Back in the 90’s, video games had a trend of having big ominous corporations that served as the general antagonist for the story, even if the true antagonists just worked there. The idea that the heroes had not just one or two, but an entire (usually public) organization baring down on them for whatever reason was a pretty popular idea, due to the fact that just the idea made the fight that much more intense and necessary. Filled with corrupt corporate executives, the company seems benevolent to the general masses, but is secretly developing either weaponry, amassing political sway, and plotting how it can take over the world.
None fit this example better than Resident Evil’s Umbrella Corporation.
Since the beginning of the game series, Umbrella became the epicenter of pretty much every plot point. While the plot has been tooled around with since the franchise’s birth in 1998, one of the the main points of the series stayed the same – Umbrella = Crazy Evil Megacorp. While the introduction of Umbrella started with the very first game, much of its backstory was told throughout the series, most notably in Resident Evil 0 and Resident Evil 5.
Umbrella began when three men came together with a plan. With the discovery of a virus that could potentially alter the very genetic structure of a living organism, these men – Ozwell E. Spence, James Marcus, and Edward Ashford – took it upon themselves to delve into how this massive discovery could benefit themselves. The Progenitor Virus became the first ingredient for Umbrella’s rise to power. The corporation started as cover for the founding trio to conduct their business and research; using the guise of a pharmaceutical company to both hide and fund their experimentation with the Progenitor.
Things began to change at a certain point, however. Spencer and Marcus decided to go the route of researching the Progenitor for use as a biological weapon, while Ashford simply wanting to discover the scientific secrets of the virus. At some point, Ashford contracted the virus and died suddenly, and Spencer and Marcus were able to continue unabated. With Spencer’s vast wealth and the added coverage of Umbrella, Marcus was able to develop the corporation’s most widely-used viral weapon – the Tyrant Virus, or T-Virus. However, the praise he received from his made Spencer paranoid. This ultimately led to Spencer placing two young researchers to monitor Marcus’s actions; their names being Albert Wesker and William Birkin. Eventually the two ended up assassinating Marcus under Spencer’s orders, with Birkin given the T-Virus to claim as his own discovery. This left sole control of the corporation to Spencer, who had long since harbored plans to use the viruses to usher in a new age for mankind.
Meanwhile, Umbrella had become a front-runner in the international pharmaceutical and medical technology industry, gaining influence and power, as well as helping put the sleepy town of Raccoon City on the map by building facilities and creating jobs for the town. They also established training and research facilities in the Arklay Mountains near Raccoon City, Antartica, Sheena Island in Europe, Russia, and Africa, as well as a lab underneath Raccoon City itself and a disposal facility for the company’s failed bio-weapons.
The fall of Umbrella started after the wide-scale T-virus outbreak in Raccoon City caused much of the populace to turn into zombies. While Umbrella sent in several teams and B.O.W.’s to either recover research, destroy evidence, or gather combat data for the B.O.W.’s, it could not prevent the eventual Presidential order of a nuclear missle sent in to obliterate the city and prevent further spread of the virus. Although several pieces of evidence and a few key witnesses were able to finger Umbrella as the source of the outbreak, Umbrella was able to use its vast influence to shift blame to the US government.
However, after several years and several similar outbreaks, evidence continued to pile on top of the mega-corp, and its fortune began rapidly declining. After its last major installation in Caucasus, Russia was infiltrated by now rogue agent Albert Wesker and it’s main supercomputer’s data stolen and used against them in court, Umbrella was finally found guilty of its crimes against humanity and suspended indefinitely by the US government. Ozwell Spencer, the figurehead of the business and one of the few Umbrella executives to survive through it all, found himself on the run when a international manhunt was conducted to bring him to justice.
Despite Umbrella’s eventual fall, it’s legacy continued. It’s bio-weaponry continued to permeate across the globe, and became something of a commodity on the black market. Further, Umbrella’s research helped bring it’s spiritual successor, Tricell Inc., into the large gap it’d left in the pharmaceutical world thanks to Wesker. Even then, though, the name Umbrella was forever stamped across the game’s world as the producer of nightmares and would having a lasting effect on the series.