoint to respawn with full life and a stock of healing items. This does not change the fact that such a problem should not exist in the first place. One of the bigger problems from the first title was the fact that once an enemy had started an attack animation, it was carried out regardless of what you shot at it. That has been improved upon here, but it is still not entirely gone. While you can upgrade your stopping powers on weapons, the game is still completely random on how much damage an enemy takes. Sometimes a head shot will kill a zombie in one hit, sometimes it takes seven. The sweet spot is easier to target now, which is great on zombies, but on any other enemy it makes little to no difference.

It's time for Capcom to stop dicking around with Wii owners. They are one of the only successful companies at selling third party titles to core gamers on the system. Instead of continuously outsourcing their franchise to a sub-par developer such as Cavia, they should take their wonderful and efficient "Resident Evil 4" engine and craft a whole new, traditional experience that many of the fans have been asking for. The genre for light gun shooters is crowded and overplayed on the Wii, and when a title brings nothing new, and features such glaring flaws as this, it's time to bring in a competent staff and make a real title that everyone can love. The original development team of the "Resident Evil" franchise, Production Studio 4, may be long gone now, but their presence has never been as sorely missed as it is here.

Final Verdict - 4/10

"Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles" enters a crowded genre on the Wii, a genre that has been done much better then what is presented here. Nice visuals and a stunning soundtrack can't save the huge design flaws present throughout the title, flaws that only serve to impair the gameplay and frustrate the player.