Very few of Capcom's seminal horror titles can be described as true resident evils. Resi games are, on the whole, bloody brilliant. There is, however, an exception - Gun Survivor, a twisted action adventure/light gun hybrid, initially seen in arcades, that's as deserving of a bullet to the head as any of the zombies contained within. It took the light gun game off the rails - and went off the rails in the process. Enter Umbrella Chronicles, on the rails and proud of it.
The alluring premise of UC is the promise that we will "witness the fall of Umbrella", arch-fiends behind the whole sticky mess in the Resi-universe. Long-term followers of the series were surprised to boot up RE4 and hear the news that the long-term antagonists had been shut down in a lawsuit - hardly a dramatic ending befitting the cruel minds behind the T-Virus. UC seeks to rectify this by casting you in scenarios from Evils Zero through to 3 in an attempt to reveal the truth of the downfall.
Finger lickin' good
And so it is that we find ourselves in Chris Redfield's shoes in the sort-of-familiar Spencer Mansion of the original RE1. We say sort-of-familiar as you now view it from a first-person perspective and gone are the door animations, revealing the true flow of one room into another. Propelled along the rails, you're faced with a constant barrage of zombies to be blasted with the remote-aimed reticule.
The combat feels distinctly un-light-gun-ish. The mansion responds to every bullet fired. Lead tears into the rotten woodwork, knocks paintings to the ground and shatters the dusty historical artefacts that litter the house of horrors. In terms of environmental damage it feels more like an FPS, far from the simple turkey shoots of Time Crisis et al. The thrill of shooting up environments previously known to us as pre-rendered backgrounds in the GC RE remake is a real treat.
Combat isn't a simple case of emptying your clip randomly into zombies; head shots result in a viscera fountain and an instant takedown, while arm and leg shots result in similarly bloody waterworks. Unlike average light gun offerings, accuracy and patience are rewarded more than speed of shooting. The longer you hold the reticule over a zombie, the tighter the aim grows, guaranteeing head shots in exchange for letting the undead amble in pant-wettingly terrifying proximity.
Weapon choice also plays an important role, with D-pad taps swapping from the unlimited ammo of the handgun to the stingier shotgun and machine gun. Shotguns take huge chunks out of the scenery, doing as much damage to the interior decorators' handiwork as to rotting brain matter. Machineguns allow the finger to squeeze the B button for a stream of bullets, perfect for more hectic encounters.
Boot 'em up
Enemy gets too close? Holster the gun and unholster your boot. Self defence events are clearly nabbed from Resi 4 - with a timed press of the A button sending Chris' boot firmly into the shuffling cadaver's stomach, all viewed from a third-person perspective. Similar defensive button presses play out during cutscenes, such as that old favourite the-bit-where-the-dog-jumps-through-that-window. You know it so well, yet it still scares the life out of you.
The fear factor is surprisingly high considering UC's adrenaline pumping action bent. The forward-moving nature of the genre makes for a relentless pace and, as in Killer 7, knowing you can't actually leg it makes it that much more tense. Even this early on Umbrella Chronicles looks like a winner, and if it doesn't continue to impress we'll eat our hats or, in the Resident Evil way, Matthew.