It was something of a surprise on Tuesday when we learned that the newest entry in the Resident Evil series is a third-person shooter that borrows liberally from existing shooter tropes, including some seen in games like Counterstrike and Call of Duty. However, several features help the new project feel like its own undead beast. We played several rounds at the Tokyo Game Show, and spoke with the developers to get a better sense of how the game works.
Umbrella Corps is definitely not a story-based game, but its developers told us that it takes place within the broader fiction of Resident Evil. Set in 2015, you’re fighting on a team of mercenaries, working for one of several competing pharmaceutical companies looking to lock down the secrets of the now-defunct Umbrella Corporation. To do so, you’re heading into a zombie-infested outbreak site to lock it down.
Needless to say, most of that background is lost in the shuffle of what is fundamentally a fast-paced, team-based shooter. Moving in teams of up to five players on a side, you advance into combat with both enemy players and zombies on the game board at the same time.
Luckily, you’ve got a zombie jammer tied to your back, which means that the zombies can see you, but they don’t see you as a threat (or food source). As such, zombies can be a tactical tool in battle, helping you reshape a battle to your advantage. For instance, you can hide out in a large group of zombies and wait for your foes. If they attack the zombies in order to hit you, the zombies recognize the enemy player as a threat, and charge them. You can also have a zombie latch on with its mouth onto your armored bite guard on your arm, and then you can proceed to use the creature as a shield as you advance on enemy troops. Alternately, perhaps you just want to take a zombie out with your vicious brainer melee weapon.
The zombie jammer on players’ backs is also a large and easy target, and you can damage it with a quick shot; suddenly, your foe is swarmed by zombies, even as you continue firing.
Matches move at a frenzied clip. I got to play some of a deathmatch-style mode where each player only gets one life per round. More than once, I got distracted by either a zombie I’d shot who had become aggressive, or an enemy player, only to have the other take me out from behind. The dynamic adds tension to moving through the tight and highly vertical maps.
Umbrella Corps also features an analog cover system. The further you hold down the aim button (L2) the more you lean out of cover, so there’s a risk/reward element at work. A smart snap-to cover mechanic makes it easy to stay protected as you move through the map; a blue outline appears against any wall as you move around, showing you exactly where you’ll land if you tap the button to enter cover. Throw a grenade (or have one thrown at you) and a similar radius outline shows you exactly where the danger zone exists, so that you can try and leap away.
Capcom shared that it has extensive plans for a progression and customization reward system, but chose not to share those details today. I was told that the focus of customization is on mostly cosmetic items, to keep the fight fair for all players. Capcom also told me that all the in-game characters you play as are male.
The matches I played of Umbrella Corps felt solid, and I like having to account for both AI zombies and real life human opponents. I also like the light tactical elements of the matches I played, and the speedy pace of each game. Movement currently feels a little mechanical, and in my brief time playing I had trouble adjusting to what initially feels like slightly stiff shooting.
Capcom has yet to reveal the spectrum of maps and modes that might offer a clearer sense of the game’s scope. I think there’s room in the Resident Evil universe for exploring different genres, but Capcom will have a big job ahead in convincing players to abandon more familiar and long-established shooter franchises in favor of this new adventure. Even so, there’s a solid framework in place here with a few interesting ideas, so I’m eager to see if Capcom can nail this final stretch and present a compelling package.
Umbrella Corps is planned as a digital only release in early 2016 on PS4 and PC, with an announced price of $29.99.