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Resident Evil: Chronicles HD Collection PS3 Review - PAGE 1Rory Young - Tuesday, July 10th, 2012 Like Share
Genre and motion control weren't the only things bothering me as I approached the Resident Evil: Chronicles HD Collection. I also worried about the the transition of theme and atmosphere from the classic Resident Evil titles that Chronicles is based on. Would a Resident Evil novice get an adequate introduction to the franchise, or is this a ham-handed subversion of the property? Naturally, there are certain concessions to be made in translating survival horror into a light-gun game, but if they're doing it there has to be some creative direction and intention with it, right? I'm hoping for a depth that I've never experienced from a light game gun before, and considering this is a Resident Evil package I don't consider my expectations too assumptive.
The relevance of the "light gun shooter" in the modern market is dubious, despite the genre's historical relevence. The limiting nature of the on-rails movement, the grandfathered in reliance on near-broken combat stemming from the arcade need for more quarters, and a lack of any complex gameplay systems to support the staple gunplay foster a stagnant development environment. Nonetheless, Capcom has found relative success with its Resident Evil inspired recaps, Umbrella Chronicles and Darkside Chronicles. These titles were both initially released for the Nintendo Wii, in 2007 and 2009 respectively, and capitalized on the console's motion controls. Now they've been reissued in a package for the PlayStation 3, complete with an HD makeover, but the question remains as to whether these titles are relevant on their own or just another motion control cash-grab.
Unfortunately, my fears are both fully-realized and slightly curtailed in Resident Evil: Chronicles HD. There's more to this product than my worst case scenario, but whether that means it's a worthwhile experience or not... Well, we'll see.
Umbrella Chronicles: There's a Storm Coming
The first title in the Resident Evil: Chronicles HD package is Umbrella Chronicles, initially released in 2007 for the Wii. Umbrella Chronicles is a straight forward on-rails light-gun game with only the barest of additional features. Select character, level begins, zombies walk forward, aim for the head, and that's your game. Brief cinematics and setting help define a semblance of a story, but it's poor fare even for a Resident Evil fan. Especially so when considering Umbrella Chronicles covers Resident Evil 0, Resident Evil, and Resident Evil 3 -- some of the strongest storytelling experiences in the franchise. It scarred my soul reliving that early mansion scene in Resident Evil when you discover the first zombie gnawing on something in the back room, only to have it stand, turn around, and require three shots to the head or four to the body while you float a preset distance behind.
I'll say this pointedly, seeing as HD is right up there in the title, Umbrella Chronicles has very poor visuals. There's only so much that can be done with an upgrade to high definition textures, certainly, but it goes beyond that. I have Umbrella Chronicles for the Wii and while it's only a standard definition experience, the textures fit the animations and overall production quality. In other words, it's a Wii game -- in fact the blurry, dark tones provided a better overall experience in general. The new HD textures, in conjunction with the old, seemingly entirely unimproved animations and effects is just egregious.
In regards to gameplay systems Umbrella Chronicles doesn't stray too far from its arcade-style, rail-shooter, light-gun roots. Expect a mixture of slow moving enemies with fast, surprising enemies designed to strike you constantly and encourage the spending of quarters. Enemies always have weak points, typically their heads or large glowing organs, and are entirely pattern-based -- if you've fought one, you've fought them all. In order to help mix up combat there are several weapons provided throughout each level, shotguns and uzis for instance, though ammo is scarce and switching between weapons is intentionally clunky. These weapons can be upgraded with cash between levels(earned through exceptional play and shooting the environment), but the pistol and its infinite free reloads will retain its original strength throughout. Unfortunately, this means that by act 3 even the simplest of zombies will require five, six or more shots to the head. It's a staggering difficulty curve, and I expect its designed so you have to return to earlier levels and grind if you aren't the sharpest of shooters. In other words, it's not fun, it's not rewarding, and it's longer than sin.
What I hate even bringing up is that Umbrella Chronicles relation to the Resident Evil franchise. Keep in mind that modern Resident Evil is more of an action series, and that Umbrella Chronicles may be the introduction to the series' origins for a generation of gamers. Resident Evil's atmosphere and nuance, the hand written notes and constant suspense, it has all been discarded in Umbrella Chronicles in favor of a carnival ride through each game's most memorable settings. It's not just disappointing, it's disheartening.
Umbrella Chronicles does deliver in one respect, and for some it will be the most important regard, and that's its classic light-gun sensibilities. If all you want is an accurate aiming reticule and a horde of zombies to shoot in the head then by all means, Umbrella Chronicles is nothing but.
