Following in the footsteps of the astonishing Resident Evil 4 on GameCube and the recent special edition on Wii, Umbrella Chronicles was always going to have a hard time persuading Resi fans that it would be a worthy successor.
Being a linear shooter designed for the Wii remote, it's more of a followup to the Gun Survivor and Dead Aim titles than the Resi 5 we were all hoping for. It's set in locations from the first three games in the series, and the E3 demo took in a bit of the mansion from the original Resi as well as the gloomy streets of the sequel's Raccoon City.
If you were hoping for something innovative from Resi's first exclusive outing on Wii you'll have to revise your expectations, because Umbrella Chronicles is a back-to-basics game. That's necessarily a bad thing, but there's nothing in the E3 demo that couldn't be done comfortably on any other console with a standard controller configuration.
The gameplay is essentially on rails, with your character dragged along on a guided tour of the world while zombies attack from all sides. The nunchuk's analogue stick can be used to shift the camera view, while the remote controls a large cursor and fires bullets using the B button. A handy gauge around the edge of the cursor shows when it's time to reload, at which point flicking the remote away from the screen will change the magazine.
Ammo is the limiting factor in your ability to keep the undead at bay, but searching the scenery and smashing bits of furniture reveals hidden supplies for the inventory of assorted weaponry.
Although the E3 version was demonstrated in tandem with Nintendo's new Zapper cradle, there's clearly some work left to be done before the game feels right either with or without the peripheral.
It's just a gun game, of course, so we certainly aren't upset with it for not being Resi 5, but there's no denying the gunplay feels far less convincing than we'd have liked.
For various reasons, including the zapper's muffling of the remote's weak rumble and a lack of visual feedback when shooting the zombies, it doesn't give the impression that you're wielding a deadly weapon. Compared to the physicality of Resi 4, it's as though you're moving a cursor around the screen and clicking on a target until the game makes a seemingly arbitrary decision that your zombie foe has had enough. Which is essentially what it is.
It's possible to target different parts of a zombie's body but they don't react like they do in Resi 4. It's inconsistent - most hits produce no reaction at all, despite counting towards the zombie's eventual demise, but some shots that appear to land in exactly the same area will only make the enemy stagger backwards a little.
While a knee shot will usually drop a zombie for a few seconds, there's no urgency because they don't always go for your throat when they get up. Maybe the E3 demo was easy to allow people to finish it and move on quickly, but the sight of multiple zombies swaying slightly and scowling as they waited to absorb the requisite number of bullets inspired little optimism for the finished product.
As with targeting any particular body area, head shots are unpredictable at best. Sometimes it's an instant kill, sometimes it requires several hits. Perhaps there's a random element to compensate for the simplicity of lining up precise shots with the remote compared to the skill needed to operate a light gun, but to have such inconsistency in a game that features nothing but shooting is disappointing. We hope Umbrella Chronicles gets its act together before long, because if it can match the satisfying quality of Resi 4's shooting then it'll be worth playing.
It's one of the better looking Wii games, with detailed 3D locations that look as good as the pre-rendered backdrops from the Resi remake on GameCube. The chance to experience familiar scenes from a new perspective is an opportunity any true Resi fan wouldn't willingly pass up, and a profusion of boss battles from across the series should make for an enticingly hefty challenge. Capcom's official estimate is for up to 20 hours of playing time - a huge amount. The likes of Virtua Cop and House of the Dead, which are the closest to Umbrella Chronicles in terms of gameplay, have nowhere near as much meat on their bones. But there are still problems to fix before we can look forward to that time with confidence.
Issue 14 of NGamer out Wednesday August 15.
Right now, standing still in the middle of Resi 4's village and shooting enemies makes for a better gun game than this.