'Damn you, Capcom.'
'Damn you to hell.'
Those were my thoughts last week at the initial unveiling of Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles. These thoughts spanned two reasons over two separate spaces of time.
The first was when the game was shown not to be a full blown third-person action title that existed within the same genre as the main RE series to date. After hinting around the title for so long, it was generally expected that Umbrella Chronicles would end up using the perfectly good Resident Evil 4 engine and wow us all with a new adventure utilising Wii's control possibilities and expanded power.
Instead, we were shown a pointer-driven game. On rails, no less.
Umbrella Chronicles, at heart, is a light-gun game – albeit, with slightly different mechanics (Wii's remote acts more like a mouse pointer rather than a light-gun, however the results are close enough). You could hear the strains of disappointment ripple around the gaming world. Swiftly followed by typically over-inflated forum outrage. This wasn’t Resident Evil. This was bloody Gun Survivor: Wii Edition.
Damn you, Capcom.
Of course, this was being terribly unfair. While the Gun Survivor titles were patchy through their mixture of development teams (most of which were NOT Capcom driven), Umbrella Chronicles is not only being handled by a respected in-house line-up, but also exists solidly within the mainstream RE universe, aiming to give us a peek into the supposed end of sinister corporation, Umbrella; both factors the offshoot Gun Survivor series mostly lacked. Not only that, but UC offers the opportunity to travel across numerous locations seen in the prior RE games, all fully modelled in 3D and likely to give fans a feeling of familiarity to bypass some disappointment held over from the genre switch. And as reports come in from people who have actually played Umbrella Chronicles, it turns out there's a large degree of promise in what at first appeared to be merely House of the Dead: Resident Evil Edition.
So, there went any vitriol I was originally going to expend in this column, leading me to say, for the second time in the week:
"Damn you, Capcom."
It still feels a little like a missed opportunity given how ripe the RE4 engine was for a sequel. That much I maintain. But if Capcom follows through with its promise of around 20 hours of gameplay (games of this type are very arcade driven and usually have no more than about 5-7 hours tops), clever use of quick-time events, destructible scenery and -hopefully- a two-player mode, then Umbrella Chronicles could turn out to be something special, especially in a mostly underused genre outside the arcades. And any House of the Dead comparisons will quickly fade given the game will be exploring locales from other Resident Evil titles, which are far more diverse and expansive than just a spooky old mansion. The game even looks exceptionally pretty, to boot.
Even so, if there's one thing that remains throughout all this, it's that Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles smells suspiciously like Capcom (along with many other third-parties) is still suffering the fallout of underestimating just how popular Wii was going to be. While UC won't be a quickly developed title, it's fair to say it would clearly take less time than creating a whole new third-person RE instalment, even using the RE4 engine. It's almost like the company didn’t quite subscribe to committing a large team into making a full blown sequel when the infinitely more expensive and protracted Resident Evil 5 is already making its way to Xbox 360 and PlayStation3 in 2008. Instead, what we have is a slightly two-tier audience test via UC and the recently unveiled Wii version of Resident Evil 4, the latter of which is a fairly large indication of Capcom being caught with its pants stranded around its ankles. Not only that, but the clear money spinner that is re-releasing RE4 with Wii controls would have potentially eaten into sales of UC (and vice versa) had the games been based off the same engine and created in an inevitably similar style. At least this way Capcom now gets to see what Wii's audience likes, and make easy money off relatively swift development cycles while testing the water for future games.
Excited as I am to experience RE4 with motion controls, it will be very interesting to see how well implemented they are. As witnessed with Ubisoft's rather mixed efforts, it's not just a case of slapping motion sensitive abilities into an existing game and watching the title prosper; there has to be more thought than that for it to truly work. The Godfather: Blackhand Edition is a prime example of how to do it. FarCry Vengeance isn’t. If Capcom ruins what could ultimately be the definitive version of one of the best games ever created, then you can imagine the uproar. The Wii version of RE4, at budget price, has the potential to be so damn good that even people like me -a person who despises 'double dip' purchases with all his gin-soaked heart- can't fail to be tempted in re-buying.
However, despite all my ire, I can't begrudge Capcom for taking this route with one of its most successful games. And the reality is we're going to see a lot more of this type of conversion during Wii's first couple years. Both a good, bad and predictable thing. Some will say "well, it goes to show how underpowered Wii is given it's using older titles to live off", but it's more a case of seeing the puppet strings of first wave game development more visibly. The opening band of software for any new machine is often flooded with older titles that have been remade to take advantage of newer technology, games that are essentially prettier versions of the same old thing. It's only natural in the lifespan and development cycle of a company and machine, especially as titles become more expensive to create. Wii's constant unearthing of older, established games thrown into a blender with Wii-mote controls is just a variation of that. Given the major lack of power difference between Wii and its prior generation and the large difference in control method, developers are going to rely on this tactic a little more obviously than before. As such, my personal expectations are adjusted to suit that; after all, you're reading the words of a guy who sold his GameCube copy of F-Zero GX because he fully expects Nintendo and Sega to remap it with Wii controls somewhere down the line.
Of course, Twilight Princess was the first of this strategy to really experience the charms and worries of being remade for Wii from a relatively early stage prior to release, but it's expected other high profile titles will eventually follow, being subject to a Wii-mash-up. Possibly the Metroid Prime games. Even the fairly maligned Star Fox: Assault could be made more palatable with Wii remote additions. It's a very easy way to make the most of prior assets for maximum profits. And if it's relatively well done, it's worth a throw. Slamming heads off tombstones and walls using my own arm actions in The Godfather has made me mightily forgiving over companies taking advantage of this adjustment period.
But don’t be fooled – that's exactly what it should be; an adjustment period. Anything beyond that is dangerously close to being somewhat lazy and gaining cheap benefit off your audience, something that gamers will eventually start to tire from given how expensive videogames are compared to other mediums that overuse this cynical double-dipping nonsense.
In the meantime, though, it costs nothing to be slightly optimistic. Because even with the disappointment of not getting another 'true' Resident Evil game, it's apparent that should Wii's RE4 remake gather impressive sales then it's fair to expect another RE title down the line that makes use of Capcom's development assets and finally gives us what we thought Umbrella Chronicles was going to be in the first place; a third-person survival horror action title. Conversely, if UC does well, if not better than its stable-mate, then we're just as likely to get sequels to that. Both Wii titles could easily spawn follow-ups that survive independently of each other, given the development teams are separate. It's worth remembering that the Gun Survivor style games ran alongside the mainstream Resident Evil series easily enough on PS One and PS2.
Although even with that all said and done, it's quite possible that we'll just end up with remakes of the older Resident Evil titles with full 3D environments and Wii-mote controls instead, just to save time. This is 'cash cow bleeder Capcom' after all.
Sigh. Third time's a charm.
Damn you, Capcom.
Damn you to hell.