Darkside Chronicles: Look on the Bright Side
After Umbrella Chronicles, I was sore to the point of exhaustion. The mere thought of playing another on-rails shooter left me in shivers. Still, I persevered, and what do you know I ran into the same wall. Darkside Chronicles opened up with more standard rail-shooter gameplay, very poor story, and shoddy graphics. Rather than bang my head against the wall, I decided to take a break from Chronicles HD -- a decision that ultimately worked in Darkside Chronicles' favor.
I approached Darkside Chronicles once again with renewed fervor and was surprised to find that I found the experience much stronger without an Umbrella Chronicles hangover. Darkside Chronicles markedly improves on its predecessor in virtually every regard. But, and there has to be a but, ironically how Umbrella Chronicles' saving grace was that it met the minimum requirements to be considered just another on-rails shooter, Darkside Chronicles is oppositely limited by the same precepts. Aspiring to be a better on-rails shooter only goes so far.
One simple change is enough to make Darkside Chronicles' gameplay feel absurdly more enjoyable, and that's the customization option to upgrade your base pistol. Where reliance on the weapon in Umbrella Chronicles was often a poor choice, instead forcing you to measure and count your special weapon ammo, Darkside allows you to crowd-control with the pistol and then use special ammo strategically. This idea is reinforced by an additional weapon stat that can be upgraded which, while doesn't increase damage, increases the force each shot imparts on an enemy, i.e. the chance you can set an approaching enemy off-balance. This increased crowd-control allows you to prioritize targets and shift weapons with ease. For an on-rails shooter it's, well, better, and this evolution is encouraging.
Darkside Chronicles also simply feels better in motion. There's no radical changes to the on-rails formula, but small, important design decisions that amplify the themes of Resident Evil make a world of difference. For instance, Umbrella Chronicles spent a lot of time moving the camera, exploring each setting, but it never felt like natural movement and it always led to difficult combat where enemies would attack from awkward angles. Darkside actually increases the camera movement, bordering on shakey-cam at times, but it ended up highlighting the frantic nature of combat and adding suspense -- that always looking over your shoulder atmosphere. It does this without being overly punishing at times either, though that might simply be due to better overall difficulty balance. Unlike Umbrella Chronicles, Darkside never ramps of difficulty for the sake of increasing play-length. Each chapter held its own difficulty curve, without carrying it over into the next.
Similar improvements have been made to the game's story and storytelling, though nothing remarkable. Rather than simply retell the plot-lines of previous Resident Evil games, Darkside Chronicles ties each of them together with an overarching and entirely original tale. Leon and his partner Jack Krauser are searching for an ex-drug lord associated with Umbrella, and as things get crazy Leon decides to tell Jack about the events in Resident Evil 2 and Code Veronica. The narrative flows much better with this design, and it helps that the drug lord storyline is rather well written. It's nothing Resident Evil fans would be too excited about, but it's competent for an on-rails shooter that I never expected to make an effort.
Better than Umbrella Chronicles should not be taken as a glowing recommendation, though. Darkside Chronicles is, still, just an on-rails shooter. That it pushes the genre in a direction unfamiliar is commendable, but making a tolerable and sometimes enjoyable experience is setting the bar low.
There are two games in the Resident Evil Chronicles HD Collection and I wouldn't recommend either of them, but that doesn't mean there isn't a positive side to this package. Don't get me wrong, Umbrella Chronicles was an abhorrent experience I wouldn't force upon anyone, but Darkside Chronicles is probably one of the best on-rails shooters available for console. If all you want is to use motion controls to shoot at your television, there you go. Take that as you will.
As on-rails shooters, both titles are competent, meeting the bare minimum requirements of aiming and shooting that many gamers expect from the genre. With regards to the standards we expect from games in general, whether that be graphics, story, depth of gameplay and more, both titles are found lacking. These standards hold true even for light-gun games, and perhaps more so considering they're born from Resident Evil franchise which sets such high production goals. The source material, from Resident Evil 0 to Code Veronica, is inadequately represented, perhaps even exploited, much to the franchise's detriment. If these titles were ever meant to be anything but rushed products to capitalize on motion controls hype, I'll eat my hat.
That's the product, for better or worse. Resident Evil Chronicles HD is a on-rails shooter and if that's all you require then why do you need a review. Otherwise, let me be clear, these games aren't designed to be worthwhile standalone experiences. They're an evolution of 5 minute arcade experiences, built to eat your quarters and leave you unfulfilled. Guess what? They haven't changed much.
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