Up on the shelf next to my telly sits a very battered Gamecube copy of Resident Evil Zero. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve dusted it off and given it a go, but it is a game I am intimately familiar with. Downloading the new HD remaster then was sure to be a bit like popping on a classic episode of X-Files or watching Die Hard for the umpteenth - comfort food for the mind. Nothing is ever that simple though, and I was swiftly reminded of the harsh passage of time.
That’s not an insinuation that time hasn’t been kind to Resident Evil Zero, but rather that time has not been kind to me. My previous skills and years of knowledge honed toward dodging zombies and saving ammunition had disappeared in a puff of smoke. Complacency had set in. Checkpoint saves and droves of easily dispatched foes had replaced the intimacy and challenge of older games. I would have to relearn everything I knew.
It wasn’t an insurmountable challenge, but it did serve as a timely reminder that Dark Souls didn’t invent difficulty, nor was it the first to master teaching through failure. All I needed to do was rewire myself slightly, which was easier said than done. Frustration reigned supreme during the early hours, as I haplessly managed my limited supplies of green herbs and rare handgun bullets - biting the dust on more than one occasion. Eventually though, I got into the groove, and playing Resident Evil Zero was every bit the sublime survival horror experience I’d come to remember.
But back to the Dark Souls reference, and it’s really clear to me the direct lineage between the two series, made all the more obvious when heading back to play the remake. While Resident Evil Zero’s changing locales, which includes a train and various facilities and labs, don’t quite have the same sense of place as the Spencer Mansion, there is that aspect of gradually peeling back the environment. Just like in Dark Souls you can head down a path, find a key, open a door, and reveal a shortcut that loops right back to where you started. Its lineage is clear to see in the punishing enemies, and the safety of the save rooms, which are a clear precursor to bonfires.
S.T.A.R.S. Of The Show
Plot-wise, Resident Evil Zero is set before the events of the game that started it all, showing what happened to the S.T.A.R.S. team in the Arklay mountains, eventually leading to the eruption of the T-Virus into Racoon City. The difference here is that you play as both Rebecca Chambers and Billy Coen. You can switch between the pair instantly, which is a must in order to solve certain puzzles. It freshens up the well-worn formula established by Resident Evil a little, but it does limit the potential for replayability as you can’t play as each separately.
If you’ve already played Resident Evil Zero however, and your mind’s a touch fresher than mine, all you’re going to be interested in is what additions this remaster brings to the table, so I’ll get right to it.
Much like last year’s Resident Evil HD remaster, which I didn’t actually play significantly, hence the difficulty jumping in, this RE0 remaster provides some significantly upgraded visuals. Capcom has gone to great lengths to sharpen up the backgrounds and provide more detailed character models, and it really shows. It’s playable in widescreen for the first time ever as well, which is a doubled-edged sword. You do get more of the image, sure, but the top and bottom is cropped slightly, never to be seen again. At times though, Resident Evil Zero HD, which is just an up-ressed 13-year-old game in truth, looks absolutely stunning. The pre-rendered backgrounds can be a little blurry at times, but the overall aesthetic is remarkable, and absolutely soaked in atmosphere. It’s a bit of a shame that pre-rendered backgrounds are a lost art for the most part, because it holds up well.
The other thing to take into account is the revised control scheme. The old tank controls are still in there, but you can also use the more modern method where the character moves in the direction you are pressing. For the most part this works great, but it can cause a bit of havoc when the camera angle changes. On more than one occasion I was inadvertently running backwards and forwards on the same spot as the camera repeatedly flipped around. On a gamepad this is at least easily rectified - the D-Pad is used for tank, and the analog for modern, so you can change on the fly.
Other than that, Resident Evil Zero HD really is the same game, warts and all. If constant inventory management frustrates you then I would probably recommend you stay away, but that’s part and parcel of old-school survival horror. It doesn’t help that there’s no item boxes this time, which is one of Resident Evil Zero’s worst flaws. I was okay with the regular item management in the original Resident Evil, but the amount of toing and froing here is certain to aggravate.
At times then Resident Evil Zero is a frustrating experience, but persevere and you’ll find yourself immersed in a great old-school survival horror game. The atmosphere’s fantastic, and the character zapping system means you’re never stuck too long banging your head against a hard puzzle. It won't be for everyone though (but what is), serving as a timely reminder of just how much Resident Evil has changed over the years.