What Went Awry With 'Resident Evil' Spinoff ‘Umbrella Corps’?

Capcom’s bizarre ‘Resident Evil’ spin-off may be a victim of its own invention.

Umbrella Corps, Capcom’s weird, not-quite-Mercanaries multiplayer shooter, was evidently made by a small internal team at Capcom headquarters in Osaka. The development team built the game using the Unity engine; it was reportedly inspired by western PC multiplayer shooters, though little other detail on that score is known.

Since its release last week, the game has been savaged by most critics. Player counters on Steam have already, evidently, dropped precipitously. Play it for a few minutes and you’ll wonder just what the developers were trying to do – it’s a weirdly confusing mess, and acts as a striking contrast to the obvious high priority of Resident Evil 7, whose PS4 playable prologue chapter has already become a hit on PSN.

Depending on what the Umbrella Corps team’s role was at Capcom, this could easily be part of the problem. Are the devs part of the RE7 team? Were they making Umbrella Corps as a side project, or was it being made independently from the flagship team entirely?

From a corporate standpoint, you might even guess that the game was greenlit so that Capcom could offer multiple types of would-be Resident Evil experiences for different players; along with remasters of 4, 5 and 6 hitting current-gen consoles over the course of the year, not to mention RE0’s back in January, Umbrella Corps would (on paper) create a wide range of offerings on hand to celebrate the series’ 20th anniversary.

I won’t pretend to know the how and why that resulted in its existence. I will say that, with the ideas being introduced here, maybe the most likely scenario is that the team ran out of time or (perhaps more to the point) just wasn’t ever given the resources to fully see the game to acceptable completion.

The execution is a mess, with no real focal point; probably the most interesting concept, the zombie jammer, makes you undetectable by zombies; even if a rival player breaks yours, which can happen since the crux of the game is inexplicably human-on-human combat, you’re much more likely to die by hands (while still running past zombies) in multiplayer matches.

Reviews have also criticized the game for having only two types of multiplayer, period, which I guess kind of explains the inspiration for one of them being a Counter-Strike-esque mode where you’re given one life per round – this being despite the game’s ludicrous speed and likelihood of dying within seconds of your first spawn in.

By the same token, entire features don’t seem to fit. A cover system is completely unneeded in tiny arenas; there’s also no reason to be cautious outside of the one-life round mode, since player speed clips at ridiculous pace even when prone. The same goes double for using a zombie as a human shield, another idea with some conceptual promise. Even allowing players to play without as much UI clutter all over the screen, as is is shown in the game’s trailers, wouldn’t hurt.

These are solutions in search of problems. If the developers were trying to appeal for the Counter-Strike crowd – or even the Operation Raccoon City one, if they exist – the game would need to slow down or at least give some weight to how the various design components fit together as checks and balances.

If Umbrella Corps was intended more for a multiplayer-only sentiment in mind, it would have required more to do as a multiplayer game. It goes without saying that any design in that space demands at least the basics as well as a hook to reel players in – the zombie jammer could have been that under different circumstances, and perhaps was vying for that.

Spaces, too, might have been constructed differently. Resident Evil 4’s Ganado village, for example, seems slightly less sophisticated here than it was 12 years ago on the Gamecube. If Resident Evil 5’s Mercenary mode maps were able to provide more interesting strategic layouts for its own multiplayer, a game in 2016 shouldn’t have such issues.

Finally, there’s the division over what to do with the zombies: leave them in and Umbrella Corps could have, potentially, been an interesting co-op shooter, maybe a tactical evolution on horde mode or something. Take the zombies out and – well, it wouldn’t really be Resident Evil at all, and the connections here are already tenuous at best. At the very least, with a different focus Umbrella Corps might have had taken more advantage of the zombie combat – and damage modeling – to make an actual campaign mode.

Though Umbrella Corps continually confounds in its finished form, I hesitate to think the developers wanted to release it the way it is. I can only imagine the sheer volume of Resident Evil Capcom is working on right now; with the probable size of this team (using an engine without much in costly engineering), this offshoot just doesn’t have the ring of something that was allowed to reach any potential. I doubt its architects are, in their heart of hearts, any happier with it than REs fans have been.

Interestingly, if you watch Umbrella Corps launch trailer, it promises what appears to be a bunch of new, free content, including the heavy fan service of playing in the Spencer Mansion and the post-apocalyptic post-viral Raccoon City. Perhaps in the era of patches and updates there’s still hope the game could become unique, and the appeal of new content on a launch trailer may be telling (at least of the mistake of launching when it did). For now, it would need some serious tinkering to shamble back to life.

Media via Capcom