Another low in the Resident Evil roller-coaster ride
It’s a strange time to be a Resident Evil fan. The next iteration of the series was just announced at E3 and seems to be moving away from the action-heavy angle the last few games have taken (and I really liked the demo!). A remake of the beloved second game is on its way. A cursory glance at these recent developments makes it look like Capcom has its shit together and is cleaning up the brand.
And that’s exactly why Umbrella Corps should have been culled.
Umbrella Corps (PC, PS4 [reviewed])
Released: June 21, 2016
Let me set this straight from the beginning: a multiplayer side-story in the Resident Evil universe that casts the player as an agent of the evil Umbrella Corporation has merit. Sure, Operation Raccoon City already tried that with horrible results, but that’s mostly because the game felt awful and seemed like an attempt to shoehorn new events into old canon. Just look at the above image. That ridiculously-idealized representation of this game looks like it could be entertaining if the gameplay was at all fun.
Unfortunately, what we have here instead is a broken sludgy mess that fails in just about every way. As a faceless member of the Umbrella Corps, you can play various game modes in 3-on-3 online matches or through a single-player mode called the Experiment. Let’s start with that. The Experiment amounts to a lengthy tutorial with some Resident Evil flavor text thrown in there (confirming that Wesker is probably back, which, bleh). While running and gunning through slapdash recreations of iconic areas in the series, you’ll do one of three things: kill a set number of enemies to collect their DNA, pick up five briefcases, or hold random points on the map.
Those thrilling objectives are taken straight from the multiplayer mode, which is a cheap way to add a single-player campaign. That might be fine if the shooting was satisfying in any way. Unfortunately, while there are a few guns that you’ll recognize from past games (the burst-fire Matilda pistol, the Lightning Hawk magnum), the rest are sub-machine guns and shotguns that feel nigh-indistinguishable. The camera is zoomed entirely too close to your back, but you can always switch to a first-person view for a better vantage. While I like that idea in theory, the transition is just a little too slow to actually be useful. Shooting is always herky-jerky, and the constantly fluctuating frame rate makes it even worse. It honestly felt like I was running the game on a capable computer that was having horrendous heating issues, because the frame rate jumped from about 15 to 60 literally 50 times per match.
Since I quickly grew to hate the guns (except the shotguns, because they allowed me to get through these painful levels quicker), I was happy to see there were a couple melee options. You can use a one-hit kill for most enemies by whacking ’em with your gun, which ends up being more efficient than using ranged weapons anyway. Infuriatingly, there are moments where impact vibration triggers in the controller to let you know a hit registered, yet the zombies don’t react at all. Since their strength seems to be variable, this sometimes leads to getting hit just a couple times and dying instantly, sometimes setting your progress back a good fifteen minutes on the more frustrating Experiment levels.
Another melee option is the “brainer,” which is unexpectedly hilarious. It’s a pickaxe-looking weapon that enables you to sprint around, knocking zombies about. It can also be charged up for one hit kills on human players, which has quickly become the meta game here. It’s amusing to watch players run around at high speeds trying to brain each other, but it’s also a bit sad since it invalidates basically every other tactic. It also causes a bizarre lag, as if the game is struggling to process the braining animation.
The Experiment starts off easy enough, but eventually the levels turn into three round affairs that made me want to punt puppies (and I fucking love animals!). Most enemies are just regular zombies, but eventually Cerberus dogs, Los Plagas, and a Regenerator-ish thing come out to play. The latter two can kill you almost instantaneously and are bullet sponges. There were many times where I’d be at the end of a three-rounder seconds before finishing when a Plaga would spawn right behind me and kill me, annihilating my progress and forcing me to restart. It doesn’t help that enemies indefinitely respawn, invalidating basically any type of strategy you might wish to employ.
One of the only redeeming qualities about the game is the extreme agility afforded to your character. Sprinting is nice and fast, and it makes it so you can vault over objects just by coming into contact with them. There are also a few spots in each level where you can quickly jump up using the brainer to assist you. Almost every map is tiny, so you can generally get from one point to another with a nice flow. Unfortunately, these mechanics just aren’t used very often. Since you can go prone and amusingly crawl at lightspeed, there’s also no reason to use the cover system.
Judging a primarily multiplayer game on its campaign would be unfair, but the inherent fun in playing with other people isn’t enough to redeem Umbrella Corps. The single-life deathmatch mode doesn’t really work because death comes so quickly — plus, the load times are annoyingly long. The modes I mentioned above in regards to the Experiment cycle in when you’re playing Multi Mission, in addition to a few others: getting DNA from tough special zombies, killing the MVP on the other team, holding briefcases for as long as possible, and collecting collars from dead players. These are all run-of-the-mill game types that you can find in other, better games.
I do like the weird map that pops up whenever you die and wait for a respawn. It’s sort of an isometric map that makes the battlefield look like a board game. It doesn’t really change anything about how you play, but it’s fun to look at.
Another unique mechanic that had potential is the “Zombie Jammer.” Each player has a small machine on their back that makes it so zombies ignore them, allowing them to focus on killing human-controlled opponents. In theory, I love the idea of struggling against another player but getting the perfect shot in at their Jammer, leaving them to deal with a swarm. What actually ends up happening is the zombies’ AI is so awful that they still kind of ignore you and are easily downed by a couple bullets. If the game were a bit smoother, the Jammer alone could have given this game its own identity. Instead, it’s just another missed opportunity in what seems to be a weird amalgamation of superior multiplayer shooters, complete with customizable armor, guns, and decals. Heck, Call of Duty already had zombies, so I don’t understand Capcom’s half-assed attempt at trying to recreate that success.
I wanted to like Umbrella Corps. Being budget priced title, I thought perhaps Capcom had a focused idea it wanted to convey. What we have here instead is an embarrassment to the series, especially considering that it’s similar to the Mercenaries mini-game in Resident Evils 3-6, except worse. When a side mode in your main games is better than something you’re expecting people to pay money for, you’re going to piss some people off.
Please be good, Resident Evil 7. Don’t let Umbrella Corps bring you down.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
P.S. Here’s a bonus .GIF, where I wear a Leon mask, crawl at super-speed while reloading, and pistol-whip a zombie dick. It’s the best part of the game.