Saturday, November 12

Resident Evil The Umbrella Conspiracy Book Review

Written by S.D. Perry
Published by Pocket Books, New York (1998)
ISBN: 0671024396

Resident Evil The Umbrella Conspiracy retells the events of the Spencer mansion. If you’ve played the 1996 Resident Evil video game, you will know what to expect here. Raccoon City is a remote mountain community under attack by violent cannibalistic killers. The Raccoon Police Department hands the case to the Special Tactics and Rescue Squad or S.T.A.R.S. After contact is lost with the Bravo squad, the S.T.A.R.S Alpha squad gears up and heads into the field. They find themselves trapped in a strange mansion laced with traps, monsters and deadly secrets. The alpha team finds itself down to only four members. Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield, Barry Burton and the last survivor from the Bravo team, Rebecca Chambers. Will they survive the nightmares that call the Spencer mansion home?

The Umbrella Conspiracy follows the same rough plot as the first classic game in the series. This is not the same story from the 2002 remake of the first game; this is the novelisation of the classic game. This means no Lisa Trevor. The puzzles mentioned are always those from the classic version of the game and not the expanded puzzles from the remake. The book also simultaneously tells the stories of the Chris and Jill campaigns. It does this by having characters cut corners to not repeat tasks or run into each other before the end of the story. For example, during the game, the player will need to take Jill through the residence defeating the mutated Plant 42 to find the Helmet key. This key will allow Jill to return to the mansion to find the battery to operate the lift in the courtyard. Because of this, you can stop the courtyard waterfall revealing the entrance to the underground tunnels. In the book, Jill sees someone walk through the still-running waterfall and follows them, thus bypassing the need for her to go to the residence. Chris and Rebecca then fail to see the secret waterfall entrance and continue to the residence. This allows both stories to happen at the same time. If you know this game well, it’s remarkable how Perry manages to weave these stories around each other seamlessly. Every part of the game is covered but not by both lead characters.

This book was written in 1998, a few months after Resident Evil 2 was first released worldwide. I want to mention this because the book expands on the story of the first game quite a bit, including the RPD Station and Chief Irons, among other things from the later game. The novel also adds a lot of backstory to the characters absent from the games themselves. For example, Jill Valentine is the daughter of Dick Valentine, one of the world's best cat burglars. He raised Jill to follow in his criminal footsteps. This is where she learned to use a lockpick and, as Barry Burton would put it, become the master of unlocking. He was eventually caught and locked up, which is when Jill decided not to follow down the same road as him and joined the S.T.A.R.S. She’s new to Raccoon City but did personally know the first two victims of the cannibal killers that the unit is investigating. They were little girls that lived across the road from her new home. She grew attached to them after she helped them find their missing cat one day. This gives Jill a personal investment in the case that’s lacking in every other telling of this story.

Chris is also given a personal connection to the case. His schoolyard friend, Billy, worked for Umbrella and contacted Chris shortly after the murders began. Billy wanted to meet up within the hour, stating that he had information on the killings. Strangely Billy never showed up and was reported missing shortly after. This leads Chris to believe that there is more to these murders than anyone else suspects. It’s nice to see the S.T.A.R.S doing more than just running and gunning. We see Jill and Chris examine the evidence, come up with theories and chase down leads, all before we even get to the start of the game.

A brand new character is introduced to the story that has never appeared in any games, films or even comics outside of the S D Perry novels. This is Trent, and he is a reoccurring character in all of Perry’s Resident Evil books. He gives Jill a PDA device containing notes, maps and clues to the various puzzles within the Spencer Mansion.

I find this interesting as it was copied for the Welcome to Raccoon City film. In that film, Wesker gets the PDA and not jill, but the similarities are too significant to ignore. Jill gets her PDA in the locker room, and Wesker finds his PDA placed in his locker. Both PDAs deliver the maps and notes that players find around the mansion in the game. I refuse to believe that the Welcome to Raccoon City writers didn’t read this novel first. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I honestly think a PDA is a clever way to have the characters gain access to the tools the player has in the game, such as the map and a record of the files you find. The Umbrella Conspiracy also introduces the ideas of White and Red Umbrella being separate parts of the broader corporation. In the book, White Umbrella is responsible for the BOW research that leads to the mansion outbreak and eventually even the destruction of Raccoon City. The P W Anderson film series introduced the idea of the Red and White AI queens. Then we have the canon of the later games from the Resident Evil 7 DLC Not A Hero that introduces the reformed Blue Umbrella. I find it fascinating how many ideas the series would go on to recycle in the films and games that came after this book.

What’s also interesting to me are the changes from the original games. In the games, S.T.A.R.S stands for Special Tactics and Rescue Service, while in the book, it stands for Special Tactics and Rescue Squad. The games also make it clear that the S.T.A.R.S are a part of the RPD. While it’s covered more in Perry’s later Resident Evil novels, it is mentioned that the S.T.A.R.S are their own operation. They often work with local police forces but can operate independently when needed. There are other minor changes from the understood canon of the games. I’m not going to list them all, but one little change that I find interesting is the case of the missing hand. During the book and game’s intro, Joseph Frost finds a severed hand belonging to one of the missing bravo team members in the forest. The unreleased Resident Evil Zero prototype revealed that this hand belonged to Edward Dewey. The novel states that the hand belongs to Kenneth Sullivan instead. This may sound small, but for a while, there was a lot of debate within the community regarding whose hand this was. Eventually, the Resident Evil Remake would remove the hand altogether, meaning that the released version of Resident Evil Zero also removed the missing hand.

Is The Umbrella Conspiracy a good book? It’s not a masterpiece by any means, but then I don’t think it set out to be. I doubt this book will grab your attention if you’ve never played a Resident Evil game. If you’re interested in Resident Evil, this book is worth reading. I’ve finished it twice in the last three years and have enjoyed it both times. The Umbrella Conspiracy is an enjoyable nostalgic treat for existing fans. It doesn’t need to be anything more than that, and that’s okay.

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