Capcom's Resident Evil series has long been an unusually malleable franchise. Resident Evil started as a "survival horror" game on the original PlayStation. Resident Evil 4 added a strong focus on third-person shooting and action, RE5 added co-op, and RE6 was a terrible mess that brought shame to the families of its development staff. We've also seen RE spin-offs like the light gun-style Umbrella Chronicles, the disappointing third-person co-op shooter Operation Raccoon City, and the surprisingly good Revelations 2.
Hot on the heels of the recently-released Resident Evil Zero remaster, Capcom will soon release a new competitive third-person shooter simply called Umbrella Corps on Steam and PlayStation 4. I recently played Umbrella Corps at PAX South and came away impressed with its team-based multiplayer, fast pace, and AI-controlled zombies. Read on for our detailed impressions and developer interview and gameplay video!
Big pharmacy goes to war
Although Resident Evil has been done as a shooter before in the Slant Six-developed Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, Umbrella Corps marks the first pure shooter developed by Capcom's own RE development team in Osaka, Japan. It's also the RE series' first and only competitive shooter to date. Capcom hopes it will become an esports fixture, not unlike CounterStrike: Go.
Umbrella Corps features only minor single-player elements and won't include a single-player campaign, but still boasts a premise that fits right in with traditional Resident Evil storylines. In-universe, the evil pharmaceutical corporation known as Umbrella started the zombie plague thanks to its nefarious and illegal genetic research.
The Umbrella Corporation officially ceased to exist in 2003, and yet its legacy of bioterrorism lives on. In the president day, much of humanity has been wiped out by zombies and other genetically-engineered monstrosities. Powerful corporations still exist, though. These corporations wage war against each other for the remnants of Umbrella's research. But the places with this valuable data are infested with all manner of deadly creatures…
Mercs takes on other mercs (and monsters)
In Umbrella Corps, you and your team will play as mercenaries sent to recover Umbrella's research and samples. Two teams (Alpha and Bravo) of three players will compete against each other in close quarters environments based on locations from throughout the Resident Evil series.
Although the general objective is simply to kill the members of the other team, both teams must deal with zombies and other BOWs (Biological Weapons) as well. The Umbrella Labs stage we played at PAX South simply features groups of zombies that would emerge from the ground at various intervals. Initially, the zombies won't attack our players – there's a good reason for that.
Each merc wears a Zombie Jammer backpack that renders him invisible to the undead creatures. No one is truly safe from monsters in the Resident Evil series, though. If someone shoots your backpack (and they will), the zombies will quickly attack en masse. The mechanic of shooting someone's pack to entangle them in zombies lends some welcome RE authenticity.
Other Resident Evil elements include the arsenal of weapons our protagonists carry into battle. Naturally, the mercs pack guns from the RE series. For close quarters encounters, they wield the Brainer – a powerful melee axe designed to penetrate enemies' skulls. Brainer kills look particularly vicious. Mercs also wear an arm-mounted Tactical Shield. This lets them grab a zombie, which can then be used as cover. Hey, the zombies are unlikely to complain.
You'll be hiding behind more than just zombies here – combatants can take cover against walls and behind objects à la Gears of War. But Umbrella Corps' cover system, called 'Analog cover,' is a bit more advanced than Gears.' After taking cover, players can lean out to varying degrees. The farther they lean out, the greater their accuracy as they fire.
With small stages (called 'compact battle zones') and small 3-person teams, Umbrella Corps becomes a truly fast-paced first- or third-person shooter. Our mercs have very few places to hide, resulting in a brisk pace – rounds can last as little as a minute. Matches consist of multiple rounds, though, so nobody will complain if you finish up too quickly.
Modes and maps
Capcom hasn't announced how many maps or modes Umbrella Corps will consist of yet, but here are the ones we know about so far.
Umbrella Corps is an online multiplayer focused game, but it also includes a minor single-player component in The Experiment mode. From what we know of it, solo players will be able to visit some or all of the multiplayer maps and battle against waves of AI-controlled zombies and monsters. It sounds a lot like a single-player horde mode, which is fine with me – though I'd prefer co-op support as well.
The PAX South demo featured the One Life Match game type. As the name implies, each merc gets only a single life per round. Should you be killed, you'll have to watch helplessly as the battle continues. But the one-life system (not unlike Gears of War's Elimination mode) shouldn't frustrate too much. Rounds end very quickly, so downed players won't have to wait long before returning to the action.
Another mode called DNA Hunt has been glimpsed in Umbrella Corps promotional materials. Little is known about this game type. Will it involve killing the AI enemies to harvest their mutated DNA? I'd certainly like to see a multiplayer mode that explicitly rewards zombie killing.
- Umbrella Lab: Shown in our video, the laboratory that spawned the dreaded T-Virus features zombies as enemies.
- Resident Evil 4 Village: Battle villagers infected by the Las Plagas parasites.
- Tricell Office: The evil Tricell Corporation officially entered the series after Resident Evil 4.
- Resident Evil 5 Village (Teased but not confirmed): Should feature villagers infected by the Majini parasites.
Umbrella Corps will likely feature more stages from modern Resident Evil games. As Revelations 2 showed us, Capcom has a habit of reusing existing high-resolution environments rather than creating or remastering environments from past Resident Evil games.
Still, it would be a huge shame not to have a stage based on the original Resident Evil mansion! Downloadable content for RE5 featured a version of the mansion, though, so those newer assets could be reused if necessary.
There's life in this Corps
A competitive multiplayer shooter might not sound like the most natural extension of the Resident Evil brand, but the game looks and plays great so far. The lack of a campaign will disappoint some RE fans, but Capcom has wisely decided to charge $29.99 (£24.99 in Europe) for Umbrella Corps rather than a full sixty bucks. It will be released exclusively as a downloadable title.
The only disappointing thing about Umbrella Corps so far is that it will only be coming to Windows and PlayStation 4 – NOT Xbox One. Considering that the game uses the Unity multiplatform engine, Capcom's decision to skip a major console (with a sizable audience of shooter fans) makes little sense. The snub recalls Street Fighter V's PS4 exclusivity. Let's hope it's just a timed exclusive.
Still, if you have a computer that can run the game or a PlayStation 4, Umbrella Corps is a shooter to anticipate. You won't have long to wait, either – it launches this May.