Like the horrors that inhabit its universe, Capcom’s Resident Evil Zero (RE0) has returned from the dead, and is chock full of the same thick atmosphere from the first time round. Unfortunately, much like a reanimated corpse, time hasn’t been kind to this now 13 year old third-person survival horror title - despite the few extras it provides.
First releasing Stateside in 2002, and our neck of the woods a few months later in early 2003, Resident Evil Zero on the Gamecube reviewed quite well for the time, with NZGamer.com giving it an 8.9 in our 2004 review. This brings us to 2016, where, in the modern-day spirit of game preservation and HD Remasters, we are once again given the opportunity to uncover the events that preceded the original Resident Evil.
Taking place shortly before the mansion incident of the first game, RE0 allows players to learn more about the dreaded T-Virus and how it broke containment from Umbrella Corporation’s laboratories, while also giving players the added feature of being able to play as, and switch between, two unique characters throughout almost the entire game.
Those two protagonists are Rebecca Chambers and Billy Coen. Rebecca is a S.T.A.R.S. medic with low defences, but is able to combine and use herbs, as well as mix chemicals. Billy’s a convicted ex-soldier with a death sentence he’s trying to escape, who’s able to move heavy objects, and take a few more hits - despite wearing less clothing, and no armour.
After completing the game on any difficulty, a new addition to this HD Remaster is that players are given the option of replaying RE0 as the franchise’s recurring villain, Albert Wesker. Playing as Wesker doesn’t really change the story, but it does change’s Billy skin to look like the villain, and provides him with some incredibly powerful abilities, as well as changing Rebecca’s skin to look more badass.
Wesker’s new T-Virus-enhanced powers are great for replaying the game at speed-run times, and are perfect for trophy hunters. These powers include the ability to perform a “Shadow Dash”, which lets you traverse environments incredibly quickly, and a power called the “Death Stare”, which sees Wesker deal massive amounts of damage to enemies.
Getting back to the core of the title, the switching ability is a neat idea in theory, as it helps add an extra dimension to the simple, yet pretty enjoyable puzzles. However, the limited resource space between the two characters, as well as the clunky, slow to load, and unmodified user interface makes item and gear management quite a laborious hassle.
It’s a real disappointment that the amazing pre-rendered backgrounds (which hold up surprisingly well) are wasted on a title with such bad writing. The setting, situations, and puzzles are pretty decent, but the actual dialogue, and the voice acting that accompanies it, is some of the worst I’ve ever experienced. Corny lines, unconvincing conversations, and poor acting basically turn what could be an interesting game into a pretty dull experience.
Some might chalk this up to it being an old game, or a poor translation from the original Japanese title, but that doesn’t change the fact that the story is weak. Another annoying issue I had was the number and frequency of the load screens.
Every room you move to has a separate loading screen, with each one lasting an irritatingly long amount of time. This only gets more annoying when you have to traverse from one side of the map to another to collect a required item you had to leave behind, or should you wish to get to one of the few save points before moving into a predictable enemy or boss encounter.
Speaking of save points, this is one of the largest areas of the game where you can quite easily see that the evolution of games over the last decade has spoiled us. I found it ridiculous the number of times I’d complete a drawn out process for a puzzle, only to stumble across an enemy that kills me thanks to RE0’s incredibly poor targeting system (combined with my own ineptitude - let’s be honest here).
Being thrown back a few hours only added insult to injury. Having to replay large sections due to a limited number of possible saves, and constantly having to backtrack to save makes the game feel more sluggish that I’d have liked. I can see how it adds tension; should I save now? or should I wait until after I clear the area so I don’t have to redo it all? but if I die, I’ll have to redo the entire puzzle I just finished… there IS pressure in making these decisions, I just don’t find that to be enjoyable, and never have.
The load times and save system aren’t the only frustrating things about moving around the game, though. Each room also has multiple camera angles, which change the direction the D-pad (and thumbsticks) move you in. Moving through a screen angled up, then the camera changes, and suddenly you’re running back the way you came, or you’re standing still - ugh!
You eventually get used to it. Or should I say, you get to know that you need to stop for a moment to get your bearings on how to move your character on this new screen. On the plus side, the HDRemaster of RE0 has provided a control scheme that is more reminiscent of modern games, so the tank controls don’t feel nearly as painful - which is a massive bonus for gamers like myself.
Of course, the original screen aspect ratio and control schemes are available for those who want a more traditional experience, but the optional changes make the world of difference - yet aren’t without a downside. Changing the screen to fit a wide screen doesn’t stretch the image, and the designers didn’t make new backgrounds to fit the screen, they merely zoom the picture in, cutting the top and bottom of the old image out of the frame.
The downside to this is that once easy-to-spot clues are now natively off screen, and require that you move the camera to look up, down, and around to see the sections that have been chopped out of the frame. This makes a few of the puzzles a bit more difficult (unless you remember them from yesteryear), but at least you get to fill the whole screen with the game.
I will say though, the game is oozing with atmosphere. Every location feels lived in, and it’s all thanks to the sublime work done on those pre-rendered backgrounds. Sure, they’re a little blurry because they’re stretched to the new TV sizes, but they still look great.
The entire first section of the game is probably my favourite part. I just loved wandering about the train (the first time, before backtracking too much), exploring, finding and reading documents, learning the way the puzzles play, and getting an idea of the enemy types I’ll be facing throughout the title.
Actually, speaking of enemy types, if you’re a newcomer to the franchise, or you only know the movies, you might get a shock regarding some of the foes that you’ll encounter. The T-Virus is a fascinating take on bringing zombies to life, and it breeds some initially confusing, but remarkably interesting, and unexpected foes designed to slow you down - obviously only if you’re jumping in without having played this or any of the previous RE titles to date, but still worth mentioning.
What’s more, you don’t actually have to kill everything. Sure you have to take down the bosses, and the odd creature blocking your path, but it’s pretty neat that you can get through massive chunks of the game by just dodging the enemies and running into the next room. They don’t follow, and there’s no real repucations for not dispatching every infected beast that crosses your path.
Here’s the thing, the ability to play as Wesker (unlocked after a full playthrough); the backgrounds, and most of the puzzles hold up nicely. And if you’re new to the franchise, there’s some neat enemies that could give you a run for your money.
However, in my mind, the 3D characters and animations, the quality of the writing and voiced dialogue, the atrocious number and length of the loading screens, all combined with the archaic save style make the HD Remaster of Resident Evil Zero something only a die-hard fan would enjoy.
Or, perhaps with the lower cost, it might be worth the price of entry for someone looking to play all games in the series, but it’s certainly not a title I would return from the dead to play.