With the recent announcement of ‘Resident Evil Zero HD Remaster’ there is a lot of buzz around the Nintendo Gamecube Exclusive entry into the legendary Resident Evil franchise.
A buzz that has not existed around the title since September 2000 when the game was unveiled at the Tokyo game show.
I recently revisited the title on stream as I started my Resident Evil “maREathon” in which I play through zero to six in chronological order.
Was it a game that deserves a remake or is it best left to the annuls of gaming history?
For the uninitiated ‘Resident Evil Zero’ was originally conceived as a N64 exclusive title and if you look hard enough you’ll see footage of it running on the hardware (in fact- i’ll embed it here for ya). In the chronology of the series this is a prequel to Resident Evil, you are Rebecca Chambers on her first field mission, investigating a series of grisly murders in the Arklay mountains. Of course it’s not long until her Bravo Team is wiped out and she is left alone in the apparent safety of a train.
As a prequel this has an extremely satisfying story arc – it explains the mission of the Bravo Team well enough, explains how Rebecca came to be the only survivor of Bravo team, how she came to be in the Spencer mansion while simultaneously building the mythos and lore of the Spencer family incredibly well. Mostly this lore is given piecemeal through notes or the environments; others it’s a little more forced! However it leaves plot holes (as all prequels do) such as “why doesn’t Rebecca have a gun in Resident Evil? (last I saw of her she had a freaking arsenal!).
In a first for the series you are in direct control of a second protagonist; Billy Coen, an ex-soldier who has been accused of murdering civilians. Here is Zero’s biggest innovation for the series and it is a genuine game changer (as well as the foundation to the co-op found in later entries),you control both characters and can swap between them at will, you can also decide whether your characters travel together, separately or both. The design of this adds strategy and an element of problem solving because at times you will need to use a certain character to progress – their unique skills and attributes prove to be useful at different times; and indeed, it is impossible to complete Zero without using both characters effectively.
Another innovation is the item management. Gone is the magical chest of infinite space and teleportation and in its place is a swapping and dropping system. When the two protagonists are close they can swap items; when they are separated you can drop the item on the ground. This in one respect was a great idea, on a number of occasions I came across a quest item and could drop something to pick it up and continue the story. In another respect there are several items you will use time and time again, you must remember where you dropped them otherwise you will be unable to progress. A nightmare that is somewhat mitigated by the items being placed on the map – I had to backtrack an immense amount on three occasions to get the hookshot. It is a great idea, that opened avenues for puzzles (that the design of the game does take into consideration) but at times can be a pain.
Is it better than the chests of games gone by? In my opinion no.
The rest of the gameplay is your traditional (classic?) Resident Evil, tank controls and pre-rendered backgrounds are de-rigueur, a multitude of items and obtuse puzzles are the order of the day. Here I felt that the puzzles were less obtuse than is normal for Resident Evil, once you get around the internal logic of the game they all make sense; they are not as obtuse as the puzzles in ‘Code: Veronica’ and they are not as straight forward as those in the original. Overall they are well conceived, thought out and executed puzzles – several are incredibly satisfying to solve as well.
Graphically ‘Resident Evil Zero’ is sumptuous looking, character models are detailed and beautiful, the atmosphere is dripping with every camera angle, lightning flash, undead moan and carefully placed shadow. The enemies are also pieces of art, zombies are suitably grotesque, the boss creatures are also superb looking; ‘Resident Evil Zero’ is a terrifying game that is also truly beautiful – showing its age in resolution etc, but still undoubtedly beautiful.
It is also deceptively difficult…
…it pulls no punches at all – it’s a real throwback to the original Resident Evil on PSOne. Zombies are plentiful but bullets are incredibly scarce; by itself this is not a problem, in fact it is a staple ingredient to the genre of survival horror. What is an issue however is Capcom finding it necessary to include enemies that require a lot of ammo to put down. You’ll encounter swarms of mutated cockroachs, giant snakes, numerous zombies, and Leechmen…sometimes more than one leechman. It’s rare that you meet a solitary enemy and It’s in combat that the old Resi control scheme starts to show signs of creaking. The Leechmen especially move quickly and have huge range, it’s difficult to bring down one of them but; in numerous occasions, you’ll face more than one and it quickly becomes a pain! Near the beginning of the game I found myself running a specific corridor repeatedly trying not to die – it is brutal – I didn’t have the firepower needed to bring down the leechman and the corridor was very narrow. When I succeeded in these sections however the sense of elation and accomplishment was great.
I suppose all this adds to the horror and emphasises the survival, maybe it was intentional, but even on medium it is a brutally difficult game at times.
Before I wrap this up I will say one thing, the final boss is absolutely horrendous. It was a complete and utter let down, there was no tension or challenge – strange to say as up to this point Zero was built on those two things and built superbly well. The “Tyrant” is a real let down and ultimately an anti-climax.
Overall though ‘Resident Evil Zero’ is a great game, it is atmospheric and scary, well thought out and designed, truly innovative in a genre that is desperately lacking in that department and above all else it is a great entry into the series that can stand proud alongside its more famous siblings.
I enjoyed revisiting ‘Zero’ and I look forward to doing it again in glorious HD. 8/10