Umbrella Corps is the Resident Evil franchise’s counterbalance to RE7‘s heavy focus on fear and survival for this year. A third-person tactical shooter, Umbrella Corps is primarily a multiplayer-focused title, scratching the avid shooter’s itch for gunplay and action in a Resident Evil setting with zombies, familiar locations and more. However, having played several hours of the game since its recent launch, its close-quarter-combat design can certainly be described as an acquired taste, and the numerous times the game proves to be enjoyable are more or less matched in number by the technical barriers that damage the experience.
Players who boot up Umbrella Corps will be greeted with two main options – Multiplayer or “The Experiment”. The latter of the two is the game’s answer to a single-player experience, a series of missions that pit the player, an Umbrella Corps recruit in training, against a horde of zombies and BOWs with various objectives to complete. Whilst not a particularly complex or developed single-player mode, The Experiment can be a simple yet fun way to pass a few minutes or as a break from the multiplayer aspect. It does possess a certain tension as it can become very challenging with zombies quick to overrun you if you’re not careful. With this in mind, however, it could be a lot better, first and foremost in terms of spirit. Functionally, it does the job, but it fails to make use of the options it has available to it, and ends up feeling like a faceless set of missions that could make the player feel much more like an elite top-level operative.
On the multiplayer front, credit should be given to the developers for offering both casual and ranked playlists at launch. This is something many games miss nowadays and is absolutely critical to competitively-aimed shooters of this variety. Each of these playlists offers the same two modes – a standard multi-round one-life deathmatch mode, and one called “Multi-Mission” which sets a new objective each round varying between deathmatch, KotH, briefcase collection and more. Compared to some launch playlists of today, it doesn’t sound like an awful lot, but it surprisingly doesn’t feel like a big deal when you play, at least for now. New gametypes must be and undoubtedly will be added in due course, but for now, it’s not much of a problem. In addition to the three enemy players, every map is filled with zombies and other BOWs, who for the most part remain irrelevant thanks to the “zombie jammer” on the backs of every player. However, these jammers are very easy to damage with gunfire, and I can personally attest to the involuntary sly grins that appear on players’ faces as they think they’ve lost a gunfight, only to realise they hit the others’ zombie jammer and find they’ve been overrun and devoured by the undead horde.
When all goes smoothly, the multiplayer matches themselves can actually be rather fun to the right audience. I remember hearing & agreeing with in gameranx‘s recent “Before You Buy” video, I certainly think that somewhere out there a fanbase exists for this game, it just needs to be reinforced with functionality and content updates to flourish and for that fanbase to emerge. Why functional updates? Sadly, for every nail-bitingly close elimination match, there have been equal measures of slow or even non-existent matchmaking. For every rather unnecessary fist-pump of joy after an incredible kill, I’ve encountered lag of the kind I haven’t seen in years. Similar to RE spin-off Operation Raccoon City, the game itself isn’t ground-breaking, but it can be good fun, if it weren’t for the weak connectivity and gameplay glitches/delays. Sometimes an elimination match can be incredibly tense, exactly what players of the game are looking for, only to be pulled out of the experience as somebody starts lag-teleporting across the map for a few seconds followed by a death screen.
It must be said, however, that despite the many matches that have worked smoothly and have been a great deal of fun to play, the design of the game itself does also offer moments of true frustration beyond any glitches that occur. Not the largest issue, but certainly not insignificant, there have been a good few times where I have spawned no more than a few metres ahead of an enemy, only to step in front of a doorway and be cut to pieces by gunfire. This can be solved by a simple balancing/spawn patch, but not before the Brainer gets a whole heap of nerfing. The Brainer is UC‘s melee weapon, a great big axe designed to penetrate the skull and kill in one hit, which it does to great success. The trouble is, that’s not all it does. Its one-hit-kill ability is complemented with increased movement speed and an incendiary charge ability which allows it to do even greater damage when the one-hit doesn’t quite hit the spot. I must say I haven’t come across this as much as others have reported to have done, but it isn’t uncommon to find players using this weapon more than you may expect, which in a tactical shooter is not entirely the idea.
It should be mentioned that, over the course of the few days I’ve had with the game, I have noticed significant improvements to connection stability at the very least, and perhaps signs that some of the gameplay hitches are starting to iron out. I did reach out to Capcom early on to raise my concerns, and have been reassured that feedback is being coordinated and acted upon as appropriate, so fingers crossed these issues may be significantly less in the near future.
Map design is reasonably good with a nice variety of layouts, fan-servicing visual designs and verticality, but they do have a tandency to get rather cramped. I suspect this was part of the plan, but some combat zones can get very claustrophobic which weakens gunplay and encourages yet further use of the Brainer. That being said, whilst it may have been accidental, these extremely close-quarters environments have actually enabled some of the most exciting and frantic encounters I have had so far in the game.
Perhaps the best developed element of the game is its customisation suite. Players can choose from a generous range of armour pieces and sets, and decorate them with an even greater selection of patches and decals – all of which can be sized and layered to the players’ content. As a big fan of customisation, being able to play around with the colours of every gun and armor piece and stick some very cool decals on top has been surprisingly satisfying. Alongside the cosmetic options, there are plenty of loadout slots so players can build weapon loadouts to suit every situation possible. Players who are able to look past the technological hitches and persevere will very much enjoy the reasonably good pacing of weapon and gear unlocks.
TL;DR – Umbrella Corps is probably not worth the $29.99, but the more diehard Resident Evil fans might just be able to feel they’ve got their money’s worth out of the experience. It has a glint of something that, whilst not ground-breaking, could be an enjoyable change in gameplay for RE fans. If I were reviewing this game again in a future say, three weeks from now, where 80% off the issues I’ve mentioned have been ironed out, I’d probably say it’s worth picking up if the genre is for you. It’s got the visual identity of the RE universe but is certainly a different beast to any other title in the series. It’s not the best attempt to offer something new, but it could have been a lot worse, and I can’t deny that I’ve had my share of fun with the title, so maybe it’s worth a try after all.