Capcom's oddest Resident Evil spin-off yet is also its scrappiest, with uneven execution obscuring an otherwise entertaining online shooter.
Resident Evil has been many, varied things throughout its 20 year history. A haunted house adventure, a sprawling action game, a wayward co-op shooter and even a vague console MMO. Next year, with the recently unveiled Resident Evil 7, there's even the novel promise of a horror game. Before then, though, we have this.
Umbrella Corps - which, tellingly, ditches the Resident Evil moniker from its title in the west - might be the oddest spin-off Capcom's yet devised. A three-on-three team shooter created in the Unity engine by a small team within the company's Osaka headquarters, it's a scrappy, fundamentally flawed and often downright ugly take on multiplayer.
It's easy to get snagged on the the rough edges of Umbrella Corps. There are plenty enough of them. Perhaps in part thanks to Unity's refusal to play nice on consoles, or the smaller budget afforded this diminutive project, Umbrella Corps looks like it's been scraped from a festering zombie's arse, its murky textures and stuttering frame-rate making it an unsightly, stumbling mess.
Then there's all those disparate elements that hang uncomfortably together. This is a third-person shooter with a perspective that's uncomfortably close, snapping violently into first-person when you aim down sights. It's a multiplayer game whose sense of movement is skittish at best, complemented by the fact you move alarmingly fast when prone - ensuring some matches see players slide around on their bellies like well-oiled snakes.
And Umbrella Corps is a cover shooter that can't quite get its head around what cover means and how it should work. Maps are infuriatingly fussy about what can and can't be cowered behind, and once you're pressed flat against a doorway it's hard to know exactly what advantage is proffered. As you fight with the controls to come unstuck from whatever surface you're attached to, it feels like the cover system simply gets in the way.
In the way of what, exactly? Umbrella Corps is a very limited game, with seven maps whose locales are lifted from the Resident Evil series that support two multiplayer modes - as well as a cursory single-player offering that sets a succession of slim score attack challenges within those same maps. Squint and you could be playing an all-new Mercenaries in that sole offline mode - open your eyes, though, and it's all a bit of a mess.
Boiling Umbrella Corps down to two modes is both too generous and not quite generous enough. One of them, Multi-Mission, is a chaotic succession of eight multiplayer staples, all strung together with little rhyme or reason - where takes on kill confirmed and domination smash into each other while players run around maps relishing in the overpowered brainer melee weapon that can be charged for a quick and grisly kill.
It's madness and too often maddening, a confused scream of a multiplayer experience that quickly barrels out of control. Elsewhere, though, Umbrella Corps has a mode where its merits are allowed to shine. A mode where it's even possible to have some fun with this strange, strange game.
One life matches are small, three minute rounds where - as you might have guessed - players are limited to one life each, sitting out the round once they've been downed. It's Resident Evil's take on Counter-Strike effectively, though it's not quite the measure of either series in their pomp. Yet Umbrella Corps' weird cover version manages to be something else entirely - this ropey hybrid and ham-fisted pastiche has got its own charm, like a scratchy Ghanaian action movie knock-off that's rescued by its own verve.
For all of Umbrella Corps' missteps, the shooting itself feels respectable, and it's got some pretty neat ideas. The maps are kept small, featuring air vents and a fair amount of verticality that lends them a pleasing density, ensuring there's plenty of opportunity to surprise other players - or be surprised by an enemy - through the course of a match. Such cramped conditions encourage close-quarters combat, all of which is enhanced by several layers of novelty enabled by liberal use of the Resident Evil property.
There are zombies, because of course there are. It's an odd inclusion, at first at least, given how the undead mope about maps in considerable numbers without making a lunge for you or other players. You can use them as an inhuman shield, bundling them around the map to no great effect, but initially the undead pose no threat at all. That's thanks to a Zombie Jammer positioned on your back - no, I've no idea how it works either - that can be deactivated with a simple shot from an opposing player, opening you up to the attacking hordes who move towards your location.
It's a wonderful mechanic, the perfect tool to unsettle the opposition or to simply shut down another player. See someone camping on top of one of Resident Evil 4's village churches, sniping away in safe comfort? One shot is all it takes for a small horde to close in while you watch from afar, feeling that delicious bloodlust rise up. It feels brilliant.
As does Umbrella Corps' penchant for enthusiastic energy met with an unhinged zaniness, a facet in which it's perhaps most faithful to the Resident Evil brand. Here's a game in which a match can be whittled down to a one-on-one fight that's decided by an angry flock of ravens nibbling away at one player. Here's a game in which you can be tea bagged by Leon Kennedy. For many of us, that's a dream come true.
There's fun to be found, in other words, hidden somewhere in the uneven mess, and it's not quite the worst spin-off we've yet seen from the Resident Evil mainline. Faint praise indeed, but such is the uneven, ugly execution of this oddest of spin-offs that Umbrella Corps will unfortunately most likely be remembered for introducing a whole new type of horror to the franchise.