At about this time last year, I openly embraced Capcom’s astounding Resident Evil Remaster, a retooling of the GameCube remake of the 1996 original, and was floored by its genius. More than just perfect atmosphere and frights, the game is a masterpiece of design, providing a mansion that naturally unlocks itself with the pace of the game and intuition of the player.
Plus, it did away with the tank controls, finally opening the doors for casual fans, like myself, who despised them for all those years.
After this revelation, I was excited to finally enjoy the off-beat Resident Evil game that nobody really talks about anymore: Resident Evil Zero. After all, the remake and Zero were created at about the same time, and they shared many key staff members. Some of that genius must have carried over, right?
As expected, Capcom got around to remastering Resident Evil Zero, and here we are a year later with another updated version.
And now I understand why there is a reason Resident Evil Zero is not considered a “classic” in the classic survival-horror series, and it is not just because it has been stuck on the under-performing GameCube for all these years. It’s because it’s a unnecessarily grueling game, unfriendly towards a natural flow of progress and overburdened with crippling inventory management.
A trainwreck after the trainwreck
Resident Evil Zero starts off on the right foot. Our heroes, S.T.A.R.S. rookie Rebecca Chambers and deathrow fugitive Billy Coen, plummet through a rainstorm on a runaway. Fate intervenes on her mission to arrest him, and the unlucky duo must unite under a shaky alliance to bring the speeding monstrosity to a halt. Monsters, leeches, zombies, all of the horror of the night get in their way as tools and teamwork slowly open new areas of the train, eventually granting them the ability to bring their mobile prison to a halt.
If I remember correctly, this is what Capcom sold us in commercials back when the game was new: Resident Evil on a train. Resident Evil Zero’s opening act feels exactly as the game should. Tightly knit compartments open with ingenuity and a natural flow, backtracking is kept to a minimum, as is confusion on how to proceed, and the obstacles are challenging, but never too much of an impossible hurdle to climb.
And this wonderful setup lasts roughly half an hour at most, and then… blahh… it’s back to spooky houses once again. Jumping off that train is no different from diving off the barge in Metal Gear Solid 2, leaping from a scenario that proves a beloved series understands how to take its mechanics forward and then settling for mediocrity for the remaining 90 percent of the game.
What exciting places will Resident Evil Zero take eager players to? Well, after the train, there’s an old mansion, an underground facility, a dark church, and back to the facility again before going to a plant. It’s the first game all over again! Resident Evil 2, a game that came out half-a-decade before this title, had the brains to take Capcom’s horror trip above ground, into the streets of Raccoon City and into a police station!
No such revelations here. Resident Evil Zero suffers from repetitive environments that do little shake up from location to location let alone from the game before it. And you’ll be seeing these rooms very often with all the backtracking for items and weapons you’ll be leaving behind thanks to the notorious item management.
Hope you like item menus
Resident Evil Zero shakes up its predecessor’s blueprint with two original mechanics taking the form of the partner system and the ability to drop items anywhere. Resident Evil incorporated multiple playable characters before, but never at the same time like in this game.
On runthrough of the campaign, players control both Billy and Rebecca. Most of the time, the two will remain together and back one another up in a pinch, but on occasion, fate will separate them, forcing them to search for a way to reunite. Then it’s back together once again.
It’s a decent system but rarely reaches its full potential. The segments where the two are forced to split up are the game’s high points, forcing players to look for a path to get back together. However, in this day and age where co-op is a standard, it’s a novelty at best. Most of the time, the other character will simply act as support fire or an extra set of item slots…
… speaking of which, Resident Evil Zero’s Achilles Tendon: item management. Between Billy and Rebecca, the pair accommodate for six item slots each, making a total of twelve. Of course, each will need a pistol for tight situations or when the bigger boomsticks run out of ammo, so that’s two slots already spoken for on each character, already bringing it down to eight total. Bigger guns take up two slots each, and together with their ammo, bring it down to one remaining slot each if more firepower is needed. And then there are health items, which are a must in Resident Evil. Six slots… already spoken for…
So what about the puzzle items? There is nothing more annoying in any game, let alone Resident Evil Zero, than finding a key item that must be held onto but not having enough space to pick it up. What happens next then? Well, Resident Evil Zero lets players drop items anywhere they choose, doing away with the convenient item trunks from the previous game. Rebecca or Billy must give up something from their inventory, lug the key item to the place it is supposed to go, trek back to the item they dropped, pick it up again, then continue back to where the puzzle was in the first place, and continue to find the next item they must give up an inventory slot for. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
It’s maddening, and it’s only exemplified by the fact that Resident Evil Zero has a TON of puzzle items, far more than the first game, making all this management all the more frustrating.
Of course, there are ways around this. Tips and tricks around the net suggest sharing handgun ammunition between the two characters, but even still, this means every single time a partner runs out of bullets, players will be forced to access the menu, exhange bullets, change characters to open their menu, combine the guns and the bullets, exchange them back to the original character, and finally switch back to the original character to continue the fight.
Three fights could have finished in the time this process takes. It’s your choice… suffer through needless item management or sacrifice an item slot. And someone thought this was a good idea?
Other tips including dumping useless puzzle items, unneeded ammo, that awful deadweight speargun, and ink ribbons into a central hub room, so players won’t have to backtrack quite as far. Again, this means running through a setting, stumbling on a puzzle, running back to the hub room, taking the needed item, and finally running back to the puzzle solving it.
You get the idea. Countless shortcuts exist to get around Resident Evil Zero’s problems, but they do very little in covering up one fact: this game is crippled by broken item management, and it is just plain not fun.
A valiant effort for a boring game
It’s a shame too. Capcom went all out in remastering this game for a modern generation, and it shows. Resident Evil Zero is gorgeous in HD. The artwork in the backgrounds hold up just as nicely as the previous remasters’, if not for the fact that they are generic horror locations, and the old-school Japanese character models are just a wonderful blast from the past.
The game sounds great, and the fun added modes like Wesker Mode add an extra opportunity to run through the game like it is a pure action experience.
Overall though, I see little reason to dive back into Resident Evil Zero unless you are an old fan who loves it, a retro fan turned off by the old-school tank controls, or a modern fan who is curious about Resident Evil’s ridiculous cannon.
Other that that, aside from a strong opening on the train, it does very little of note in design or storytelling, and it remains a footnote in Resident Evil’s history because it is just so unoriginally, and quite frankly, boring. It has its highs, but I can’t think of one that’s worth the frustration of getting there.
Resident Evil Zero’s remastered graphics are great, but the blessings stop there. If you are interested in revisiting a remastered old-school Resident Evil game, stick with the original remaster from last year. That delivers all that was special about the series in the 90s and early 2000s without killing itself through needless complications.
And hopefully now that both Resident Evil Gamecube games are spoken for, we can get back to business with remastering Onimusha and Onimusha 2.