Resident Evil's Greatest Hits
Darkside Chronicles is another on-rails shooter in Resident Evil's skin for the Wii, and although I was admittedly pretty wary of the game, I rather enjoyed it. It is basically your typical game of this type, with a few unique flourishes and camera problems. It's not a particularly mind-blowing game, but that doesn't matter much. If you've enjoyed other games like this before and you've got a like-minded friend to join you, it's worth checking out.
The game is essentially made up of tweaked versions of Resident Evil 2 and Code Veronica, some of the most acclaimed games in the series. There's also a new story that takes place in South America, and it feels much like the Kijuju setting of Resident Evil 5. You'll go through three main story lines, see characters from past entries in the series (Steve Burnside!) and relive some glory moments from gaming's past, like the legendary alligator boss fight from Resident Evil 2. It's most certainly a narrative of the classic Capcom style, with poorly translated dialogue and melodrama abound. But really, that's more of a selling point than a deterrent at this point. What would Resident Evil be without a strong backbone of Japanese culture and unintentional strangeness?
There's not a whole lot to say about the core gameplay, this being a rails shooter and all. The game takes you along a predetermined path, and you see what it wants you to see. You only need the Wii's remote to play, and your input is represented simply by some cross hairs, which you'll use to shoot the hell out of pretty much anything you see. It's simple, but that's why it works, and all of the controls and interface options feel solid. You'll collect different guns throughout the game that are mostly what you'd expect, like Uzis and shotguns, but a few later additions are more unique and enticing. All can be upgraded in terms of power, reload speed, and so on, which adds a little customization in how your weapons behave. It's a good addition that lets you tailor the game to how you like to play.
Beyond that basic framework, Darkside Chronicles pulls off some neat tricks with its storytelling and co-op play. The game's scenarios always include two main characters, and from time to time, one will jump out of the first-person perspective and appear on camera, which adds a sense of space and staging that enhances the atmosphere and adds a fun level of character that is usually absent from this sort of game. There are also some great moments where the on-camera character is pinned by enemies and cannot shoot, leaving it up to the other player to save them.
I enjoyed these touches to the point where I would not recommend Darkside Chronicles unless you plan on playing with a friend. Alone, it's a serviceable shooter. But the game definitely takes on much more life and personality in a pair. You can coordinate who has what weapons mapped to their d-pad for a more diverse arsenal, and decide together what upgrades you should spend your shared money on. Rail shooters cry out for a shared two-player experience. Do yourself a favour and rope in a friend for this one.
There is one major problem that gets in the way of the fun; the camera pretty much stinks. Most of the game tries to emulate a first-person perspective, but does so to a fault, incorporating all sorts of jarring and disorienting shakes whenever the action begins to pick up. As you might imagine, this makes lining up precise shots rather difficult, and not in the fun or fair sense.
There are also multiple occasions where the camera will quickly snap back and forth between multiple groups of enemies. It succeeds at creating a sense of panic, but it also causes you to waste ammo; you'll see a huge group of monsters, and by the time you take aim and begin firing, the camera is starting to swerve around to another group, and possibly to a third perspective after that. With no real way of knowing if the camera is going to stay put or keep looking around, precious rounds are wasted. It feels like an extension of the sense of place motifs discussed earlier, but it comes off as an annoyance. While it's not pervasive enough to be a deal-breaker, it sadly persists throughout Darkside Chronicles.
Luckily, beyond those largely visual setbacks, the game looks great and sounds good. It's certainly one of the more attractive Wii games I've seen in some time, and the environments look great and feel unique from one section of the game to the next. It's mostly dark, brooding areas you'll be heading through, although the opening South American section of the game (and its recapitulation later on) give you some sunny sights to see as well. The main characters and bosses are the obvious standouts, and its clear that the attention was lavished on their creation. The zombies, not-zombies, and other regular enemies look a little rough sometimes, but there's often quite a few on screen at once, and they'll occasionally explode violently when you land the killing shot, which is a gruesome (and sweet) touch. A number of CG cut scenes show up at key plot points, and these are a pleasure to watch. The audio is perfectly serviceable but fairly forgettable, and the voice acting is on par with what you'd hear in the more recent Resident Evil games. Some Wii-specific soundscapes are included, with reloading and a few other sounds coming through the remote speaker, sounding surprisingly good.
Overall, Darkside Chronicles is pretty good if you're looking for an on-rails shooter that makes a few interesting alterations to the standard design you may expect from this type of game – and don't mind putting up with a few annoying flaws along the way. In a lot of ways, it feels like a greatest hits album, taking familiar themes, characters, and story lines and taking you along to fill in some background information about one of gaming's biggest franchises. But like a greatest hits album, there's something lost in the attempt to create an ideal representation of past great works. So while it's not as good as a new, full-fledged entry into the Resident Evil pantheon, it's a fun little shooter that will keep you and a friend entertained for a few hours; maybe more, if you really take to it. It doesn't deliver a groundbreaking experience, but I don't think it meant to, and if you can accept that, you'll have a good time playing it.