Back in November of 2002 Capcom released Resident Evil Zero, an exclusive survival horror title for the now obsolete Nintendo Gamecube console. Although it is the fourth release in the main series, chronologically it sits first – depicting the events that lead up to the mansion incident in Resident Evil. Fast-forward just over thirteen years later and Capcom have given this old girl a HD makeover and freed it from its Gamecube exclusive abyss, making it available on current-gen and last-gen systems along with PC.
Having not played the game since it was released on the Gamecube, I was excited to go back and revisit the horrors that led to the T-Virus outbreak in the original Resident Evil. Your descent into terror begins in the Arklay Mountains on the outskirts of Raccoon City, where an Umbrella Corporation owned train is overwhelmed and brought to a halt. Bravo Team of the Special Tactics and Rescue Service (known as S.T.A.R.S) response unit’s helicopter malfunctions and they crash land in the forest and find an overturned military vehicle with two mutilated corpses. Here they discover that a fugitive, former marine Billy Coen, is on the run. Bravo team split up and your character, Rebecca Chambers, locates the abandoned train that is now infested with zombies.
Rebecca Chambers: The new kid on the block
Billy Coen: The unlikey knight in shining armour
Chambers, by pure happenstance, educes Coen on the infected train and they both agree that in the face of this unfolding nightmare it’s best that they work together in order to stay alive. It is here we are introduced to the game’s character switching feature. Unlike previous RE iterations where you had to select a character (if the option was there) prior to commencing the campaign, in Zero you have the ability to switch between characters by using the triangle button (PS4). This allows you to take control of whichever character you feel like, or whichever character is more tailored to your current obstacle or objective. Your AI-controlled partner, like in most games, is relatively useless and the real benefit of having switchable characters is harnessed when solving the games puzzles, which are of the same ilk as early Resident Evil titles. Having switchable characters means dual inventories, and given that both Billy and Rebecca’s inventory’s are limited to six slots you’re going to need all the room you can get.
The perk of having limited supply room is that it makes decision on which items to carry more important. There were several times were I spent up to ten minutes trying to fit every item I thought I needed into my inventory, but every time I came to the same conclusion: something valuable had to be left behind (usually the shotgun or grenade launcher). It really makes you appreciate the limitless inventories that a lot of current shooters have, but on the other hand it makes you think a little more tactically than you normally would. Whether you can risk holding another weapon over health items is a choice that you will undoubtedly have to make. But what makes this bearable is that unlike previous entries you can drop items and return later and collect them. In preceding games you had access to several caches where you could store unwanted items, but this often resulted in long treks back to recoup a key or herb to complete a stronger mixture. Another iconic feature that remains is that in order to save you must use ink ribbon on a typewriter, there are no checkpoints; if you die and you haven’t saved, well tough titties. This helps create moments of tension when you’re being attacked, as death could result in the loss of several hours of play.
The Zombie Express
Inventory management 101
As mentioned earlier the game’s story’s purpose is to serve as a prequel to the events that unfold in later iterations, however the links to future events are weak at best, and occasionally the narrative spirals into the realms of absurd – but Resident Evil fans should be used to this by now. The characters aren’t as interesting as series favourites Leon Kennedy or Jill Valentine, and it’s hard to form any sort of emotional attachment to Rebecca or Billy. While our protagonists might be a little flat, Capcom never fail to make an impression with their enemy design. Some of the creatures you encounter you will have faced before, while some newer ones will prove to be worthy competition. One guarantee is that you’re sure to get a laugh out of the designs of some of your foes.
The biggest difference between the 2002 version and the HD remaster are the controls. The 2002 edition’s gameplay contained the anachronistic ‘tank’ controls, which were once a survival horror staple but are no longer considered a favourable controller scheme. In the remaster you are given the choice of either the tank controls or a more modern setup. As much as my heart wanted to me to honour my gaming roots by taking on the challenge of driving my rigid zombie slayers through the campaign, I knew that it would cause too much frustration and would hamper the overall experience. The new controls, which make use of a single analogue stick for movement, make manoeuvring your character feel a lot more fluid and natural. No longer does it look like your character is doing the robot throughout the zombie outbreak. However, you still remain stationary while shooting an oncoming threat; there is no running and gunning here. When you’re in close proximity of your AI-controlled partner you can move them with the right analogue stick, similar to the movement in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.
Billy’s gone batty
What’s cooking good looking?
The pre-rendered backgrounds come to life with the flicker of torch fire and the trees that lash in the wind outside creating an eerie and intimidating tone. Little details like small clouds of dust being kicked up after every step on wooden or carpet floors really help to bring the experience to life.
The atmosphere in the game is top notch, every inch of the environments are beautifully detailed. The pre-rendered backgrounds come to life with the flicker of torch fire and the trees that lash in the wind outside creating an eerie and intimidating tone. Little details like small clouds of dust being kicked up after every step on wooden or carpet floors really help to bring the experience to life. The Gamecube edition was visually impressive when it was released and Capcom have honed the visuals to an impressive level for the HD remaster. The soundtrack further compliments the game’s daunting ambiance with its haunting orchestral score mixed with the muffled moans of those that seek you out, a facet that Capcom have always nailed. The voice actors do a commendable job but are nothing to write home about. The culmination of the game’s horror atmosphere is achieved by using fixed camera angles. Each angle is perfectly chosen, and not knowing what is in front of you, or behind you can heighten the tension to intense heavy breathing and sweaty palms levels. The only blight on this is that sometimes can be awkward to navigate your character to the next frame.
To add a level of replayability to the game Capcom have included Wesker mode. A mode that allows player to complete the campaign again as an extremely powerful Albert Wesker. This mode is unlocked once you complete the campaign for the first time.
Resident Evil Zero provides old school survival horror fans with the experience they have been craving from Capcom for years. In a generation drowning in questionable remasters, Capcom have managed to find a way to provide some of their oldest fans greater admiration for their classic titles while hopefully acquiring some new fans in the process.
Reviewed on PS4