Umbrella Corps review
There was one question I kept asking myself as I played through Umbrella Corps -- who is this game for? Who makes up the target audience, and in what ways are they being catered to?
The obvious answer would be that it’s aimed at Resident Evil fans, who are legion -- the series has, after all, accomplished a great deal over the last 20 years. In 1996 it redefined survival horror, in 1998 (some would argue) it perfected its own formula. In 2005, Resident Evil 4 changed the way we all looked at action and horror games, and next year RE7 seems set to frighten us in all new ways again.
In-between the game-changers and excellent riffs on the RE formula we’ve had several weird light-gun games of varying quality, odd online spin-offs, the misguided shooter Operation Raccoon City, Game Boy curio Resident Evil Gaiden, five terrible movies (soon to be six), and the bloated Resident Evil 6. Each game, regardless of quality, has fit into the series somehow or another.
But Umbrella Corps, which has dropped ‘Resident Evil’ from its title, doesn’t make the same efforts that the other bad Resident Evil games make to at least scratch an itch. It doesn’t feel like Resident Evil at all. It’s Resident Evil flavored, perhaps, in the same way a glass of milk with some weird pink goop mixed in can be called strawberry flavored. It’s a game that even the most hardcore Resident Evil fan would struggle to argue is relevant to the larger series in any meaningful way.
Umbrella Corps, which was developed in Unity and feels more like the remaster of a free-to-play mobile game than a $30 release should, is an online 3-on-3 third person shooter. Beyond the levels it features, the presence of zombies and the vague details of its backstory, it bears no resemblance to any prior Resident Evil releases. It’s a thin game, with only seven maps, two playlists and a zombie-slaying single-player portion that is so half-assed that it’s barely worth mentioning at all (it’s telling that, when I checked a few days after release, no one had the trophy for finishing it). It’s ugly, poorly animated with a cheap aesthetic, and never feels like a proper entry in the renowned series.
The playlists are split between single-life matches, in which death is permanent, and a catch-all ‘multi-mission’ playlist that alternates between several of the other, non-deathmatch modes you usually see in these sorts of games (defend the point, grab all the briefcases, kill the specified enemy target, that sort of thing). It’s a smart move, but also one that highlights the game’s inevitable longevity issues -- Capcom has presupposed that, were they to offer a variety of playlists, none of them would attract enough players to survive. This is probably true, but it means that whether or not you’ll get to play one of the more interesting modes when you jump in is entirely pot-luck.
As a shooter, Umbrella Corps is more serviceable than expected. Characters move fast and fire accurately from the hip, and you can use iron sights for further accuracy. The cover system is fiddly to the point of aggravation, often not letting you stick to surfaces that look like perfectly fine cover, but otherwise the controls feel good…there’s just not many interesting things to do with them.
There’s little in the way of weapon variety, and while some of the maps are lifted from some great moments in Resident Evil history (the village from RE4 is fun to revisit) none of them are particularly exciting or innovative.
Umbrella Corps’ biggest crime is that it fills its levels with zombies and then does just enough with them to make you realize that the game could have been interesting if it wasn’t focused in the absolute wrong direction. Every Umbrella operative has a ‘zombie jammer’ on their back, which stops zombies from attacking them -- tech that surely renders the whole series obsolete, but there you go. If an opponent manages to shoot your zombie jammer, but not kill you, suddenly the level’s zombies become hostile towards you. Taking out a jammer and retreating to let the zombies do your job for you is pretty satisfying, but it’s mystifying that the zombies are, otherwise, mostly decorative, and there’s very little room to use them strategically.
There are two modes in ‘multi-mission’ that actually take advantage of the zombies scattered around, tasking you with taking down either several zombies or specific monsters on the map before the other team can -- and collecting their DNA. The game isn’t quite mechanically diverse enough to really do this idea justice, but these modes are certainly more interesting than the others, giving the zombie masses (which mostly shuffle around, clipping through objects and defying physics) a sense of purpose that is otherwise missing.
Umbrella Corps’ modest moments of enjoyment might prompt some players to damn it with the faint praise that comes when a game exceeds extremely low expectations. In truth, there are moments of genuine fun to be had, but that’s not so much because the game is well-designed, more because winning is inherently enjoyable. With the right competitive mindset, even the worst online game can give you moments of pleasure -- but why would you play the worst when there are so many other options?
Going back to that question I opened with, after plugging several hours into Umbrella Corps I still can’t figure out who it’s for, nor why it needs to exist. It’s a curio, a fundamentally bad idea seemingly put together on a shoestring budget. This is a game that is unlikely to matter to anyone, and will, at best, be a perplexed footnote in future discussions on Resident Evil’s long and varied history.