Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles Review

By Bryan Stratton - Posted Nov 16, 2009

Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles improves on 2007's first Resident Evil on-rails shooter The Umbrella Chronicles in every way. RE fans will love returning to old haunts, collecting hundreds of archive items and blasting familiar foes, provided that the camerawork doesn't make them queasy.

The Pros
  • RE faithful will love the story and collectibles
  • Dynamic difficulty accommodates gamers of all skill levels
  • Inventory management takes co-op to another level
  • Outstanding visual and audio presentation
The Cons
  • Newbies might not appreciate story details
  • Lacks the depth of other RE titles
  • Might give you motion sickness

Let's just get this out of the way right up front: fans of the Resident Evil series who have spent anxious hours guiding Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield through Raccoon City and beyond will find lots to love about The Darkside Chronicles. If you have a Wii and an insatiable desire to splatter zombie brains like paint on a Jackson Pollock, this game should be on your wish list without question. Its only flaws are the limits of its genre and the hardware, and even then, it's still the best game of its kind ever made.

Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles

American Nightmare

Like its predecessor, The Umbrella Chronicles, The Darkside Chronicles is a rail, light-gun shooter that takes one or two players on a greatest-hits tour through some of the most memorable moments of the Resident Evil series and creates a few new ones along the way.

It begins in a South American village, where Resident Evil 2 and 4 protagonist Leon Kennedy is partnered with his future RE4 rival, Jack Krauser. They're hunting a drug kingpin named Javier, whose Sacred Snakes gang is also rumored to be trafficking in human organs on the black market and may be linked to the disappearances of dozens of young girls from the village. The story serves as the untold prequel to RE4, with lengthy flashbacks to the events of RE2 and Code: Veronica as well.

Some of the story's shout-outs and cameo appearances will be lost on those who haven't enjoyed the previous games in the franchise, but it's not so confusing that they'll be unable to follow what's going on. In fact, by editing together some of the biggest plot points from each game, Darkside serves admirably as a Cliff's Notes version of the franchise's sometimes convoluted history, summarizing its canon moments in a horrifying yet attractive package.

True RE junkies will also appreciate the hundreds of archive items that can be collected over the course of the game, including character files, enemy data, item files and titles that you earn as you play through. Each chapter lists how many items there are to be found and records how many you find, in order to make completist’s life easier.

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Ghouls Night Out

Like Resident Evil 5, Darkside uses a shared inventory system that both players can access to use, trade and equip items and weapons. You can assign up to four weapons to the directions on the d-pad or analog stick for swapping on the fly, which makes it easy to switch from firing your pistol at distant enemies to clearing a hallway with the shotgun.

And that's good, because Darkside moves at a breakneck pace and doesn't give you a chance to catch your breath until the end of each 10-minute chapter. At each chapter break, you're ranked in a number of categories, and the gold you collect in each mission can be spent between chapters to upgrade your weapons.

Speed is just one of the tricks that Darkside uses to build and maintain a sense of urgency. In a departure from its predecessor, it uses a documentary-style camera -- a la The Blair Witch Project -- to put you behind the eyes of the character you're playing. Whereas Umbrella Chronicles felt a bit like a scary amusement park ride, Darkside feels like an interactive horror movie. The first time you see a Licker in the Raccoon City Police Department, it's exactly as terrifying as the first time you saw it nearly 12 years ago in RE2.

The frantic camera movement can also be seen as an homage to RE's controversial tradition of having to struggle against the controls and camera angles to perform relatively basic actions. Capcom has always maintained that it's an intentional design decision to add to the tension of the game. If you agree, you'll appreciate the way the camera often jerks as you're trying to earn the quick kill, and bonus that comes with it, by lining up a headshot. It might be frustrating from a gameplay perspective, but there's no doubt that it adds a sense of urgency to aiming and firing.

Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles

Too Much Horror Business?

Darkside's documentary-style camera serves another purpose, and that's to help to fudge some of the game's graphical limitations. It's not a bad-looking game by any means; in fact, it's a step up from Umbrella Chronicles, and it's one of the best-looking third-party titles you're likely to see on the Wii. But after seeing RE5 in all of its glory on the X360 and PS3, Darkside's visuals are slightly disappointing.

And while the camerawork makes Darkside a spiritual successor to Blair Witch, it can also induce the same motion sickness that the movie was blamed for. Fortunately, since Darkside is divided into 10-minute chapters, it's fairly easy to wade through the gore without risking something truly gross. Even still, it would have been nice if players could jump in and out on the fly, as in Dead Space: Extraction, but once a chapter begins, you're stuck with the number of players until you quit or complete the chapter.

Ultimately, Darkside's biggest flaw is inherent to its genre: it's a light-gun game on rails, which means that it lacks the depth and strategic elements that Resident Evil is known for. Selectable characters, branching pathways and variable difficulty levels (which adjust on the fly to your performance) help to enrich the experience, but by its very nature, the Chronicles games can't help but be considered the B-series in the franchise.

That being said, Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles uses the Wii and its control scheme to excellent effect, especially when played with the Zapper. These minor quibbles shouldn't scare any gamer away from picking it up -- particularly when there are so many other, better ways to be scared by it.