Capcom has dabbled in numerous Resident Evil-related spin-offs in the venerable horror series’ 15+ year history, though overall the result has proven a mixed bag at best. Among the most successful however have been the Chronicles series; that is, on-the-rails retellings of classic Resident Evil games with a sprinkle of fresh storytelling thrown into the mix. Originally released on the Wii, Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles and Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles now arrive on PlayStation 3 with PS Move support, online leaderboards, Trophies and a lush high-definition paint job. Yes, they’re essentially the same games that hit Nintendo’s console a few years ago (nearly five years in Umbrella Chronicles’ case), but despite showing some wrinkles in the visual department these zombie shooters are still worth a punt.
In many ways, the Chronicles series is an ideal way to catch up on the series if you’re a newcomer, and gives fans a fresh way to experience those iconic events while lapping up the ample fan service on offer. Make no mistake, if you’re a Resident Evil aficionado, you won’t want to miss out on this bundle. As for the games themselves, Umbrella Chronicles offers condensed, on-the-rails versions of Zero, 1, and 3, while introducing a brand new scenario set in February 2003. Darkside Chronicles meanwhile shines the spotlight on RE2 and Code: Veronica X, and takes you through a previously untold 2002 excursion in South America. Given RE’s convoluted plotline these are probably the most narrative-driven rail shooters you’ll play, and combat is frequently punctuated by brief banter between the on-screen characters. The cast is extensive too, featuring the likes of Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Claire Redfield, Leon S. Kennedy, Billy Coen, Albert Wesker and more, many of which take place in extra, all-new scenarios that flesh out existing plot elements (for example, you can now see what Wesker got up to after he was skewered at the hands of the Tyrant and ‘reborn’).
Mechanically the games tick all the proverbial boxes as far as traditional shooters of this breed go. You’ll progress through multiple areas – sights include the Raccoon City Police Department, Rockfort Island, the Spencer Mansion and Training Facility – blasting all manner of B.O.W.s, from cannon fodder undead to the vicious Hunters. Using PS Move is the best way to go about the proceedings, though the DualShock 3 does a decent job nonetheless. Like House of the Dead 4, you’re encouraged to be accurate with your shots, as landing a critical hit (blowing a zombies head off, for example) nets you an instant kill and bags you more points to boot. And, while you can easily dispatch regular foes by arbitrarily blasting away at body parts as fast as possible, it is far more strategically rewarding to target an enemy’s weak point for a clean kill. Likewise, bosses also require far more precision and patience than your average zombie, offering a refreshing change of game dynamics. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but it works, and is surprisingly challenging.
Aside from filling foes full of lead, you also have to keep on your toes for regular Quick Time Events. Umbrella Chronicles seems to have a particular penchant for these sequences, though Darkside eases up on them, much to my relief as UC seemed a little over-reliant on them. Both games however are fairly cinematic and attempt to convey a sense of Resident Evil’s inherent creepiness about them. Characters creep around corners and react to distant groans and creep. Unlike relentless action blasters like HotD, which feel more like a rollercoaster ride, Chronicles attempts to build a palpable, atmospheric quality about it by juxtaposing quieter, creepy segments with levels of intense, overwhelming action where the odds are most definitely not always in your favour. It’s a great nod to the games these rail shooters are based on, and makes the Chronicles games stand out among their contemporaries. In particular, Darkside Chronicles’ Blair Witch-style shaky cam is especially effective at this, and while sometimes it verges on annoying when you’re trying to blow away incoming foes, it’s an incredibly cinematic experience.
Perhaps the most rewarding part of Chronicles however is the sheer amount of content packed under the hood. As you progress through each area, you’ll be able to blast just about anything you want to uncover hidden items. These range from new weapons to various archive files, which offer detailed descriptions on various events from the Resident Evil timeline, such as profiles on key items, characters, enemies and more. Darkside even offers a chance to view full 3D models of characters and foes in addition to giving you the lowdown on them. You’re also graded on your performance, so the more critical hits or objects destroyed for example, the better your grade. Weapons meanwhile are also plentiful, with a variety of Shotguns, Magnums, Machine Guns and more up for grabs, which can be upgraded via upgrade star points or cash.
Sure, your handgun has unlimited ammo, but it will become abundantly clear to you that this pea shooter isn’t going to do your health any favours when you are facing down some of the tougher enemies. As such, you’ll have to make use of your bigger guns if you want to survive, but nonchalantly unloading your Shotgun or Magnum into every big problem you come across won’t do you any favours either. With limited ammo on offer, you’ll have to watch what you use and how much you use it, or you may end up in a ruck against a boss with only a handgun and knife for company. Indeed, while most rail shooters rarely make ammo a concern, Chronicles’ weapons line-up feels more rewarding, and the constant worry of conserving bullets injects more of a strategic edge to an aging template.
Both games look prettier in HD, though Umbrella Chronicles is showing its age a little, with some bland-looking textures marring some of the game’s more elaborate environments. Still, it does the job well enough, and it’s great to see some of the old foes remastered. Darkside on the other hand is a far lusher affair, boasting some impressive character models and suitably moody environments, accentuated by some neat lighting and shadows. It’s worth pointing out that RE3’s scenario in Umbrella Chronicles features some notable visual disparities. Whereas Zero and 1’s locations are based on a game with pre-rendered backdrops, and as such have been completely redone in 3D for UC. RE3’s scenario was plucked straight from the PS2 title RE: Outbreak, and looks all the uglier for it. Voice acting is your typical RE affair, with performances ranging from pretty good (Leon, Claire), decent (Chris, Jill) to downright irritating (Rebecca, Carlos). The score is brilliant mind, featuring a mix of bombastic anthems and subtle spin-chilling tunes depending on the situation.
Overall, Resident Evil Chronicles HD Collection is a solid investment for Resi junkies and shooter fans alike. Sure, they don’t break the mould at all, but they’re mechanically sound and stand out as solid shooters thanks to the rich Resi lore and cinematic approach to gameplay. Playing with a mate in tow is definitely the best way to experience these games, though solo they’re no slouch either and are sure to give you a few jumps along the way. Throw in an ample amount of unlockable content, and you’ve got two of the most enjoyable rail shooters in quite some time.