It’s hard to believe that Capcom released Resident Evil Zero, the survival-horror co-op game 13 years ago in 2002. It’s even harder to believe how little amount of work they put into this HD version of the original game that was originally released on the Nintendo GameCube. That was two gaming generations ago. Bringing HD versions of retro games back from the past is sort of the new thing these days, so let’s ignore the under utilization of power that the new generation consoles have that this game didn’t take advantage of, and focus on what is here instead.
The re-released version of Resident Evil Zero feels like an archaic dirge forgotten in the past, even if it does support widescreen now. And for the most part, it should have stayed there. Thousands of gamers probably remember stepping through that eerie train for the first time and wondering just what the hell went on in there. And that’s just it: a nostalgia trip that’s best remembered, not revisited. This is an origin story that takes place before the events of the original (and also recently re-released) Resident Evil. Exploring what happened before the mansion and figuring out what exactly transpired is what this game is all about.
Resident Evil Zero boasts HD graphics and improved sound, but like most retro re-released games(i.e. the brilliant Rare Replay), clearing up the graphics doesn’t mean we get to see slick lines and non-pixilated graphics. For 2002, Resident Evil Zero shined like a gem. Unsettling, macabre train cars crawling with corps’, and mystifying, inhospitably damp sewers drew us into these surreal atmospheres we only dare trekked through in our worst nightmares. It was a time when the horror genre was still learning how to scare, and it was beginning to get it damn right.
"Thousands of gamers probably remember stepping through that eerie train for the first time and wondering just what the hell went on in there. And that’s just it: a nostalgia trip that’s best remembered, not revisited."
Unfortunately, Resident Evil Zero can’t scare like it did upon first release. But that’s understandable to a degree with a game over a decade old. Graphics are still, sadly blurry, foggy, and often a muddy mess in much of the game. There are, however, fleeting moments of brilliant clarity that feel out of place when compared to other blurry rooms. Without the ability to incorporate natural lighting effects back in 2002, the muddy graphics blend into the backgrounds and sometimes offer little definition between what’s in the foreground and what’s in the background. Faces and character models are still unnaturally stiff as they were over a decade ago. Of course, it’s not completely fair to judge this game based on what is possible today, but it is worth pointing out for those who may be stepping into a game two generations ago for the first time. And also, on the other hand, being re-released does put it up for scrutiny.
Gamers that have experienced Capcom’s early Resident Evil game entries — mostly those that premiered on Sony’s PlayStation in the late ’90s — will clearly remember the scenarios that took place one screen at a time. Pre-rendered gameplay (as it’s called) is not something gamers just getting into the series, or those who’ve enjoyed later titles such as Resident Evil 4, are going to appreciate. It’s still just as annoying as it was when it was first invented. For its time, pre-rendered scenes were often used as a way to improve graphics fidelity over a true 3D environment. That’s why in its time Resident Evil games often looked better graphically than, say, Super Mario 64 that had full motion camera angles. There are always a few issues with pre-rendered motifs in gaming, especially in a survival-horror franchise such as this.
‘Normal’ mode on Resident Evil Zero can be challenging enough as it is. And having a pre-rendered room or set that does not allow the ability to see what is moaning and growling before the character, just out of screen view can end in death more often than not. There will be times when shooting blindly past the screen’s field of view at enemies unknown becomes common place; and those cool enemy-type monsters will make the player lose all appreciation and that ‘jump-out-of-my-seat factor.’ What’s worse, and a sign of its age, is when said enemies grab the characters just out of screenshot, then rapidly depleting health with no real ability to defend at that point.
Not surprising, Resident Evil Zero offers an “alternate” style control scheme that oddly enough feels just as outdated as the rest of it. Capcom have always offered a D-pad friendly approach to their early Resident Evil franchise as apposed to full analog controls. Up meant walk forward and Down meant walk in reverse (not turn around). Left and Right meant spin the character in a circle to point him or her in the desired walking direction. The alternate layout allows for use of full 3D analog control which feels so much better and is much more comprehensible when trapped in a corner with an approaching zombie and little time to think. However, controlling the characters in tight areas still leads to too often wall-hugging and teetering left and right just to move down a straight hallway. Why exactly? Because the controls were updated but not the character actions.
The characters are still programmed with the D-pad in mind and can only truly fluctuate with the commands of forward, reverse, left, right. Not today’s modern controls that allow 360 degrees of all-point direction. The alternate controls aren’t horrible, just not as modern as Capcom would want us to believe. And at least using them the characters automatically jog rather than having to use a run button with the classic D-pad layout. Yes, when it’s time to getting the hell out of harms way the characters have to jog for their lives.
"Pre-rendered gameplay (as it’s called) is not something gamers just getting into the series, or those who’ve enjoyed later titles such as Resident Evil 4, are going to appreciate."
Thankfully, what isn’t outdated are the smart puzzles and item-hunt style gameplay… when not trying to avoid off-screen enemies. Tons of items can be collected, connected, combined and exchanged to get into a number of locked rooms and hidden alcoves. Rooms, treasures, and just cool looking items all have their place in this game. Some of it takes a lot of thinking on what goes where and even figuring out little hints in some areas.
I was stuck for a good while trying to hunt down an item, just to find out it was in the room, past a desk I didn’t know I could walk around. What’s most unfortunate about the situation of many different items is the fact that only a few can actually be picked up. Each of the two characters have six inventory slots. Most players will end up using two slots instantly: one for a weapon, one for ammo. Then herbs for healing (which will be needed constantly). Ink Ribbon for saving the game — yes, it carries over the old save system of the original games where an Ink Ribbon must be acquired to save the game on a typewriter.
Some weapons can take up to two slots, and mandatory items that are needed will have the player dropping belongings just to carry a one-use item. It’s frustrating, but in a strange way sort of fun to see what little can be carried to get from point A to point B. And the map (left trigger) allows to locate the exact location of dropped items (clicking A while in Map mode). Overall, the item hunting is still a lot of fun.
Furthermore, as this is a single player, quasi co-op-style game, many of the puzzles and activities require one character to assess a situation while the other character reaches another goal. This is actually where the game shines its brightest. Being able to roam about while figuring out new paths to help each character out is extremely satisfying. While the two characters are working together in the same area, often times the second character can block the way when trying to push a table or box around. It’s a relief to know that the right analog stick can momentarily control the second character to move it clear of obstacles without having to fully switch over with the Y button.
Early Resident Evil games are very well known for their terrible voice acting. Resident Evil Zero is no exception. Rebecca, the female protagonist has the acting chops of stereotypical B-movie horror actress. While Billy, the male protagonist is slightly better, but not by much. Character dialog significantly shows its age compared to modern video game writing.
"Tons of items can be collected, connected, combined and exchanged to get into a number of locked rooms and hidden alcoves."
After completion of the main story, a newly added “Wesker Mode” is unlocked. Wesker becomes a playable character who replaces Billy Coen through the main game as the second character, along with added powers and new abilities. It’s a cheap add on, but it brings some thrill. However, replay value is substantially lower as collecting items and solving puzzles are often easy to remember with no extra challenge to be found.
For those looking to explore the early history of the last decade’s Resident Evil games, Resident Evil Zero is good enough to pursue and enjoy for what it is. But if modern gameplay, graphics and dialog are important for you, this entry is best left back in the past of 2002.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
Item hunting and collecting is still very fun. It's nice to know what happened before the mansion in the original game.
Visuals are often muddy and not as clear as the term "HD" would have advertised. Not much new added. Nostalgia hurts sometimes.