I'm not entire certain what to think of Resident Evil: Umbrella Corps, the three-on-three first-person shooter Capcom announced a few days ago. That puts me at odds from vocal RE fans on the Internet, who appear to know precisely what to think about it and aren't afraid to state their unkind consensuses on forums and social media.
Not having any real personal stake in the direction or future of the Resident Evil franchise, I could afford to adopt a wait-and-see philosophy about this inflammatory new spin-off. But even now, having waited until I could see (and play) the game at Tokyo Game Show, I still have mixed feelings about it. It seems to bring some pretty intriguing concepts to the genre, but the game's genre itself sits quite at odds with the core appeal of Resident Evil. The structure of the TGS demo experience didn't help matters; rather than giving players a chance to check out Umbrella Corps' unique features, Capcom dumped us all into a room and sent us gunning one another down in a single-kill elimination format. It was a little tough to get a handle on the game's more sophisticated innovations when we were all trying to avoid being taken out of the action in close quarters.
The idea of a competitive shooter shouldn't be entirely foreign to fans of the franchise, though the bulk of the series' previous attempt — Operation Raccoon City — did most of its sales via Steam, whereas historically RE fans have (by necessity) been console users. So more likely Umbrella Corps isn't an attempt to lure the Resident Evil faithful over to the eSports scene but rather a bit to bring the Resident Evil brand to a new audience. The game has some stiff competition to contend with, as similar highly focused team shooters like Ubisoft's fantastic-looking Rainbow Six: Siege look to set a high bar for Capcom's internal team (which has very little history with FPS development; Operation Raccoon City was produced by Slant Six) to clear.
To Capcom's credit, they're taking a very different tack with Umbrella Corps than with Operation Raccoon City. Gone are the unique, named characters; and while the cooperative survival mode may be present as an unannounced mode, the format being demoed at TGS consists strictly of three-on-three shooting. The game's producers have said they're aiming for quick turnaround on matches, with fast pacing for each round and little wasted downtime in between battles; the result is fairly lean by design. In that same vein, Umbrella Corps will feature small, dense arenas rather than huge urban spaces. The team aims to make side arms such as pistols viable tools rather than weapons of last resort.
The key selling points of combat in Umbrella Corps, however, boil down to two features: The first is a device called the Zombie Jammer, a bulky backpack every combatant wears into battle. This is an RE game, after all, but by default zombies play a neutral role, shuffling about aimlessly unless fired upon. The Jammer devices render players effectively invisible to the undead hordes populating the combat space — unless, of course, the Jammer becomes damaged, at which point every zombie in the room will make a rapid beeline towards the affected combatant. If you can't take out an opponent in a straight fight, you can always just aim for their back and hope the zombies will do the rest.
Secondly, there's the "Brainer," a sort of combination gauntlet and meat hook. At its most basic, the Brainer functions as a powerful, in-close melee weapon that allows you to take out zombies and other players alike without much fuss. But when you draw your pistol — that is, your single-handed weapon — the Brainer allows your off hand to be used as a small shield that protects you from head-on gunfire. You can also use the Brainer to provoke zombies into biting its ridged surface; they'll clamp on to it with their teeth, allowing you to use their mass as a semi-human shield. And at an even more advanced level, the Brainer can purportedly be used as a sort of climbing hook for reaching higher ground, though I certainly didn't have time to use this feature in the brief, manic demo session, nor did I see anyone else manage to pull it off, either.
With so many other games grappling for the same competitive shooter space, Umbrella Corps will live or die by its specific features. It's hard to say which it'll be based on the brief TGS demo experience; our 15-minute session basically consisted of guys running around shooting one another and occasionally taking zombie potshots, with very little use of the game's original mechanics. I suppose it'll boil down to whether or not jamming zombies and braining walls offers an appreciable tactical advantage to encourage mastery of those abilities; otherwise, it'll just be another shooter with some tacked-on elements no one ever uses. Meanwhile, the question of whether or not it's a good Resident Evil game probably doesn't matter — Umbrella Corps comes off more as a bid to appeal to fans of competitive shooters with a Resident Evil product than vice-versa. That's a tall order, but maybe they can pull it off.