Nov 21, 2007
There’s no doubt in our minds that at some point in the recent past, Umbrella Chronicles was a very different game from the one that has finally emerged. Far from being some elaborate mystery for us to unravel, the evidence has been there from the start - early interviews with Capcom’s team suggested Chronicles would be a game more like Resident Evil 4, while later interviews hinted at a change of tune. RE 4 is a tough act to follow, and it’s a shame we never saw Umbrella Chronicle’s original concept, but it’s hard to fault the game for what it’s not, when it’s ridiculously fully-featured and complete. As a light gun shooter, this isn't any great shakes. But as a treat for Resident Evil fans, it's truly special.
Chronicles is the most blatant example of fan service Capcom could have conjured, filling in every gap in the story with new cutscenes, lengthy dossiers, files and plot points to patch up continuity holes. Umbrella Chronicles is like a 1970’s exploit-o-movie version of Resident Evil’s story - not smart or especially stylish, with everything about it designed to appeal almost exclusively to the most niche of audiences. But what it does offer fans of the series, it offers perfectly.
You want levels? How about 12 hours’ worth; all set in the midst of the zombie holocausts from Resident Evil Zero, 1, 2, 3, and featuring a final, all-new level to wrap up Umbrella’s Story? You like guns? Capcom have provided every famous weapon from the series, all upgradeable using the points you earn on your missions and each handling uniquely. And how about the characters? Every chapter of Umbrella Chronicles features characters from the original games, with different introductory cutscenes depending on who you choose. Even better, further unlockable missions are based around untold side-stories from the series and help patch over Resident Evil’s big mysteries - like how Rebecca Chambers made it from the Umbrella management training facility to the Mansion, or what Wesker was up to while the STARS team was preparing to move on the Mansion.
We’re almost happy with that. Alas, as successful as Chronicles is as a fan-pleasing piece of Resident Evil cake, it’s a very ordinary shooter. Not very pretty and not very fleshed out, Umbrella Chronicles looks more like a GameCube port than a Wii-exclusive. For such a crucial recap of the series, you’d think Capcom would’ve put some more effort into the graphics and level design. Instead, you’ll slog through areas you know you’ve seen before on PS2 and GameCube (literally - these seem at times to be the same backgrounds), every so often being jumped by the obligatory zombie or mutant or whatever. Then, when you get to the boss, it becomes an endurance contest instead of a thrilling struggle. The tension, the anxiety, the fear of Resident Evil is long gone and instead, we’re left with an un-scary ghost of games past.
Although the design choices made along the way are often confusing, the game Umbrella Chronicles finally became isn’t the disaster it was seemingly destined to be. Lest we forget, Capcom has no strong record for quality Resident Evil side-stories, and a particularly bad reputation for lousy lightgun games - think Resident Evil Outbreak - so it’s a miracle the clearly micro-budgeted Umbrella Chronicles worked out as well as it did.
A slow start makes way for more intense action on later levels, and though it never feels like an all-out shooter or a true RE experience, it occasionally touches on both. When it does, it’s at its best. For any fan of the series, it’s a tour of a world you love with enough unlockables to keep you squeezing the trigger until the day you die, and a pile of plot sift through in every chapters. Chronicles is no shoot-’em-up, but it’s the best Resident Evil side-story since Code Veronica. And since that was 8 years ago, that’s lofty praise indeed.