Scientifically speaking, making heads explode is more fun when you can actually point at and shoot them yourself. Such is the logic behind the recent spate of Wii light-gun games, and when you come right down to it, it’s a pretty darn accurate set of thinking. As minor as it seems, something’s exciting about pointing a gun-like device, rather than using a mouse or gamepad. And, since the light-gun model means developers don’t need to program much in the way of A.I. or controls, these games can spend more resources on graphics and nifty aesthetics than your average shooter or action game. At least, that’s the theory.
In practice, it works… sort of. Some such games really take advantage of the Wii’s strengths, while others fall prey to its weaknesses, and still others find themselves in that ill-fated middle ground. Case in point: Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles. RE:DC retells the events of two popular Resident Evil titles, Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil: Code Veronica, switching between the two storylines at cliffhanger moments throughout the game. While gamers familiar with the series’ history will have great fun experiencing their favorite set-pieces from a different perspective, RE:DC doesn’t do a good job of exposition during gameplay — the lion’s share comes in slightly less-nebulous cut-scenes — so folks unfamiliar with what’s going on may have more than a few “what the hell?” moments.
That said, the pacing of the gameplay is perfect: exciting, but not overwhelming, with crescendos at just the right points, and sparks of dialogue highlighting the characters’ emotional states. The good news for series aficionados is that the writing and acting are just as corny and artificial as ever… which is probably bad news for folks who appreciate high production values. But what do they know about Resident Evil, right!? Apart from the overall aesthetic, though, a lot of the frenetic mood comes via the wobbly camera work, ala “Cloverfield.” While some gamers may appreciate the nod to modern POV horror movies, I think most will find that RE:DC takes this too far. At some moments, the camera jerks around, focuses on a set of enemies, hangs there for a couple of seconds, then immediately turns away. Not only is this jarring in a narrative sense, but it’s frustrating when it comes to gameplay, because players waste precious ammo on monsters that don’t need killing, receiving no indication that this is the case. The jerky camera also makes it tough to aim accurately while on the move. While I appreciate that a kinetic camera can do wonders for tone and excitement in a film, it does more harm than good in a game where accuracy is paramount.
Aside from the camera’s errantry, the game looks generally disappointing. While the cut-scenes are quite impressive given the Wii’s technical specifications, the actual in-game scenes look about as good as your average PS2 title might. In and of itself, this isn’t a bad thing — but given the recent aesthetic excellence of Resident Evil 5, it’s disappointing that RE:DC doesn’t even match the graphical pizzazz of Resident Evil 4 for the GameCube.
For all its graphical weaknesses, RE:DC successfully accomplishes the most important thing: the gameplay itself. Standing next to your buddy as you both do your best firing-range impression with the Wii Zapper is an absolute thrill, especially when you’re rattling off Resident Evil series jargon and one-liners as you play. While it doesn’t reach the perfect tone of, say, House of the Dead, RE:DC gets you as close to that arcade feeling as you’re likely to find on a home console. Add to that the series’ trademark upgradeable weapons and a few Ada Wong fan-service shots, and you’ve got yourself a bona fide contender for light-gun champeen.