I still have vague memories of playing the original Resident Evil 1, mostly the memories are just me shitting myself like never before and loving it, kick starting what would blossom in to a love of horror. But Resident Evil Zero, I can still remember playing like it was yesterday, back when it was originally released for the GameCube in 2002. Oh how disgusted I was when I realized that was almost 15 fricking years ago.
Best not to think about it. Anyway, Resident Evil Zero was one of the less popular Resident Evil games, selling only 1.25 million copies, a substantial amount less than many of its predecessors. Despite the low numbers it was pretty well received and for good reason. The game is a great addition to the series but seeing as it is the 5th major game in the franchise many players were ready for a change, enter the more action-y Resident Evil 4. Zero didn’t mess with the Survival Horror aim of the series too much and it does feel just like one of the classics, albeit with a couple of new features but nothing substantial. Even the story is directly intertwined with the original.
Set before and leading up to the original mansion incident, Resident Evil Zero follows Bravo team of the Special Tactics and Rescue Service (S.T.A.R.S) as they’re sent to investigate a bunch of “cannibalistic murders” just outside Raccoon City. On the way, their helicopter crashes conveniently close to a train that was recently attacked by leeches. It should be noted that this is the very same Bravo team that the Alpha team in Resident Evil 1 lose contact with and that the helicopter crash is the only reason Alpha team were anywhere near the mansion to begin with and that Wesker is a goddamn genius. We follow Bravo Team member Rebecca Chambers as she investigates the train, looking for the former Marine Force Reconnaissance member turned murderer, Billy Coen. The two are forced to team up when the train starts to move and the passengers aren’t as content to stay dead as they were earlier.
This team up leads us to Zero’s key gameplay mechanic and the only thing that really sets it apart from the predecessors of the time, the fact that the two are with each other throughout the majority of the game and we have the ability to switch between partners at any time. As Zero was originally released before the Resident Evil 4 shake up, its gameplay was still focused primarily on puzzle solving and strategy and the partner swapping allows for a somewhat fresh take on this without messing with the horror feel. Although, having an AI controlled character with you almost constantly does remove some of the trademark atmosphere of the game and it doesn’t help that the AI is actually pretty darn good so I found that I was relying on the AI character to help in some situations that I would have been soiling myself over, were I alone.
Switching between the two characters adds some new elements to the puzzles, as each of the two have different abilities that are required to complete different tasks. As well as this there are some serious restrictive limitations on storage that forces the player to play more strategically, each person has only 6 item slots, so between some items requiring two slots and there being no item boxes, if you don’t manage your inventory it can easily lead you to spending 20 goddamn minutes running around a fricking train trying to remember where the hell I left that godforsaken plant, goddamn it! Ugh… but It is something you get used to though. Soon you’ll find yourself with a couple of free spaces and not a care in the world.
How it Looks
Graphically, Zero was given the same treatment as the exceptional HD remake of the original and as such it is just as beautiful. Capcom really show how well a remastering can be done when it’s treated with love and attention *cough*Konami*cough*. That being said, the GameCube was a hell of a machine back then and unlike most remakes when your brain thinks “This is pretty much how I remember the game looking back then” your brain is actually right, as the actual difference between the GameCube version and the HD remaster is not really that vast.
The remaster keeps all the elements of the classic games alive and well, including the classic fixed camera and all the problems that come with it. As with the remaster of the original, there are some updates to help bring the game into the modern day, you can choose whether to play with an updated control schema or play with the old fashioned controls which I recommend, just so you can remember how badly we had it. The new controls do work pretty well but it can still be irritating at times when you turn a corner, the camera shifts and you end up running into a wall while a zombie monkey leaps about, shrieking and beating the ever living shite out of your legs.
Generally, though, I’m very fond of Zero. It deserved more attention that it received and this HD version is the perfect opportunity for that to happen. It didn’t make me like it any more or any less than I remember but it’s a very faithful remake that was clearly made with love and if there are any younger gamers who might only know of Resident Evil from 4 onwards, this and the Resident Evil 1 remake are brilliant ways for them to experience Resident Evil the way it was, a great survival horror game where strategy and bullet management are key.