Being loyal to a franchise's roots and formula is a tricky thing to manage. Veer too close and people will cry out concerns of stagnation and lack of innovation. Stray too far and they'll say it isn't worthy of the series' name. Whether this involves direct sequels or spin-offs, the amorphous goal of striding between faithfulness and evolution is difficult. This particular scribe thinks that Resident Evil 5 is a solid demonstration of hitting these two goals that appeases new and old fans alike, while Resident Evil 6, on the other hand, is how developers can butcher this balance. When it comes to Umbrella Corps, it not only feels like a completely foreign game to the franchise, but also fails to be good in any respect on its own, regardless of its legendary license.
When we booted this up, we were initially impressed by the crisp visuals and nicely organised customisation options. We definitely weren't expecting a traditional Resident Evil experience, but could get behind a tactical multiplayer shooter where agents of Umbrella prove themselves worthy of fighting for the sadistic corporation. There's high-octane action in the backdrop of this universe, so why not reserve this to the sidelines of the series instead of deluding the survival-horror focus of the main entries?
It's a great idea, and there's the hope that Umbrella Corps might have what it takes to fulfil this fantasy. The doors and side passages of the layered maps would serve as great ways to change the tides of battle with strategic navigation and teamwork; the breadth of mechanics and equipment that you can use to traverse these places and dispose of enemies must make way for entertaining combat scenarios. These were our hopeful impressions while playing the tutorial, but when we actually got into the core experience, any hope that we had of this being a decent spin-off evaporated quickly.
Your loadouts consist of the usual fare: a primary and secondary weapon, throwables, and a melee weapon called a Brainer. Attachments can be added to the firearms, and varying versions of Brainer hatchets and tomahawks can be unlocked as well, which are an unusually important gameplay element. They can be charged up to increase their power, which can then be unleashed on a foe as a one-hit kill, but using this in practice reveals the generic, somewhat stilted gameplay. We understand the focus on action, but with small maps and fast movement, shootouts feel rushed and uncoordinated, which is at odds with the maps' tactical-oriented level design, almost useless cover system, and host of communication options to help you layout simple strategies. At this point, we haven't even scratched the surface of the game's flaws.
What's immediately noticeable is the lack of modes and originality behind them. You would think a game that banks appeal on its online component would be replete with a good selection of things to do, but the only modes in sight are One Life Match and Multi-Mission. With a max of three players per team, the former turns out to be a lacklustre team deathmatch, and the latter a bizarre hodgepodge of modes such as capturing multiple points or Kill Confirmed-esque rounds where you collect samples from killing computer controlled zombies. It's a perplexing, frustratingly low pool of modes for a title like this.
The zombie AI that litter maps are a neat spin in concept, since players must either watch out for them or kill them to complete objectives. Sadly, though, they turn out to be more of an annoyance, as you can watch a teammate kill two opponents only to then be swarmed by zombies when they're attracted to the gunfire. To make matters worse, the AI is inconsistent to the point where the undead are either utterly ignorant to what's happening around them, or far too aggressive, with hordes of them running to your position in the blink of an eye. It's moments like this that make them more of a tedious distraction than a fun layer of difficulty.
However, the most heinous sin of the game is its balancing. Instead of firearms taking priority as essential tools, they're rendered inferior to the aforementioned Brainer melee weapon, which people run around with at disorienting speeds due to its one-hit kill and ridiculous range. You can't stop Brainer-wielders in their tracks with bullets half of the time, so you'll soon find yourself joining in with everyone else, running around like a madman as you all take turns to melee each other again and again. It's ridiculous to watch unfold, especially since it makes the game look like a joke as it attempts to sell itself as a serious shooter.
While there are admittedly cool, iconic settings used for maps and glimmers of fun to be had, the multiplayer as a whole is a repetitive bore that squanders any of its potential to stand out against more competent, tactical competitors like Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Siege. Almost everything about the package is sloppily thrown together with other nonsensical quirks that we haven't even mentioned yet, such as a claustrophobic, third-person perspective where your character takes up half the screen, and a poor respawning system.
Adding insult to injury, unlike Resident Evil: Operation Racoon City, the game doesn't even strive for a decent single player campaign. What we have are a string of bland challenges that recycle both the multiplayer's maps and modes with a meaningless survival angle, strung together by a "narrative" that has no substance whatsoever and contributes nothing to flesh out stories involving Umbrella or its soldiers. While playing, you'll just be using your standard pistol-whip melee attack most of the time in these forgettable, same-y missions since it's far more effective than your firearms or Brainer. Yes, the balancing is just exceptional here, too.
Moving on, we've got to mention the terrible, repetitive voice acting, which isn't even like the crap-but-endearing kind that the franchise is known for. On top of that, you'll hear stock sound effects and a horrible mix of music, complemented by graphics that may look sharp, but are cut down by awkward animation and an uncapped frame rate that constantly moves between 25 to 50 frames-per-second. It's jarring and unacceptable for a competitive game.
Lastly, before you even notice how unrewarding the unlockables are - consisting of symbols, different types of gun sights, and subtle variations of similar weapons that don't add any complexity to what roles players can occupy - you'll likely have long left behind what little this game has to offer. You may find a couple hours of enjoyment with a small group of friends by closely working together, but the effort simply isn't worth your time.
Umbrella Corps is a brain-dead mess of good ideas gone wrong. It partially hides its flaws underneath a veneer of pretty graphics and promising gameplay concepts, but it can't hold up under its own weight in execution. Patches may iron out some of our grievances, but conflicting mechanics, dumb level design choices, balancing issues, technical problems, and shallow content plague this shambling title to the core, ensuring a quick burial with single-player missions that are a mere afterthought. This isn't just a bad Resident Evil game, but a disappointing multiplayer shooter; a spin-off that feels like little more than a lazy cash grab.