A lot of people don’t seem to know what to expect from Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, the game expected to sell Nintendo’s new Wii zapper. Reactions were mixed when it was announced several months ago, but anticipation has steadily climbed as details and screenshots have trickled out from Capcom. Having finally gotten my hands on it, I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but my initial feeling was disappointment.
The Wii Zapper itself generally feels good. The end tucks itself into the crook of one arm while the nunchuck is held in the other hand. It’s comfortable, but it also makes the aiming feel a tad off because it doesn’t naturally come to eye level like most zapper peripherals (or guns for that matter). Still it doesn’t really detract all that much from the experience, and it shouldn’t be a problem for players to bring it up for more precision aiming.
At first glance, the graphics are excellent, particularly the opening cinematics. Capcom knows how to do presentation, and its flagship games are always top-notch in that department. The details on the enemies are generally very crisp and clear, and the environment (a train), is quite detailed as well. However, once the shooting begins, the shiny coat of paint begins to wear off a little bit.
For one thing, the guns just don’t feel very powerful, which is of course a big problem for a game that’s trying to sell itself on a Zapper peripheral. The first weapon is the handgun, and the bullets don’t seem to even phase the zombies as they approach. It seemed possible to take out their legs, but otherwise the bullets felt like they were bouncing away until they died. Perhaps this was Capcom’s intention, handguns aren’t very powerful after all, but it wouldn’t have hurt to add a little extra oomph to the shooting.
The submachine gun and the shotgun definitely felt better, but both also felt a bit wild. It was easy to end up spraying bullets all over the place with the submachine gun. The shotgun, while definitely more powerful than the pitiful handgun, lacked ammo, so I didn’t get much time with it. Regardless, perhaps it’s an unfair comparison, but I tend to feel like House of the Dead III was the pinnacle of the arcade-style use of a shotgun , and I don’t think Umbrella Chronicles even comes close in that regard. It’s true that House of the Dead III was built from the ground up around that one weapon, but it just goes back to my original point that the guns really need to feel good for the shooting action to be effective.
The graphics, as mentioned before, were generally very good, but they seemed a little bit muddy at times. More than once I found myself squinting against the dark palette of browns and blacks in an effort to make out the little leech creatures that seemed to spend a lot of time attached to my character’s face. They blend in a little bit too much with the background, and suddenly they attack. The zombies themselves are nicely animated and detailed, with all of the usual trappings in place like tattered clothing and hanging flesh. I generally think that the Los Ganados of RE4 are the current zombie gold standard for the series, and the Umbrella Chronicles zombies are at least as detailed as their parasitic cousins, if not more so.
The final battle is with a scorpion-like boss that keeps its claws tucked in front of its vulnerable face/mouth parts. Here, the games strengths and weaknesses seem to be the most apparent. The boss is very detailed, those nasty claws look real enough anyway, and comes off as fairly impressive as leaps in and out of combat with the player. However, like with the zombies, the bullets don’t seem to even register, even when you are hitting the vulnerable head. It’s hard to tell whether or not you’re doing damage without glancing at the life bar every few minutes, even when you pull out one of the other weapons.
Unfortunately, my game ended prematurely as the boss presumably devoured my intestines, but I feel like I played enough to justify leaving with mixed feelings. It’s not the definitive shooting experience by any stretch of the imagination, especially when compared with the forthcoming Time Crisis 4 on the PS3, but it played well enough to likely be the zapper’s premier game. I only hope that Capcom uses the time left to it before release to tighten up the experience just a little more so that Umbrella Chronicles can jump from A