PLATFORMS: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
RELEASE DATE: January 19th, 2016
The publisher provided a review code for this review.
The events of Resident Evil Zero take place a mere 24 hours before the infamous Spencer Mansion incident (Resident Evil) and introduce the classic survival formula with a twist. S.T.A.R.S. member, Rebecca Chambers, and her other teammates make an emergency landing in the woods nearby only to discover an overturned military police vehicle. Bodies are strewn about along with evidence indicating that convicted felon, Billy Coen, is lurking around. The group splits up to cover more ground and Rebecca stumbles across the Ecliptic Express. The passenger train is in shambles, corpses everywhere and things much worse possibly looming around every corner. It is here that the prequel to what would follow in the Mansion and in Racoon City begins.
The cramped confines of the train work to the game’s advantage in the early going as the tightly framed shots blend well with the pre-rendered backgrounds and exceptional character models. It isn’t long before Rebecca is privy to the terrible secret of these woods: the dead are walking about and seeking sustenance. It isn’t long before the disgraced soldier, Billy Coen, enters the picture and then the grand twist upon the Resident Evil formula enters the picture. Players will be forced to work with a partner, sometimes apart and sometimes together, to advance through puzzles, locked areas and the like. Just a word to the wise: Rebecca is far weaker but can mix herbs together. Billy is far stronger offensively and can push heavy objects. Use that pro-tip as you will.
The idea of having to switch between characters is far better than the rather annoying escort missions that most single-player, cooperative experiences become. It certainly helps that toggling between the two characters, Rebecca, and Billy, happens on the fly. It is a rather ingenious design concept that serves the game well throughout it’s nearly 10-hour campaign.
Another major change to the formula established by “classic” Resident Evil titles of having item box/save rooms also went by the wayside. Items can, instead, just be dropped on the ground with indication being made on the map where they are. This is clearly a system is lifted directly from Sweet Home (the inspiration for Resident Evil as it was, originally, intended to be a remake of it). This is a double-edged sword in a way as it means deliberate choices need to be made in regards to what items to take, but it also creates a lot backtracking. It feels like even more trekking back to item “spots” than when there were with the linked item boxes in prior games. This change is one that will likely feel tedious to newer players but will likely sit well with series veterans. It feeds into the idea that Zero was designed to be harder than the original RE. It means a lot of time will be spent juggling inventory and moving in and out of menus.
RE purists will argue that this is just part of the experience and for those who don’t like it then perhaps the series is not for you. I would be tempted to echo the sentiment, but even I found it a bit tedious at times. I knew what I was in store for this time around (as I played the GameCube original back in 2002) and still found it vexing at times.
The game itself, though, is an interesting one. It is, all at once, the same classic approach to survival horror before it became the action-drenched mess of the last few games but apparently a precursor to what it would become. The narrative is one that features all sorts of abominations, leeches, savage beasts and the like but lacks the sort of boss characters that inspired disgust or terror from the earlier games. Not every game can have a Nemesis I suppose. It is often overwrought and verges on going full-on anime in its storytelling yet it does dish out a lot of lore in regards to Resident Evil mythos. Is it perfect? Not by any means but it is far from the black sheep of the series that many consider it to be.
Capcom’s 2015 release of the HD Remaster of the Remake (GameCube version of Resident Evil) was a surprise hit but also showcased the attention Capcom was willing to lavish upon one of its most famous entries. The makeover was a great one spare some textures that just didn’t get the brush taken to them (and were once covered by shading, etc.) It was a solid 8/10 in the remaster department, but the original game itself still held up extremely well. A hunger for the way Resident Evil is “supposed” to be was clearly evident due to the strong sales numbers. So it only followed that Capcom gave the same treatment to another such game in Resident Evil Zero.
It is impressive to see just how much work went into bringing Zero to the modern generation of consoles/PC. Not only are environments gorgeous as they’ve ever been but every character model has been touched but the lighting. Oh man! The lighting saw a significant upgrade in last years remaster of Resident Evil, but here the dial was cranked to 11. There are so many minor details that have been addressed in this iteration that it has to offer some hope that Capcom can deliver on the promise of the Resident Evil 2 Remake currently in development.
One can play the game in the original 4:3 aspect ratio along with a 16:9 widescreen that looks phenomenal. The only thing lacking in regards to visual fidelity are the cutscenes. It is a tad jarring to see these wonderful looking retouched models in-game yet whenever a story segment occurs we’re back in 2002. Nothing game breaking per se but definitely noticeable. The menu screens are even formatted for widescreen if necessary (though weirdly enough only run at 30 FPS as opposed to the original 60 in the GC version). The game itself runs silky smooth at a locked 30 FPS as well.
Seiko Kobuchi’s score has never sounded better, though. The added clarity and increased channels (5.1 Surround) with the ability to use presets for home theater, headphones, television and the like helps deliver the best audible experience possible. The score to Zero was always fantastic, but it has, even more, impact today than it did back then. The music is tense and unnerving while in-game sounds are crisp with all those glorious weapons and enemies sounding fantastic.
The tank controls of yore are available, of course, but a more modern control scheme is present as well. Perhaps I’m just set in my ways, but the tank controls still work/feel best for me when it comes to this sort of game. It certainly warms my cold dead zombie heart to be playing a proper Resident Evil title on the PS4. Perhaps it means that we’re that much closer to a genuine return to the roots of the series with the oft-rumored Resident Evil 7.
The visual/audio upgrades are the star of the show, but there are other additions to the game as well. Wesker Mode, only available once players have completed the game once, replaces Billy with an Orobouros powered Albert Wesker. Rebecca is along for the ride too though albeit with a different outfit and glowing red eyes ala Jill Valentine’s outfit in RE5. It is the sort of silly overpowered character that disarms the tension of the game entirely, but it makes for a fun experience. The only change comes in the gameplay and the character models as all dialogue/story scenes remain the same. There is also a Gallery mode (for rewatching cinematics) and the return of Leech Hunter (to unlock unlimited ammo, etc.)
Resident Evil Zero HD Remaster is a definite step forward from Capcom as compared to last year’s Resident Evil remaster. Every character model has been retouched along with environments receiving major sharpening and multiple aspect ratios on offer as well. It is still the same Zero from 2002, for better or worse, that hit the GameCube. It is an interesting entry in the series’ canon and offers a twist on the classic formula. If you’ve never played the series, then hop in with Zero. Just be prepared for some backtracking, cheesy dialogue, and some over-the-top nonsense. Or just beat the game to play as Wesker-senpai.
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