There’s quite the wave of nostalgia surrounding Resident Evil at the moment. It’s the series’ 20th anniversary and we’ve been seeing a distilled version of the timeline this year with the games that are currently coming from it. You have your remasters (Resi 0,4,5 and 6), an enticing teaser demo for the next installment that evokes fond memories of what sparked the series into life, and you have a spinoff that uses the name and locations pluckled from the Resident Evil universe in the shape of the squad-based shooter, Umbrella Corps.
Capcom’s latest offering brings to mind one of Resident Evil’s lowest points outside RE: Apocalypse’s depiction of the cold and menacing killing machine from Resident Evil 3: Nemesis as a blubbering, touchy-feely crybaby who sees the error of his ways. That gaming lowpoint for the series is in fact Operation Raccoon City, a festering puddle of rot that played fast and loose with the Resi brand, appearing to be more of a discount store knockoff than a fine non-canon addition to the rich, daft, and often shite, tapestry of Resident Evil. The fear is that all the recent goodwill garnered from that Resident Evil 7 announcement could be knocked into a cocked hat if Umbrella Corps dares repeat that notorious day in gaming history.
Well, Umbrella Corps tries very hard to fight for the title of worst Resi-based game, even if it does ditch the Resident Evil title itself. Before we head into a writhing mass of issues, it’s best to see what you’ll be getting yourself into should you dare.
The meat of Umbrella Corps is based in 3v3 online deathmatches. These rival tactical teams are jet-setting around some of the key locations from the core series (as well as some far less key, and far less enthralling ones). You want to duke it out in Resident Evil 2’s police station or Resi 4’s Spanish village? Go nuts! Just don’t expect anything close to the tension and adrenaline-pumping action of those games.
Any hope you may have had for spruced up recreations of classic locales are dashed against the rocks of disappointment. Umbrella Corps is a poor looking game. You could argue that it’s technically a budget release and made in the Unity engine, but Revelations 2 was cheap yet solid-looking, and lesser known development teams have got much better results out of Unity. Menu’s are badly-placed and animation is stilted The short of it is that this should have been better-presented. Probably the worst offense here is the camera.
You view the action from one of the oddest camera angles going. Not quite first-person, not quite third-person, instead you view it from the Perspective of a gremlin hanging off your soldier’s back. It takes up far too much of the screen and is a massive hindrance to your ability to spot threats. If there was some help from the audio then it wouldn’t be such an issue, but there’s no cues as to what you cannot see. A big part of Resident Evil’s legacy is using sound to let you understand a threat is beat, yet still not give away exactly where. Here it feels like that idea was started and ditched before they finished. While we’re at it, the overbearing cover system is as useful as suntan lotion in a British Summer. You end up avoiding using it entirely after a while because it puts you more at a disadvantage than not being in cover at all thanks to its clunky, treacly transition animation.
You get a selection of guns n’ grenades to swap in and out so it’d be great if they were really useful tools. Bad enough that they have little in the way of impact, with zombies taking shotgun blasts like a gentle push, but the fact they are all eclipsed by the Brainer melee weapon. This extraordinarily malicious-looking pickaxe takes enemies down with ease, and if you charge it, you can obliterate small groups in one hot, visceral swing. Its one drawback is the animation for it needs to finish before you can move again, leaving you exposed momentarily. Otherwise it’s pretty overpowered, and much like the guns, it appears to have about as much weight and impact as a comically-sized inflatable hammer.
Online battles swiftly degrade to six people swinging the Brainer about while you dream about all the ways Capcom could have made A) a better Resi spinoff, and B) a better Counter Strike clone. If Umbrella Corps isn’t being frustrating, then it’s sucking the joy out of your life with its utter banality. It’s so very rare to find something exciting about Umbrella Corps. It makes such a wasteful use of its source content, something even Operation Raccoon City couldn’t be accused of.
Playing on your own in a mode called ‘The Experiment’ isn’t much better, even if it does at least force you to be more measured in your approach and actually use all the weapons, as you essentially just try to survive an ever-increasing wave of shuffling goons and grab enough of their juicy DNA slop to get to the next stage. It’s infinitely more tactical than the online component, but there is little in the way of dishwater out there quite as dull as The Experiment.
So, is there anything else of value? Well, customization of your military grunt is there, and while not outstanding by any measure, it does give you some fun things to fiddle with on a cosmetic level. Shame the best stuff is reserved for a separate DLC pack though.
If Umbrella Corps was a free-to-play title, it’d probably be a mildly inoffensive novelty, but it’s not. It’s a costly mess of confused messaging that adds almost nothing (bar a ‘shocking’ revelation about an established character that’s about as shocking as the Scottish Premier League table) to the Resident Evil universe. The game’s lack of quality is almost dwarfed by how utterly pointless it is.