You’d be forgiven for thinking Umbrella Corps is a shooter, but much of the time it isn’t. While plenty of guns are available, they’re often not the best choice. The standard melee attack will down a zombie in one, and a grisly axe-like weapon, the Brainer, is the easiest way to win online matches. Players can take so many bullets before dying that it’s a perfectly workable tactic to charge head-on at an opponent with your Brainer – which increases your running speed – because you’ll have it lodged in their skull before their bullets take you down. Unfortunately, now the playerbase has figured this out, Umbrella Corps has descended from clumsy but serviceable cover shooter to abysmal thirdperson brawler.
That’s a shame, because the concept – Counter Strike: Global Offensive but with zombies – is an intriguing elevator pitch. On occasion, that vision is delivered as you creep down a corridor, snaking between zombies and coordinating with your team of three to flush out the enemy. All too often, though, Umbrella Corps finds ways to undermine this vision, and not only by planting a Brainer between its eyes.
Cover is presented as a core tenet of good play, and each available position of supposed safety flashes incessantly as you pass it, urging you to snap to the walls at every opportunity, belying how ineffective it is. Snapping in and out is clumsy and leaves you open to fire, and while in cover you have little freedom to move, meaning crouching next to a wall is often more useful than the provided system. In fact, crouching and even going prone have such high movement speeds that it rarely makes sense to stand upright at all, unless you’re on a Brainer rampage. That sense of fighting against the game’s mechanics is pervasive – after just a few matches you will likely understand Umbrella Corps better than it understands itself.
The worst offender is the mechanic of grabbing a nearby zombie for use as a makeshift meat shield. Doing so reduces your vision drastically, the zombie can attack you at any moment, and any defensive boost is negligible. It’s useless, really, an idea flung into the mix and left there with no thought of balancing. That the tutorial skims over its existence is telling.
If the game’s ideas are poorly conceived, their implementation is worse. Although shooting feels weighty and impactful, readability is such an issue that it doesn’t matter. Screen clutter is the main culprit, from the needlessly complicated HUD which has no issue presenting huge, screen-obscuring messages at crucial moments, to the in-game environs themselves. The latter issue is compounded by muddy textures, poor visual contrast between environmental elements, and the constant presence of zombies, all of which make it needlessly challenging to pick out a target. Even worse is the choice of a camera angle that hovers tight behind the character’s shoulder, meaning your avatar eats up an enormous amount of screen space, leaving you with a horrendous blind spot. Deaths often come from a shooter you can’t see, and the lack of a killcam means you’re regularly left clueless about the cause of your demise. It’s frustrating for both parties: there’s little satisfaction to be found in mowing down an enemy who can’t see you, and even less in getting flattened by an unseen assailant. Missed opportunities are everywhere. The Zombie Jammer, for instance, keeps the undead from attacking you unless another player manages to damage it, at which point you’ve got zombies and the opposing team to contend with. It’s a neat concept that could’ve added a much-needed layer of tactical death-dealing, but again it makes little practical sense. Damaging an opponent’s jammer is a dice roll – they might be swamped by hungry zombies instantly, or they might be able to avoid or kill any attacking undead without much trouble, depending on the map, the player’s location within it, and the whims of the ropey AI. A damaged jammer is only ever a by-product of shooting to kill anyway, which means there’s little if any tactical impact on how you play. Precise aim is near impossible anyway – shooting from the hip is needlessly twitchy, while peering down the sights slows your reticule to a crawl. A single sensitivity setting governs both, so you can only ever rectify one by worsening the other.
These issues span the entirety of this barebones release’s three basic modes. One Life Match is a threeon-three deathmatch with no respawning; MultiMission mode is an alternative setup with changing objectives; The Experiment, meanwhile, is a singleplayer offline campaign. The latter is the worst of the bunch, a series of achingly repetitive challenges that usually boil down to loitering around zombie spawn points until you’ve killed enough to progress, with poorly written diary entries in place of any meaningful plotting.
This is a game that is targeting the esports scene, and though it’s unlikely to be successful in that aim, it is appropriately at its best in competitive multiplayer. But none of its modes will hold the attention for long, and its prospects as a competitive game are poor, especially since an enormously frustrating respawn system often places you directly into enemy fire for an instant death. Some of this can be blamed upon the maps which, while offering some nostalgic locales for Resident Evil fans, are far too small. One Life Match has its moments, and its three-minute rounds should keep things pacy and tense, but the underlying game just isn’t strong enough to support it. There are sparse moments that hint at Umbrella Corps’ potential, but these are mere glimpses of a better game, lost beneath a stampeding horde of design mistakes.
There’s little satisfaction in downing an enemy who can’t see you, less in getting flattened by an unseen assailant