Resident Evil Zero takes place just moments before the opening scene of the original Resident Evil game. Whereas the original game had players entering a mansion to investigate the disappearance of a team of agents – Resident Evil Zero aims to tell the story of those agents and how they came to be missing. Similarly, it was to tell the story of the viral outbreak that would eventually shape the entire series and just what went down at Umbrella for such a catastrophic event to transpire.
The story follows Rebecca Chambers, a medic and the younger member of special task force S.T.A.R.S. who have been sent to investigate a series of cannibalistic murders on the outskirts of Raccoon City. When her and her team arrive they discover an overturned military police transporter and the corpses of two officers. Eventually she meets up with Billy Coen, a death row escapee aboard the Ecliptic Express, an Umbrella owned train which has been overrun by zombies following a bizarre attack by leeches. Despite their differences, they must work together to escape the train and uncover the mystery behind the attacks.Where I previously criticised the original Resident Evil’s story for its rather typical approach to its storyline, Resident Evil Zero goes off the deep end in how ridiculous and over the top it is. Fans of the franchise will be no stranger to the bizarre storylines – think the Psycho homage in CODE: Veronica – but Zero really is something else. It’s a haphazard mix of reasonable explanation for events with quite bluntly unbelievable circumstances too – even within the realm of Resident Evil. Resident Evil Zero is, without a doubt, the most ridiculous story out of the mainline games.
Which is quite worrying since, as it’s a prequel, Resident Evil Zero is designed to fill in the gaps between itself and the original game. On the whole, it barely manages to do so. Sure, it develops the story behind the “masterminds” who are more or less responsible for the outbreak – but it barely touches upon much beyond showing how each member of Bravo Team would eventually perish. The biggest offender here (and most controversial amongst fans) is that Rebecca, who goes through all of this, says nothing of this game’s events in the original Resident Evil making this prequel feel tacked on.Similar to the game that came before it, Resident Evil Zero was one of the best looking games of its time owing to its ingenious mix of pre-rendered backgrounds and highly detailed character models. Much like the original Resident Evil remake before it, Resident Evil Zero still looks fantastic to this day – thanks in part to the atmosphere it evokes.
Every area whether it’s a cabin on a train or a simple store room has had immaculate detail and care poured into it. Lights flicker and waver. Fires burn and crackle. Taps and sinks drip and overflow. Every environment in the game manages to tell a story in itself without saying anything, and it’s something to be commended. From the get go, it’s clear that the developers either honed their craft or had better access to the original game’s assets, as the visual quality of Resident Evil Zero’s HD Remaster is nowhere near as wildly inconsistent as Resident Evil was last year. Resident Evil had its clear sore spots in its HD restoration – namely the Aqua Ring looking too bright and washed out, but Zero suffers none of these issues. Some lighting has been rebuilt in the new engine, but nothing is anachronistic enough to change the look or feel of the game compared to its original appearance. The font for most of the in-game text has been changed too, leading to some files looking disjointed as if they were written by zombie as the new font clearly has not been optimised for how the files are displayed.
Some other more liberal changes have been applied to the games presentation too. The pan and scan camera – which pans the camera across each scene rather than displaying the full scene – returns to compensate for the original games 4:3 presentation. Resident Evil Zero benefits better from this camera style as the locales are designed to be much more open than in previous games. There are a few other changes that might rub purists the wrong way – such as the recolouring of certain enemies or some minor adjustments to Rebecca’s face – but generally speaking the game remains as true to form as it can be. The soundscape remains untouched – which means the voice work is awful and the orchestral score is complements the mood and the ambience perfectly.Much like the original Resident Evil, Zero lets players take control of two characters – each of whom have their own strengths and weaknesses. Unlike Resident Evil, however, both these characters can be controlled and switched between on-the-fly and they both play through the same storyline rather than two separate scenarios with differing supporting casts. This approach to the game means many of the puzzles and scenarios are designed around using both the characters or separating the two to create tension.
