Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles
US: 17 Nov 2009
The Resident Evil games always had a bit of light gun gaming in their mechanics. To shoot at a monster that you have to stop, pull out your gun and aim. You can’t move while firing or aiming. The purpose of this is to add an extra layer of tension to the game’s scarce resources and claustrophobic spaces: the distance between you and the zombie itself is a finite resource. They’ve stuck to this theme throughout the series, including part 4 when it was interesting and part 5 when it started getting tedious. Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles is an exercise in removing all the walking around and exploring in these games while leaving everything else. Without trying to sound like I’m making an indictment of the series, you’d be surprised at how little this affects your enjoyment of the game.
Controls on the Wii work exactly like you’d expect. B fires, A picks up items, and waggling the remote reloads. The game breaks the mold of typical rail-shooters by employing a lot of shaky camera and emphatic looking around (at least, that would probably be the best description). It can get a little irritating when the game is making you dramatically look at all the monsters coming at you without giving you a moment to take aim and shoot. Your character will eventually stop to let you shoot until all the monsters are dead, but you’re going to waste a lot of ammo if you just shoot at things automatically. Be prepared to also see a lot of dead bodies lying on the floor that will be standing up at an inconvenient moment but you’re not allowed to shoot yet. Hidden throughout each level are herbs, health spray cans, and ammo for weapons. You have to quickly hit A on the item to pick it up before the camera swings away, adding a layer of tension to the whole process because you’ll need most of it. The real heart of this game is managing these resources so that you can still beat the final boss at the end of a chapter. Use up your ammo and health packs too soon and you won’t be able to survive the pummeling.
The basic flaw in this setup is the same one that is in every light gun game: once you know the level, there’s not really any challenge left. An initial play-through will get tricky because you and your partner will plow through resources without knowing what to expect. On the second try, you can both start to conserve and then splurge when the time is right. Bosses will initially rip you to pieces until you memorize their movement patterns and weak spots. Some of the battles are also exercises in draining the monster’s health bar to zero only to have it grow back and reveal its new form. Scary the first time when you aren’t expecting it, not so much the second or third time. Still, the game is fairly long. For all my complaining about how the game becomes less effective on re-play, there is a lot of it for just your first pass. The chapter system breaks things up into manageable 20 to 40 minutes play sessions with check points for you if you get killed. All the resources that you’ll need in each level to win can be found in that chapter, so restarting does not have to be a massive undertaking.
In terms of story, it’s a retelling of Resident Evil 2 and Code Veronica layered with the mission where Jack Krauser and Leon Kennedy first met. Other reviews have complained that the game is incomprehensible to people not familiar with the franchise, but I’m not sure what to make of that. These games relish their B-movie dialogue and awful one-liners, the only confusion a person could have is trying to take it seriously. There’s this company that likes making biological viruses that turn people and animals into all kinds of creepy things that need shooting. That ought to get you up to speed.
Criticizing this game just because it’s a light-gun shooter is ultimately misguided. Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles is what it is, and in terms of light-gun games for the Wii, it’s pretty good at being one. A couple of motifs get overused, like the never-ending self-destruct sequence, but nothing that stopped me from enjoying the game. Many portions are genuinely tense. The designers keep up a decent level of variety in boss fights while throwing the usual waves of zombies at you at other moments. All of this is brought together nicely by the co-op. If you and your friends long for the days of House of the Dead, but want to experience such memories from the comforts of your couch, this is a pretty good investment.