March 21st, 2010
Rail shooters, being a coin-sucking genre from the arcade, have traditionally been cursed with limited playtime—it’s part of the reason why console ports of popular arcade rail shooters always get a bad wrap. Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles (just going to omit the ‘the’ from here on out), as a shooter, brings little additions to the standard formula (bar some neat tweaks and flourishes), what it does do, however, is address this long-standing issue of replayability. For reference/a general overview of this title, please refer to the video review below:
There are two facts which ought to first be distinguished. Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles is a game which features a large amount of content (22 separate levels, each lasting roughly 15-20 minutes) and invites players to replay its large selection of levels. The former point speaks for itself itself (more content equal longer play time) and although it’s unprecedented for this type of game, it’s a point which isn’t of interest for this discussion. What’s of greater interest is the way in which Umbrella Chronicles maximises replayability by selling itself to different types of players. In a sense, Cavia (the developers) are attempting to solicit extended play time from players, and this is how they do it.
NB: Assigning a type of gamer to a respective heading just adds a nice touch. Of course, I’m talking in generalities, there is overlap.
Player Type: The Perfectionist
On competition of each level your performance is graded on five different factors: clear time, number of enemies killed, number of critical hits, number of objects destroyed and the number of files obtained. Ranking systems such as this always prey on perfectionist tendencies, particularly in a twitch-based genre such as the rail shooter.
Sorry for the Japanese.
What I really like about the grading system is the individuality of each ranking variable. The tally, as a combination of factors, doesn’t entirely hinge on the player’s reflexes or shooting consistency (as with many games of this nature) and in turn opens itself up to being rather inclusive. The ‘files obtained’ variable is fixed on multiple play throughs (ie. once you’ve gathered a file at any stage, it will add to your ranking, you don’t need to find it again on subsequent play throughs) and along with the ‘objects destroyed’ variable (which is pretty easy to score well on) loosens the rigidness considerably. These variables act as bait, so that when a player does the rail shooter part well, and is graded respectively, their overall rank is pulled up, encouraging them to consider going for another round. You’re more likely to find new hidden files on repeated play throughs, so even if you don’t do so well, you’re rank is still likely to increase some, again, acting as motivation. So, in this regard, the grading system serves both perfectionists and normal players, inviting them to better their high score.
Player Type: The Resident Evil Fan
Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles is basically one big fangasm, so it’s unsurprising then that one of these points would be dedicated to the fan children. The hidden files, strewn behind destructible objects in each level, provide insight into the characters behind the events of the four main chapters—a damn compelling reason for fans to replay completed levels. Sadly, most of the archives contain previous material ripped straight from the original games themselves (the journal entries and so forth), however, all bits of information pertaining to the final chapter, Umbrella’s End, are entirely new. So although the rewards are a little gimped, the most significant files are those which are the most difficult to obtain. In anycase, completing the archive (quite a momentous task), is quite the feat, one that should satisfy fans and completists alike.
Player Type: The Completist
Your ranking at the end of each level gives you stars which you can then spend to power up your weapons. I guess this serves the completist audience most, however, any type of player can benefit from improved weapons. Improved weapons assist with score board chasing and provide more ammo for random environment blasting in pursuit of hidden files. Since my 22hrs of play time didn’t reward me with enough stars to upgrade even half the weapons cache, I figure that only a completist would replay levels to max out all of the available weapons, making it the most likely candidate.
Player Type: The Tourist
Alternative paths are a genre staple and depending on how they’re handled can multiply play time significantly, ideal for tourist players who prefer to see all the locations on offer. The traditional method of divergent paths is to simply present two options, encouraging the player to replay in order to experience the path which went previously unselected. Other games are much more elaborate, House of the Dead II, for instance, is famous for its organic path system where the player’s route through each level is skill-dependent, allowing for a myriad of pathways which open and close depending of whether the player meets certain conditions. Umbrella Chronicles plays is pretty safe, going down the traditional route. In the final chapter though, there are sequences in a maze-like laboratory where many options are presented. Fortunately each route is quite substantial and makes at least a repeated play worthwhile.
Player Type: Multi-player
Explains itself really, cooperative multiplayer invites players to approach the content with two angles: with a friend or by oneself.
Cavia succeed on two fronts, the first of which is to offer a generous amount of content, the second is to farm that content for as much as its worth. The second option is the more intelligent one, in regards to development efforts, it takes much less effort for developers to convince the player to replay stages than it is to create all new ones. Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles is therefore quite intelligently designed to address this issue which has plagued the genre for many years, in turn establishing a new identity for the console rail shooter.