Usually, when an evil pharmaceutical corporation appears in a video game, it's our job to burn it to the ground, not slip on a lab coat and help cook up a batch of illegal bioweapons. However, in Undead Inc., you control your own crooked company, building apparently running normal, nothing-to-see-here operations above ground and more nefarious facilities in subterranean chambers, away from prying eyes.
A management sim that smacks of Two Point Hospital's clinical sheen and Fallout Shelter's flat perspective, Undead Inc. perhaps owes more to Racoon City. "I was playing the remake of Resident Evil 2, and I get to the point where Leon meets up with Ada Wong," Doru Apreotesei, lead designer and founder of developer Rightsized Games says. "He incredulously says to her: how is this even possible?" Wong's response? "Welcome to corporate America."
Cheesy, sure, but it was enough to get Apreotesei's mental cogs turning. "What would a game look like when you're playing from that point of view?" he says. "Instead of playing as the hero trying to take down this corporation—what would it look like if you were the general manager of something like an Umbrella Corporation?"
Quite stressful, I'd wager, after a brief hands-off preview of Apreotesei's vision of corporate medical malfeasance. Things start quietly enough: an empty office block split into vacant rooms you convert into common areas such as doctors’ clinics, pharmacies, and research labs. It’s all above board here and follows a cadence familiar to other management games. You need to make money to pay bills, hire staff to perform duties and care for patients before they seek treatment from rival vendors.
Hazards, like fires or diseases, can spread through your facility, so you must try to pre-empt disasters. Though, if a problem appears, your staff will automatically step in to tackle it. "It's a non-choice for someone to go and repair a broken room, and it would be busywork for us to make that manual," Apreotesei says. "We're automating all those things, but the important thing is for you to make sure that you have enough drones and enough maintenance staff."
But cruising on profits from curing everyday ailments will never make enough dosh to pay for your black projects. The real money is in cooking up a super soldier serum, a weaponized virus, or zombification. In other words, the superweapons that a James Bond villain might be interested in.
"We have gorillas, wolves, tigers, lions, and all this stuff you can equip them with, like mind control devices, to ship them off to various places," Apreotesei says. "We see the tech tree as moving from the more grounded to the increasingly fantastical. You can go into even more experimental programs where you're not just repurposing animals that god made, but making brand new things from scratch."
If you can keep it all hush-hush, that is. As your corporate empire grows, you’ll need to stave off the suspicions of the police, media, public, and even your employees. "It's impossible to staff your company with a bunch of yes-men exclusively," Apreotesei says. A worker might be skilled at their job but unable to ignore your illegal deeds—a trait charmingly measured by a character’s "culture fit." Meanwhile, excavating vast areas below ground can draw attention from neighbors or local city government officials. And if one of your experiments blows up in your face, law enforcement might be alerted to the explosion.
Enacting certain company policies can take some of the heat off—like discounting consumer products to earn a bit of loyalty with the public—though you’ll never be able to give up a life of crime entirely. Your illicit research downstairs can unlock new operations and products to sell through your legitimate business above, presenting you with a trade-off: keep a low profile at the risk of going bankrupt or push your luck with ever-more wicked ideas for a big payday. Even when that bubble bursts, though, you’ll be able to get out in a hurry.
"I'm going to pay my franchise fee, and as soon as I've done that, it unlocks extraction," Apreotesei says before pressing a button surrounded by barricade tape. A countdown appears, patients promptly leave, a van parks around the side of the building, and all employees start carrying out the company’s assets in big cardboard boxes. "Whatever you bring with you is what you start on the next map with," he says. "So you actually get to retain all that, whether it’s research, money, or people."
A shadowy pharmaceutical company that just won’t stay dead? Now that’s Umbrella Corp. through and through.