The redesigned control scheme from the original HD remaster returns in Zero, and with it comes all the issues associated with them. On one hand, they’re much more intuitive to use and are bound to make the game much more accessible for players who didn’t grow up with the configuration. On the other, they remove a lot of the tension from the game as they make playable characters much more manoeuvrable than they previously were. Thankfully, Capcom have included the option to switch between them (as with most of the changes made) so both sides of the argument can be satiated.Resident Evil Zero differs a lot from its predecessors in a few ways. First off, the partner zapping system means that you essentially will have double the inventory space that you’re used to having. Items can be exchanged between Billy and Rebecca whenever you so wish, and as long as they’re close to each other. Items can even be dropped and returned to later if required. While this sounds like item management isn’t as important in Zero, it’s almost the complete opposite considering that there are no magical linked item boxes anymore to store your goods. Wherever you put something down you’ll have to return to find it again. Item management is more important than ever in Zero and this can easily be a more polarising design choice for players.
The puzzles in Zero are bound to be talked about differently depending which fan you speak to, but a whole lot of them focus around the idea of two characters. Most of them are reasonably easy to get through but some players may get stuck on one or two of them. Some of them are very strong puzzles in the same ilk as classic Resident Evil. Others feel like bog standard “puzzles” you’d find in any game that lets two people play it. Both press the switch at the same time! Navigate through a maze while your partner unlocks the doors! Hold a door open while your partner runs through it! All of these types of puzzles are unfortunately as tired as they were in 2002.Enemy encounters are a bit of a mixed bag, and unfortunately quite a step down from the original Resident Evil. The simplicity of the creatures you’ll encounter (such as infected monkeys, frogs, grasshoppers and bats) will be appreciated by some but they pale in comparison to the creatures you’ll find in the other games. The boss encounters are similarly quite poorly designed, lacking any real strategy to them. One particular boss battle that takes place in a church is quite frankly broken and requires aiming into the air, firing, and praying to your respective god that you’ll be successful.
Speaking of prayer, your partner AI is somewhat competent in how they approach things. You can tell them to follow you or stay put or you can manually move them using the right stick. You can equip weapons on them and watch them use said weapons. But you’ll have to be a bit smart in how you manage your partner to be truly successful in Zero. Giving them too much ammo will see them chew through it like there’s no tomorrow. Alternatively, they can be pretty helpful if they take down an enemy who is mid-grab. You can even use them as a portable item box although it’s not recommended. We can’t be certain, but we do feel like in this HD Remaster that the AI is less aggressive and therefore wastes less ammo but we’d need to confirm it to be sure.The crux of Resident Evil is about surviving and altering your strategies if you come across any problems along the way. Zero suffers in this regard as its pacing is poor. Many times the game will punish you on your first play through by requiring immense backtracking (even by a Resident Evil standard) to find an item you might’ve dropped several hours ago. Other times you’ll be faced by not only one leech zombie but three concurrently. Resident Evil has always been about rationing your ammo and avoiding enemies every now and then rather than killing them – but the (im)perfect storm of a hard to avoid enemy, limited inventory space and constant backtracking makes them feel like an imbalanced inclusion.
For the completely unseasoned player who has never touched a Resident Evil game before, the whole affair will be over in anywhere between nine to twelve hours. Those who are a bit more seasoned could possibly finish it quicker – but repeat playthroughs can easily be cleared in under six hours if you know what you’re doing. The HD Remaster introduces a new for-fun mode where players can use Wesker instead of Billy along with his strange superhuman powers, which is a fun diversion. There’s also a slew of costumes to unlock and a Leech Hunter mini-game that in itself is quite fun to play through.After all is said and done, it sounds like I’m being extremely rough on Resident Evil Zero but it’s still a pretty competent classic Resident Evil game. It’s got all the hallmarks of a good Resident Evil game – the foreboding and ominous atmosphere, the creepy yet maniacal villain and the sense of survival and item management. But it just goes a little bit too off the deep end and is thus taken less seriously than other games in the franchise.
But make no mistakes, Resident Evil Zero HD Remaster is a strong remaster in every sense of the word. The visuals are beautiful, the environments are polished and everything is a visual feast whether it be the characters or the locales themselves. It’s just a fantastic looking game that can now appeal to newcomers and series veterans alike – and allowing more people to experience Resident Evil’s storied (and colourful) history is hardly a bad thing.