Resident Evil Zero HD Remaster Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360, PC, Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox One
A chummy agreement between Capcom and Nintendo meant that Resident Evil Zero would earn the legacy of being one of the most overlooked titles in the series. Originally conceived for Nintendo 64, complications between heavy load times and the console’s cartridge-based media led the project to be shelved. In 2002, the game was redesigned for Gamecube but exclusivity deals would see many faithful PlayStation owners miss out on what was a solid entry in the series and perhaps the last bastion of pure pant-soiling horror before the series dynamically shifted in a bold new direction.
Released around two years before the literal game-changer that was Resident Evil 4, this prequel sets up the events of first game by reacquainting us with S.T.A.R.S. Bravo team medic Rebecca Chambers. After a botched operation to investigate a series of strange murders on the outskirts of Raccoon City, she is forced to forge an unlikely alliance with convicted murderer Billy Coen in order to stay alive. Working together, they begin to understand a larger plan is in motion and that the devious Umbrella corporation is behind a conspiracy of apocalyptic proportions.
Some thirteen years later and even a remaster can’t fix the dated, traditional design. But surprisingly, this all works in the game’s favour. Fixed camera angles and pre-rendered backgrounds still create a brooding, tense atmosphere while clumsy controls make staving off zombification that bit more difficult. Even the wooden dialogue and awkward animations give the whole plot a hammy, B-Movie vibe which, when it comes to zombie tales, is always a plus. It’s a very welcome bite of nostalgia, and for those who missed it first time, offers some interesting if flawed features in the series. This isn’t just an origin story for Resident Evil but effectively a throwback to classic survival horror.
While the first two games introduced us to multiple playable characters, Zero was the first to bring in partner-swapping. What was once a workaround for the Nintendo 64’s lack of optical-disc power became the key selling point for the game when it finally arrived on the Gamecube. Both Rebecca and Billy have to be kept alive if you’re to survive the nightmare and while you can switch between them at the push of a button, the game’s narrative constantly forces the pair apart. Timed missions will push them to opposite ends of a level, while limited resources and amped up set-pieces will prove to be a constant challenge when trying to keep two characters from becoming zombie chow.
Babysitting the two adds an extra element of danger to the proceedings. Resource management plays a key role in this and carefully dividing ammo, medical supplies, quest items and even your ink ribbon (used sparingly to save your game) is a tricky juggling act. Constantly dropping in and out of the in-game menu becomes a chore as you assign various items between the pair. Unlike other Resident Evil games, there aren’t any storage boxes. Items will remain wherever you drop them but when there’s a herd of walkers standing in your way, running from creaky door to darkened stairwell and back is a tedious task. If there was an aspect of old-school Resi in need of a remaster this is it.
If zombies, giant bugs or in-game menus don’t get under your skin, then the various puzzles scattered throughout the game surely will. With large environments to navigate, these aren’t your typical Ikea flat packed standard of puzzles. Instead, you’ll have to search for, examine, and even combine items in order to solve it and proceed deeper into the maze. Even with the painstakingly dull micromanagement system in play, these puzzles still hold their own even after all this time and act as a gentle reminder that modern survival games such the Tomb Raider reboot are somewhat lacking in the brain-teaser department.
Of course, if you’ve been through Resident Evil Zero before then memories of solving these puzzles should come flooding back. Updated graphics and improved widescreen aspect ratios aside, virtually everything in this game has been left “as is” which depending on your affection for the series can either be a welcome trip down memory lane or an absolute hell trip, particularly when compared to the fast-paced action orientated game of the latter games. Cutscenes look soft and grainy, while controls are still difficult to master. Running forward on one screen could see you going back the other way in another. Aiming is ridiculously stiff. Even the controller scheme is in dire need of a revamp. It may add to the charm of what made survival horror so scary at the turn of the millennium but it’s as hard to master now as it was then.
Even battle-scarred fans of the series may seek justification in spending their hard earned cash on what is effectively a few cosmetic touch ups. Perhaps swaying the argument in favour of the game is the addition of Wesker mode, available upon completion of the game. This new mode gives players the opportunity to play the game as the series’ big bad, Albert Wesker who replaces Billy alongside a mind-controlled Rebecca. Granted with extra speed and some additional psychic powers for slaying zombies, for the most part he’s just a model replacement for Billy - same dialogue and everything. Some may see it as a nice fan service while others will see it as a lazy tacked-on addition that doesn’t pack the same punch as the legendary Mercenaries mode that accompanies most Resident Evil games.
Faults aside, this remaster of Resident Evil Zero is an essential for any survival horror fan and a welcome nostalgic train ride through the very basics of the genre. While not as smooth or tight as the recently re-released first Resident Evil HD Remaster, there are plenty of reasons to go back and visit the origins of the outbreak. Loaded with oodles of mythos and scares that still shock over a decade later, there’s plenty of brains and terror in this game that make it totally worth revisiting.