PAX East ’16: Umbrella Corps Hands-On Preview – House of the Dead (PS4)

umbrella corps preview

Capcom’s Umbrella Corps didn’t exactly capture the hearts of gamers everywhere when it was unveiled at Tokyo Game Show last year. That’s probably because, after the poor reception of Resident Evil 6, fans of the survival-horror franchise are loath to get excited about anything that seems to bring it further from its roots. Worse yet, this seems to be a repeat of something Capcom already tried — and arguably failed — to do with Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, an action-focused third-person shooter eviscerated in equal measure by critics and consumers. But watching the trailers and gameplay videos that have debuted so far is one thing, and playing is another entirely. Now that I’ve gotten a chance to try out the game at PAX East, I can let you know just what to expect from Capcom’s new shooter.

Call of Duty? More Like House of the Dead

The mode I got to try during my demo was “DNA Hunter,” in which two teams of three players each are responsible for blasting as many zombies as possible, then collecting the DNA samples that drop from them. The first team to 60 samples won the round in this particular demo, and the first to win three rounds was the overall victor. The first thing I noticed was that, as opposed to the multimillion-dollar budgets of the shooters that Umbrella Corps has been derisively compared to, this has a distinctively arcade-y look and feel to it. That’s not inherently a bad thing, but I’m not sure it’s exactly what Capcom was going for, and a lot of the reason “arcade game” came to mind had to do with the fact that the graphics and controls both felt distinctly dated.

umbrella corps preview

How dated? Well, the muddy textures and primitive lighting effects certainly didn’t bring to mind something that would be a PS4 console exclusive in 2016, even if the game is a download title at reduced pricing. My memory instead wandered to The House of the Dead, SEGA’s 1997 light-gun arcade game that eventually got second wind on Saturn. Sure, it’s in HD and all, but it’s in the same realm — when you shoot zombies, they’re suddenly engulfed in a pixelated “gushing blood” effect, and their limbs are obliterated with all the realism of an exploitation film. The controls, too, have the sort of rigidity that you’d expect in an old arcade shooter; the camera moves in fits and starts and is quite sensitive when you’re trying to aim, and your character locks in abruptly when you try to take cover. And at least in the mode I played, the zombies don’t feel like they present a genuine threat as they might in the main series — ambling about, essentially waiting for someone to kill them, these undead seem to generally serve as fodder or collateral damage during your matches.

Let’s Go Camping

While I was playing, one of Capcom’s staff mentioned to me that getting killed by other players only gave them a small point bonus, so there was “no real incentive to camp near respawn points.” Unfortunately, during our second round, one player did just that — I was killed over and over again (quickly, since only a few shots or swings of the axe melee weapon will ruin your day), leaving me unable to move out and collect any samples. This allowed that player’s other team members to build up points while I was stuck, and they eventually claimed victory. Thankfully, we managed to get them back in the end, but this particular round was frustrating; I got very used to looking at the red “grim reaper” Game Over screen.

The Surprisingly Sour Taste of Victory

While I came away from my PAX East preview of Umbrella Corps victorious, I couldn’t help but notice a sour taste in my mouth. We at PSLS have to withhold judgment until our final review, but so far, Capcom’s latest twist on the Resident Evil franchise only made me wonder why the team continues to roam further and further away from the tropes that made the famed survival-horror series such a smash hit in the first place. Hopefully Capcom will be able to pull things together a bit more, but with the game debuting in a mere two months, it’s looking a bit grim. Umbrella Corps will be a PS4 download-only title released on June 21 for $29.99.