Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles
25th Nov 2009 | 15:41
Resident Evil is the best set of horror films never made. Yes, three films already bear the Resident Evil name, but they're not, y'know, Resident Evil. We want campy melodrama and contrived plots - EastEnders via Night Of The Living Dead. Instead we get thrash metal and Joker-like scare-o-lady Milla Jovovich in a dress picked to maximise perving opportunities. Thank the gods, then, for Cavia. Boiling ten-hour games into two-hour blasts, they give us the films we want.
Covering Resident Evil 2 and Code Veronica, Darkside ups a slow pace set in Umbrella Chronicles. After Umbrella's shambling dread mansions, Claire and Leon's Raccoon City siege is nippy George A Romero fun, powered ever-forwards by the baldy Tyrant in pursuit. Although Veronica whisks you to a more familiar mansion, it happily takes the baton with a demented game of sniper-enhanced hide and seek in the playpen of David Bowie lookalike Alfred Ashford.
Second time round, Cavia twig they're making a lightgun game, not just Resi on rails. Umbrella paced enemy encounters to parallel the original games. Fan service? Yes. Miles of empty corridors? Alas, yes. Darkside is liberally sprinkled with the undead, garnished with spiders, toads and Tyrants. We even killed a giant moth. Boss piles upon boss, some levels boasting several, while others stretch into bombastic level-long slogs.
As with Dead Space: Extraction, Cavia approach things with a filmmaker's eye. But where Extraction's director was a ponderous Terence Malick, staring forlornly into air vents, Darkside has a rambunctious Michael Bay behind the lens. He yanks you down corridors, slams you to the floor and whips you around with tentacles. Resi never moves like this but you can tell it wants to - bosses flow better when you're not rooted with the traditional turning circle.
Initially, the handheld camera view is irritating, throwing your aim and pulling you out of the action. The second mission, on the streets of Raccoon City, is almost laughable in how many zombies you run away from. But the pace soon settles. It actually adds a twist for high-score chasers: accuracy counts, but how do you milk maximum kills from a stage? If you want to dominate the Wi-Fi leaderboards, snagging every last deadhead is a must.
Resi's stringent ammo hoarding also returns. Shotguns and Magnums get the work done faster, but bullets need scavenging within levels. Harvesting lead in one stage gives you a better chance in the next. Save them for James Birkin - he's the only unfair difficulty spike. Gun upgrades add replay incentive, and Cavia price them high enough that you won't instantly whisk up a game-breaking uber-pistol, as in House Of The Dead: Overkill.
As far as actual shooting goes, Darkside is no great shakes. Cavia certainly up the arcade vibe from Umbrella: zombies respond faster to hits, heads explode with more regularity and enemy design is generally geared to precise arcade shooting, with obvious weak spots the only way to bring them down. But although enemy numbers rival House Of The Dead, the response is never fast or furious enough to emulate the mindless bang-bang of an arcade cabinet.
In this sense, Darkside sits between Overkill and Extraction. It has the gunplay volume and urgency of Sega's goofy swear blaster, but the eye for storytelling championed by EA.
Occasionally the two meet gloriously: exploring Ashford's wooden labyrinth is both a great setpiece and a pure bit of hair-trigger response (you shoot targets before they detonate in your face). More often than not, gunning lacks the immediacy of the scenarios you're gunning through.
It is, however, a big improvement over Umbrella Chronicles. Dumping all the stodge, Cavia keep what we liked from before, namely unlockable bonus modes and a library's worth of archive material. Tying it together with a short South America mission (charting Leon's first meeting with Krauser and his evil beginnings) only ups the worth for Resi completists. Everyone else can enjoy the shaky view and the far from shaky fun.