Umbrella Corps is a weird game. So weird, in fact, that I can’t think who it’s actually for. Who out there wants a Resident Evil game which is also a fast-paced, 3v3 arena team shooter? On the other hand, who wants a fast-paced, 3v3 arena team shooter where sometimes you can be killed by zombies munching on your ankles?
The game feels like even it doesn’t know the answer. It is rapid, in terms of both round time (3 minutes) and movement speed, and you’re encouraged to move faster still via the sprint button, which enables you to smash through doors and mantle over obstacles. You move at such a clip that even when you go prone, you still seem to be going faster than the default walking pace in, say, Gears of War. But Umbrella Corps is also very slow elsewhere, particularly in its spawns and reloads. It wants to feel tactical, with small teams and cover and flanking routes, but the sheer speed at which it moves and the presence of zombies, dogs, and zombie dogs means that often it degenerates into ‘slowly spawn, quickly die, slowly spawn, quickly die’. One of the maps, set in a ruined RPD lobby (which, admittedly, as a fan of the series, does look good) perfectly encapsulates the problems with the approach, with the teams, thanks to proximity to one another, often forgoing their objectives and crashing into each other with the guile of, well, a later Resident Evil game.
The modes themselves don’t help. Or, at the very least, the presentation of these modes doesn’t help, with not much in the way of an explanation of what you’re doing and why, bar a brief intro at the top of the screen when you start a round, which is often lost in a flurry of on-screen activity and UI overload. Some are more self-explanatory than others: domination, team deathmatch, a kill confirmed-style mode, and VIP escort/assassination are easily deduced, even at speed. Umbrella Corps works better in TD and domination-alikes, and can get surprisingly tense as players calm both the game’s and their own lust for crashing in headfirst, even if at this point that tension mostly manifests itself as grenade spam.
Other modes, however, get lost in the visual noise of the game’s constant action, as well as its screen furniture. There’s one where you have to collect five briefcases, at which point you win. It all moves so quickly though that I found myself asking what the other rules were. How long do I need to hold them for? Where do they spawn? Why am I hunting these five briefcases? Do I work in a bank? Why, in this tactical game with slow spawns and fast rounds, am I being encouraged to storm about the place, hurried up by a giant ‘EDGE OF DEFEAT’ text that obscures a lot of the screen?
This clash of styles is at the heart of Umbrella Corps, and modes which should demonstrate its interesting three-way fight merely serve to undermine it. DNA Hunter sees players killing zombies and collecting the capsules they drop: the first to a certain amount of capsules wins. This should make for some interesting battles, showcasing the ‘zombie shield’ function and making players work to engineer fights between the undead and the other team, picking off the survivors while picking up the spoils.
The problem here is that the infected themselves are so woefully underpowered that there’s not much danger, no real risk and plenty of reward. With the only potential problems coming from the other team, then, the result is that on certain maps both squads start farming their own zombies, occasionally interacting with the other players. The nadir of this sort of play came on Resi 4’s village map, where I hid out round the back of one of the barns, rinsing the spawning zombies for their goods and very occasionally worrying about other players. If, like in Resi 4 Mercs, the zombies spawned away from where they were killed it wouldn’t be too much of an issue, but they don’t, and it doesn’t really work.
So the USP doesn’t really function, which will deter Resi fans, meaning we’re left with shooter players to potentially pick up the slack. Sadly, Umbrella Corps isn’t even close to being a fun shooting game: its small map size and fast encounters mean that it’s dominated by shotgunners, rendering the various machine guns and pistols rather obsolete, and the zombies and other infected are more likely to cause frustrating death (due to confusion) rather than offer tactical flexibility. Spawns are also very poor: I once materialised into a game, was instantly killed, and before I could respawn the game had ended. There are vanity items, upgrades, patches, and the like to keep people playing, but at the moment it all feels so thrown together, so bizarre a combination of styles and forms, that you often just barrel about asking ‘why?’
Well, I have no idea.