RESIDENT EVIL ZERO Review
It’s no secret that I have nothing but love for the Resident Evil franchise. Both the older survival-oriented titles as well as the newer co-op shooters have proved to be greatly enjoyable experiences for me, and I even like the odd spin-offs, such as the light gun hybrid DARKSIDE CHRONICLES. I’ve played just about every game in the series catalogue, and while there are a few duds in the batch, it’s mostly been stories of success. So of course I was excited to give the HD remaster of RESIDENT EVIL ZERO, one of the few titles I hadn’t yet touched, a whirl.
ZERO is the sister title to 2002’s RESIDENT EVIL REMAKE, running on the same engine, and acts as the direct prequel. The plot follows Chris’ NPC partner from the first game, Rebecca, as she teams up with escaped fugitive Billy in the hours before she reaches the eponymous mansion. Along the way, they uncover the source of the outbreak that sets the spine chilling events of the rest of the series in motion.
You could tell me that this is canon and I’d believe you
Rather than split the game into two separate campaigns like the first two games, ZERO lets you control both Rebecca and Billy, switching between either on the fly if the situation demands it. Rebecca, being a medic, can mix herbs to create healing items, while caveman Billy is tough and strong. Certain puzzles, like activating a set of switches simultaneously, require the duo to split up into different rooms, while others call on the pair to utilize their talents, such as big boy Billy boosting Rebecca to a higher floor. It’s this tag team mechanic that is ZERO’s defining characteristic and a clear precursor to the two-player action that would define the series soon after its original release.
The “co-op” works, thankfully, and the AI of your off-character is dependable, but that’s the peak of ZERO’s design. Unfortunately, the tandem puzzle designs do not age well. As the game was developed when co-op puzzles were still in their infancy, some tasks will feel rudimentary to anyone who’s played PORTAL 2 (or any later RE title, for that matter) splitscreen. Additionally, while the asymmetric balancing of the characters is refreshing, its implementation is not. Billy’s muscle mass, which lets him solve strength-based puzzles, also makes him the better fighter. Unless a task requires Rebecca’s personal touch, she’s doomed to act as a pack mule while players blast away the undead as Billy.
Partners mean nothing when you’ve got a sick tribal and the entire Evanescence discography
ZERO’s setting doesn’t do it any favors, either. In a series that favors character over narrative, an origin story feels very unnecessary, especially when it features a cast of almost entirely new characters. And while classic RE heroes like Chris, Jill, and Leon aren’t the most fleshed out or compelling people, their cartoonish charm lent them a sort of animal magnetism that made the player root for them nonetheless. Rebecca is timid and Billy is gruff, but these adjectives end up only being two different flavors of “quiet.” They’re horribly underdeveloped, and they don’t have a legacy of previous appearances that can be used as a crutch. As a result, we’re stuck with what is easily the dullest pairing in the history of the series.
But worst of all are the steps backwards ZERO takes from the remake. The campaign begins on a linearly designed train where you essentially just walk from one end to the other, and while that locale is quickly swapped for a facsimile of the first game’s mansion, it lacks any of the clever progression tricks of the first game. Items can now be dropped on the ground if the player’s inventory is full, removing the layers of strategy that went into planning trips. Ammo and healing items are found in massive quantities here, and since slain zombies no longer return stronger, there’s nothing stopping you from blowing them all to hell. All of these changes transform this Resident Evil into a corridor shooter, albeit one with wonky horror controls.
The bark here is a lot better than the bite
Problems with the game aside, the current-gen port of the game is incredible, which is really saying something given Capcom’s less than stellar efforts towards “remastering” the rest of the series. Models and textures both have been noticeably sharpened since ZERO’s 2002 debut, thanks in large part due to the fact that all of the original assets were saved over from the original development, an omission that prevented last year’s port of RESIDENT EVIL from truly shining. The game looks great in 16:9 as well as the native 4:3, though the old tank controls still feel better than the new “modernized” movement system. Costume select is now available from the get-go, and there’s even a brand new Wesker Mode created for the remaster. Beat the game and you’ll be able to replace Billy with series villain Albert Wesker, who can dash at light speed and pulverize foes with his punches. It makes an already simple game that much easier, but it’s silly fun and shows that there was more work put into the port than just buffing up the visuals.
I ended up being disappointed with RESIDENT EVIL ZERO, but this might have more to do with my love of its counterpart than any explicit flaws of its own. ZERO isn’t a bad game ‒ far from it ‒ but it lacks the ingenious direction of REMAKE and it doesn’t take much to figure out why it got left in that game’s shadow. This is a great port of an average game, but outside of series fans there are few people who will love it. Get it in a bundle with REMAKE, but don’t feel compelled to seek it out on its own.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend
Reviewed on PlayStation 4, also available on Gamecube, Wii, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC.