I really don’t know what to make of Umbrella Corps, Capcom’s Resident Evil spin-off multiplayer shooter. It’s not that they’ve never tried something like this before — Operation Raccoon City and a pile of lightgun games say hi — but never with this amount of indifference toward the franchise. Someone at Capcom Japan wanted to make a game like Rainbow Six or Counterstrike, and they knew that slapping the Resident Evil license onto it would give the attention they needed for success. When asked why two teams of Umbrella agents were shooting at each other in a building full of zombies, Capcom reps at New York Comic Con more or less said I shouldn’t think about it too much.
And that’s fine — even as a purist fan of the Resident Evil franchise (tank controls or bust), I can see why you wouldn’t want to delve too deeply into the lore of Umbrella or the franchise’s iconic zombies. According to Capcom reps, the developers wanted to capture the sense of an Airsoft or Laser Tag battle. I played a 3 vs. 3 elimination match and I found myself having a lot of fun with it, despite being baffled by the loose premise.
Full disclosure: I have a hard time separating “punking on random show-goers and journalists” from “this game is actually a quality experience”. It’s why I’m not entirely sure if I like the Star Wars Battlefront beta — it’s really easy to get kills and it’s fun to snipe piles of dudes from across the map, but it also seems a bit too shallow. Winning is fun, and as a result, I had a lot of fun playing Umbrella Corps, but I couldn’t ignore a few things.
For one, almost everything outside of the pure experience of moving with your team, hunting the opponents, and shooting them seems really janky. The game is played from an over-the-shoulder third-person view but it plays more like an FPS with an Umbrella soldier obstructing the side of your screen. There is a cover system, but nothing I wanted to snap to ever worked. There are little vents you can crawl through for flanking maneuvers, but your character crawls at nearly the same speed as they run, so it looks ridiculous. There are zombies too, but they ignore you unless you take enough damage to break a “Zombie Jammer” on your back. Even then, I never saw them do much more than get in the way.
That said, there are some solid basics to Umbrella Corps that remind me of playing Rainbow Six on the original Xbox with my friends. It has that tactical feel, and encourages team communication even on a crowded show floor. When you die, you’re given an overhead view of the map, including where your teammates and their opponents are located. It was difficult to use this info without callouts or some familiarity with the map, but it seemed like a great tool for team communication and brisk matches.
All this leaves me in a weird spot with Umbrella Corps. On one hand, it’s genuinely pretty fun, set for a budget price, and I can imagine having a great time with three friends despite some of the rough edges. I was already having fun playing with three strangers. On the other hand, Rainbow Six Siege is coming soon, offering this kind of tactical gameplay from a dev that has a pedigree in it. That’s not to mention all the other highly polished shooters out there begging for my attention like Destiny, Battlefront, and Call of Duty.
I can already tell that a subset of players will have great fun with Umbrella Corps. I imagine it having a sort of cult/sleeper notoriety that I will probably miss out on. But I just don’t see where it fits in, where there is room for it with so many other shooters that are even more fun and more polished. I appreciate Capcom wanting to give something a try, but the shooter genre is well-worn territory, and as a Resident Evil fan I’d prefer it if they focused their talents somewhere else.