Unless you've spent a considerable amount of your time living under a rock, you might have noticed Capcom's prominent focus on their Resident Evil franchise these past six months. Pretty much every game in the series has been or is being remastered, the promising Resident Evil 7: Biohazard was announced at E3 (accompanied by a great teaser demo), and it's clear that the developer has deemed 2016 to be the year of the zombie. It's a bold move considering the lukewarm reception the past couple of games in the series have received, where fans have been more and more disappointed by the more action oriented nature of the later games. It seems Capcom has listened to the frustrations of the community when it comes to Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, which should return to the iconic survival horror roots of the franchise, but in spite of this the company has still gone ahead and released Umbrella Corps, a Resident Evil game that removes every element of horror in favour of pure multiplayer action.
This isn't Capcom's first foray into multiplayer gaming in the Resi-verse, which the highly underwhelming Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City from 2012 can attest to. It was already clear back then that the genre didn't quite fit the somber universe, and the harsh criticism of the title lead most of us to believe that Capcom had learned their lesson. Unfortunately, we were wrong, and the result is yet another watered down multiplayer game that doesn't quite seem to grasp what genre it belongs to, and which disappoints on all fronts.
On the surface the main idea behind Umbrella Corps seems to be that it's a tactical shooter where two small teams of three players do battle against each other, and where cunning and clever use of the environment is the key to victory. It's an idea that could have been interesting to see, if only the gameplay supported the play-style. Instead of considered tactical battles, the rounds in Umbrella Corps quickly boil down to headless arena matches, with people sprinting all over the place and firing their guns wildly, which in many cases is the soundest tactic. This is due in part to the horrendous cover system, which locks your character in place in a way that makes it extremely difficult to cover your flank, since shooting behind and to the side of your character is impossible, and because getting "unstuck" from cover takes too long for your character to react. To make matters worse, your character is rarely completely obscured by the cover, meaning that bullets flying from any direction are potentially lethal.
Without a functioning cover system, the best tactic for survival is to keep moving, and although the developers have tried to avoid players sprinting around the levels by implementing a radar that shows sound and noise, the areas are simply too small and the radar too confusing for it to be a viable tool. It's also possible to run around crouched in order to reduce the sound of one's footsteps, at a slight cost to one's movement speed, or even to go prone, where the movement speed remains high enough to look absurd. In both cases it's rarely worth the trouble, as survival in Umbrella Corps seems to be directly linked to movement speed and not remaining hidden.
One of the reasons that speed is a huge factor is due to the lacklustre shooting mechanics. You can choose to shoot from the hip or use the iron-sights, a system we're all pretty accustomed to in the genre, but the second the sights are being used, your character's movements slow down to a crawl, and you might as well paint a big bullseye on your forehead, because you'll be an easy target for any enemy player on the map. It doesn't help that the game's hit detection is so bad, because trying to land a headshot is pointless, since a quick spray and pray from the hip usually does the trick better than precision shooting.
A lot of the problems with the game's hit detection stem from the varying degrees of, but always present, input lag. We had several occurrences of hitting an opponent multiple times in the head at close range with a shotgun, only to fall dead to the ground, before our opponent followed suit and died a few seconds later. This is a massive problem for a multiplayer game, and the frequency of these occurrences was high enough to make us want to throw the controller at the screen in frustration.
There is an alternative to shooting one's enemies in Umbrella Corps. Aside from an assortment of grenades one can throw in an opponent's direction, there is also the highly unpopular Brainer axe. The lack of popularity doesn't reside with the wielder, however, but rather with its victims. The Brainer is Umbrella Corps' melee weapon of mass destruction, which will turn any player into a serial killer in seconds, thanks to its ability to take down opponents with a single hit, and because it locks onto a target from a considerable distance for a close combat weapon, making it extremely easy to land a killing blow. The wielder's movement speed also receives a generous boost when the axe is equipped, which makes it easy to simply charge an enemy who is frantically trying to shoot you, and still emerge victories, and that's in spite of getting hit by several bullets during the rush. It's unfathomable how a developer could allow such a powerful weapon to exist in a game, especially since it's available in every player's loadout, which turns most rounds into axe murdering mayhem.
When it comes to graphics, Umbrella Corps is so-so. It isn't an ugly game by any means, but it isn't something that'll knock you out of your chair either. The animations are a little stiff and the character models quite bland, but the environments do a great job of capturing the atmosphere from the original games. This is actually the one thing the game gets right, as the level design has worked out quite nicely, and because most of the levels are based on areas from earlier games. The Raccoon City map definitely stands out, where the battle takes place in front of the iconic LCPD police station, and if nothing else, Umbrella Corps does manage to awaken some feelings of nostalgia in an old fan's heart. Unfortunately, the amount of levels isn't overwhelming, which means the nostalgia quickly fades when you visit the same area for the tenth time.
It isn't just the levels that are in low number, but also the game modes. The multiplayer is divided into two sections, where one is called One Life Match, which is exactly what the name suggests; a short team deathmatch without respawns. The other is called Multi Mission, where several different modes are played in succession, which span from classic kill confirmed style modes like Collar War, to the more interesting DNA Hunter, where players must defeat a particularly tough zombie in order to collect its DNA. Unfortunately, some of the modes can be a little tricky to figure out, and if you miss the little prompt at the beginning of a round, it can be hard to know what the objective of a particular round is. A few more maps and modes would go a long way, since boredom sets in rather quickly with the current offering.
There is a gameplay element which we haven't touched upon yet, namely the inclusion of zombies. Aside from the levels, the zombies are the only real indicator that you're playing a Resident Evil game. The clear purpose of the zombies is to create a different dynamic in what the developers clearly expected to be tactical battles. Each player is equipped with a zombie jammer, which makes them invisible to the braindead foes, but if a player's jammer gets shot or taken out by an opponent's jammer busting grenade, they become the main target of all the living dead on the map, be it people, dogs or even crows. The idea might sound good on paper, but it doesn't quite work in practice, because surviving a shootout where the jammer gets shot is rare, and because the zombies are quite easy to dodge if it does happen, making the zombies far less dangerous than the axe wielding psycho on the other team.
If it hasn't been made clear already, Umbrella Corps isn't a very good game. It may have been forgivable had it been a tacked on multiplayer component for a single-player game in the Resident Evil series, but as a standalone product it simply doesn't work. There isn't much in terms of content, and the tedious unlock system with a few cosmetic changes and gun attachments makes the characters bland and generic. Not even the game's so called single-player elements can save it, as it has nothing to do with an actual campaign, but rather it's a series of time trials and one-man horde modes.
We're struggling to think who might enjoy Umbrella Corps. Therefore our advice is to remain patient, and wait for the next proper game in the series to land. Hopefully that will satisfy your Resident Evil urges.