Take beefcake gunman Chris Redfield, alone, in a mansion, turning a corner down a hallway, a new static camera, and an unexpected dog-through-window. Now imagine it’s all being rendered by a 32-bit processor, and there’s no music, and it’s just you and him, alone, in a mansion.
When Capcom and Cavia decided to re-tell the stories of the lower-resolution Resident Evil games, they imagined what these classic, beloved Japanese horror games could do with modern processors. Then they imagined what they could do with a cinematic, directed camera. And music. And more games. And bad voice actors. And motion controls. Eventually, they wondered what they could do with the plot, characters, and setting of the Resident Evil series if the play mechanics bore no resemblance. The product of this giant scorpion-filled train of thought was Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles and Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles for the Wii.
It was ported to the PS3 in June 2012 to take advantage of the HD potential and the PlayStation Move. The downloadable port has improved its visual sheen, but has done little to tame this zombie dog of an on-rails shooter. Resident Evil: Chronicles HD Collection occupies an awkward space between The House of the Dead 4 and Dead Space: Extraction (for the poor soul familiar enough with current-gen on-rails shooters to know the nuanced differences). The shaking camera and predictable, repetitive battles don’t do much to sell the choice of genre here, and the scenarios that were in one decade harrowing have been shoehorned into an ill-fitting, gaudy mold of a game that I could only recommend for the most nostalgic Resident Evil fans.
In all fairness, on-rails shooters employ that bit of magic that I haven’t outgrown since I first played Area 51 standing in a dirty Planet Play in 1996. No matter how stupid the idea is, there’s just something satisfying about the point-and-shoot mechanic, getting that real-time marksman feedback. If you’ve ever gone skeet shooting, you’ll know what I mean.
So that’s still inherently in play for the two games that make up the Chronicles HD Collection, Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles and Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles. And they both follow the basic formula of the genre throughout the scripted levels: shoot enemy, introduce new enemy, shoot that, introduce boss, shoot that, repeat. Players can add different weapons to the mix (shotgun, machine gun, revolver, grenades, crossbow) and collect and use green herbs for health. Bosses will slow-motion sling their limbs unless shot in their faces or mouths or nostrils.
Mechanically, my only issue with Resident Evil: Chronicles HD Collection is that using the PS3 controller to aim is too drifty to be viable, so the PlayStation Move is the only real control option, but it’s one that works well. Up to two players can rock Raccoon City at once (with some alternating agency moments), so having two Move controllers is a key element to enjoying this game.
It’s key not just because of the unwieldy DualShock controls, but also because playing this game alone would be infuriating. Playing with a friend, the horribly localized dialogue becomes laughable, a shared experience in recognizing how little perspective this game, maybe even this series, has of itself. Part of that’s to blame on the games that Chronicles HD Collection retells (Umbrella Chronicles retells Resident Evil Zero, Resident Evil, and Resident Evil 3: Nemesis while Darkside Chronicles retells Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil Code: Veronica). But each game also has new chapters to close them out, as well as other new content throughout, and they are just as silly.
Take, for example, the giant alligator in the sewer in Resident Evil 2. In the original game, this behemoth terrified any player that didn’t know about the gas canister. There’s no HUD, the camera is close and angled up, the ceiling shakes, and Claire is left aiming a pistol at this screen-dominating beast. There are no hints about the canister, and this is the only time in the game the player is asked to approach an enemy in this way.
In The Darkside Chronicles, the alligator crashes onto the scene with a big blue health bar and the word “BOSS” in tow. Strings and brass start in with a generic battle tune, and the player unloads close to a hundred pistol rounds into the gator’s gaping maw. Oh, and you can light him on fire. Twice. The first time is just a fake-out. Teehee.
The Umbrella Chronicles has its indulgences as well, like the giant scorpion on the train (seeing a theme with the bosses, here?) and Wesker’s grating, sneering asides during his bonus solo missions. I mean, could you, in all honesty, gun down like forty monkeys, a big bat, scores of zombies, and a mutated Russian bodyguard in a duster and sunglasses and not laugh at the absurdity? It’s both a damnation and salvation that this game’s scenarios, its character, and its cloying plot is so out of control. I can’t help but love it a little bit.
The one innovation that impressed me about the Chronicles HD Collection was its use of aimed flashlights in a few darker segments, which is a clever way of giving some directional control back to the player while maintaining the directed motion sickness on-rails camera. It’s best described as a nostalgic, B-movie experience led by point-and-shoot gameplay, and undercut by its simultaneous unwillingness to let go of tradition and its departure from the series’ hallmarks. If you really want to watch a bad movie, though, I’d suggest Dragon Wars. Seriously, that thing is unreal.
Review based on PS3 release.