Rail shooters have it pretty tough. It’s hard to get the player to feel immersed in your universe when you strap his virtual feet to roller skates and force him to move at your discretion. The Resident Evil franchise has dabbled with the format a few times already, most recently with The Umbrella Chronicles, but its the upcoming Darkside Chronicles that’s really got a chance to make the rail shooter into an immersive, scary experience.
Darkside, exclusively for the Wii, fills in blanks and explains events that took place during Resident Evil 2 and Code Veronica, so you’ll see plenty of familiar characters and locations as you shoot your way through the game. I played through two different levels; in one, Claire was partnered with Leon, in the other she was stuck with whiny toolbag Steve. You can play either solo, with AI taking up your partner’s gun, or get a friend to watch your back. I played one level solo and the other with a human, and as you might expect, it’s way more fun to play with people.
The game is a rails shooter, but you’ll forget that pretty quickly once you start playing. Your movement still isn’t under your control, but the in-game camera moves so quickly, looking here, glancing there, reacting to the what-the-hell-was-that-sound over there, that you feel fully immersed in your character.
The fast-moving camera not only increases the tension, it ups the challenge of Darkside, too. You pick up items like green herbs and ammo by targeting it with your reticle and hitting the A button, but you may only see an item for a split second as you glance around the room. You and your partner share items, so it doesn’t matter who picks up what. You can access your joint inventory and decide who needs the herb more, or trade weapons with your pal. You can also assign favorite weapons to the Wii Remote’s d-pad so that you can swap them on the fly.
Darkside Chronicles may not look quite as good as Resident Evil 5, but it’s certainly one of the best-looking Wii games out there. The characters looked fantastic, and the zombies were their familiar, rotting, terrifying selves.
I couldn’t hear any of the dialog, unfortunately, but Darkside Chronicles seemed like it fit snugly into Resident Evil canon, not like some random spinoff that borrowed a few key names and images. The fact that it took away virtually every choice that I had except what to fire and when, yet still managed to create a tense and intriguing experience, impressed me all the more. I’ll be looking forward to seeing more of Darkside when it comes out this winter.