The Resident Evil franchise has gone some…er, interesting places in the past few years. Back in the day it was a great example of how games could integrate horror and become truly frightening experiences. Today, that crown belongs largely to indie games and to tech-demo-that-was-not-to-be PT, while Resident Evil’s become more of a b-movie schlock series. If you’re in the right mood for it that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but games like Resident Evil 6, Operation Raccoon City and now Umbrella Corps aren’t going to bring the series back to mainstream popularity anytime soon.
Umbrella Corps, if you haven’t heard, is essentially the next coming of the aforementioned Operation Raccoon City. The concept doesn’t seem too bad at first: take the classic Resident Evil setting and inject some action into the mix. It worked for Resident Evil 4, right? Make it multiplayer and maybe you’ve got a hit on your hands…or maybe you don’t, as Operation Raccoon City’s disastrous reception showed us. Why Capcom decided to try again is beyond me, but here we are.
You’re cast as a mercenary trying to salvage valuable goodies from the ruins of the defunct Umbrella Corporation. In theory that’s a pretty cool idea, and you’ve got some cool gear to help you out – guns, a pick-axe thing for braining zombies and a backpack that makes you invisible to the undead.In practice, you’ll be sent to various iconic Resident Evil locations to take on various missions, ideally with a couple of friends. If you can’t talk any friends into picking this one up, you’re stuck with a single-player mode called The Experiment that’s not really worth the time to mess with; it’s essentially tiny chunks of the multiplayer mode pre-packaged for your enjoyment.
So let’s assume you aren’t playing The Experiment and instead you’ve managed to get into an online match – something that’s easier said than done these days, as the game hasn’t really caught on. You’ve got two modes: Multi-Mission and One Life Match. The latter is a standard deathmatch where players are eliminated after being killed once. That’s pretty common for shooters, but despite the game’s array of weapons and customization options, Umbrella Corps’ time-to-kill is universally low and everyone’s equipped with one-hit-kill melee weapons on top of that. Being killed once probably won’t take long. Tricks like shooting the enemies’ anti-zombie gear to lure the undead to them are closer to cool ideas than workable strategies. You’ll probably become well acquainted with spectating.
Meanwhile, Multi-Mission is essentially every other alternate game mode mixed up into one, varying from a typical respawn-enabled team deathmatch to having to hunt down zombies for DNA. The quality of these modes varies, and unfortunately it’s not like you can pick just one to play; the game is going to pick for you and you’re going to enjoy it, damn it! Again, this is a low-TTK game, so it’s just as easy to murder the other team (or be murdered) to keep them out of the way of the objective. It’s a nice idea, but being unable to play entirely your way hurts a bit.
All of this is slapped on top of one of the goofier gameplay experiences I’ve seen in action. Characters zoom around the battlefield at high speed, even while prone, perhaps stopping to do some neurosurgery on another player with that pick-axe. Bullets lack any sense of impact, even when you’re blasting the zombies roaming around the maps. Everything feels more than a little janky, probably about on par with Operation Raccoon City. One example is that while there’s a cover system, it only applies to particular parts of the scenery, so you’d better hope a magic wall or box is nearby when the bullets start flying. At least the environments are cool to check out, particularly if you’re an old-school Resident Evil fan.
Let’s be honest here: this is a post-Overwatch world. If you want a cooperative shooter that encourages tactics and team play, you should probably be playing that, and if you want horror, you should probably wait for the PT-inspired Resident Evil 7: biohazard. To be honest, even if Overwatch somehow ceased to exist tomorrow, we’ve also got Battlefield, Call of Duty and even an upcoming Gears of War sequel. Umbrella Corps, unfortunately, can’t run with the big dogs. Games that focus on online play need to be able to do that or they’re going to die, as the game’s deserted servers would attest, and a dead game is hardly worth a purchase.