Hey, I know what you’re thinking “This is the second Resi film, why is he reviewing the prequel game?” Well, it’s simple: I’ve already reviewed Resident Evil 2 and its Remake, and if I review this now (given its close ties to the original REmake) and Code Veronica tomorrow, then Resident Evil 4, 5 and 6 will match up with the fourth, fifth and sixth movies, which will be … fitting, I guess (though technically not accurate!) So with all that out of the way: Resident Evil Zero, the prequel that could have been a great idea, but instead is pretty poor and messes up the timeline a bit. Ah well, let’s take a look anyway!
When “ewww” doesn’t quite cut it…
Resident Evil Zero was released in November 2002 in Japan and the US, with a European release coming in March the following year, so it was a lot closer to the original REmake than I remembered. Much like that game it was ported to the Wii, in this case in July 2008 in Japan, December 2009 in the US, and January 2010 everywhere else. It was once again also given a HD re-released on modern consoles and PC in 2016, complete with widescreen, new controls and upgraded visuals. The HD Remaster was later ported to the Switch in 2019.
Believe it or not, this game was originally going to be an N64 exclusive, but they struggled with the limited space on a cartridge and so eventually the game was shifted over to the Gamecube, which meant pretty much all the assets had to be remade from scratch…
Billy is too cool for zombies, leaving Rebecca to do all the work.
At a glance, a lot of the gameplay is the same as previous (at this point) games in the series. Despite it being 2002, they were still using awkward tank controls, the backgrounds were still pre-rendered with CG characters and items on top (though using the REmake’s amazing visuals, so that certainly didn’t matter!) and it was still all about surviving a series of locations by either shooting or dodging the undead or other mutated creatures, while also solving environmental puzzles and finding keys to come back to other areas. Throw in your classic large bosses and having to save at a typewriter with Ink Ribbon, and this was a classic Resi alright! … Except in two very key areas.
RE0 features two main playable characters, like usual, but you actually control both of them at the same time. S.T.A.R.S. Bravo Team member Rebecca Chambers and convict Billy Coen are our two protagonists, and they end up teaming up to survive the nightmare, allowing you to either play as one while the A.I. controls the other, or sometimes both at the same time. You can switch between the two with the aptly named “Partner Switch” button, a system that’s used frequently in solving a lot of the game’s puzzles, and exchange items between the two characters as well. They both have their strengths and weaknesses, but really it comes down to Rebecca being able to mix herbs in classic Resident Evil fashion, while Billy can move heavy objects. It’s an interesting system, but it’s often more of a pain in the arse than necessary…
The other key difference is item crates, or item boxes: they don’t exist. Instead you can just drop items in rooms and the game will remember it and even mark it on the map. Sadly what this really meant is if you dropped a key item somewhere and didn’t realise you needed it again, instead of going to the nearing item box, you have to remember which room you dropped it and run all the way back to that specific room. It was like Zero really did come first, and that this system was so flawed that they created the item boxes to compensate…
So that’s it, really. It’s a standard Resi but released at a time where the standard formula was getting really stale, and the way they tried to upgrade it here with the partner system and no item boxes just effected the game negatively in my opinion…
Graphics and Sound:
Not a bad use to lighting and backgrounds, all things considered.
The graphics were once again great. While I still feel the visuals on the Spencer Mansion from the REmake were better, this was still top stuff. Moody lighting, really good pre-rendered visuals and good CG. It’s once again no wonder this required little effort to HD-ise the graphics a decade or so later.
Sound is good too, though unmemorable. It’s tense and atmospheric music and great soundeffects made for a good audible journey, if nothing else. The voice acting was fine, once again nothing outstanding, but mercifully not as bad as earlier releases in the franchise.
The Umbrella co-founder everybody! *polite applause*
When some unexplained disappearances and possible murders occur in the Arklay Mountains, the S.T.A.R.S. Bravo team were sent in to investigate. We know from the first game that only Rebecca and her Captain Enrico survive without being injured, if not outright killed, but what we apparently didn’t know was that Rebecca had a whole other nightmarish day before Chris came into her life in the mansion…
Teaming up with convict and former marine Billy Coen, she has to survive a train of infected, followed by a secret Umbrella training facility full of mutated monstrosities. It’s revealed that, under the orders of Umbrella head Ozwell E. Spencer, Albert Wesker and William Birkin had killed top CEO and co-founder James Marcus, the man who found the Progenitor virus that he had turned into the T-Virus using leeches. 10 years later Marcus has managed to survive via his mutated Queen Leech and unleashed the T-Virus outbreak in the Arklay mountains as an act of revenge. Eventually Rebecca and Billy, after defeating zombies, monsters and a prototype Tyrant, destroy the Queen Leech and all trace of James Marcus. Rebecca heads to the Spencer mansion to meet up with Enrico and the rest of the Bravo team, and Billy runs off to his freedom (Billy was under arrest because his commanding officer had sanctioned the execution of 23 unarmed civilians and framed him for it)
We also see a few fun cutscenes with Wekser and Birkin, with the former deciding to quit Umbrella after testing the use of the T-Virus on his fellow S.T.A.R.S. officers, and the latter refusing to go with him because he wants to continue to work on the G-Virus. That was the kind of fun prequel stuff I was interested in, sadly the idea of Rebecca going through all of this and then ending up a scared girl attacking Chris hopelessly with hairspray makes ZERO sense (no pun intended). She just fought off Tyrants and giant Queen Leeches, why was she hiding in a room from zombies? It’s the classic problem with creating prequels after the fact, they don’t quite fit in… or in this case, don’t fit in AT ALL.
“What an odd way to wave hello… Wait a minute, argh!!”
While I was happy to see more Resident Evil with the REmake engine, I didn’t really enjoy this that much. I thought we’d get to see more of the Bravo team before their deaths, see some personality in the people I’d thought looked cool in the first game’s concept art, but nope. It was just Rebecca, and it made no sense to the character we meet in the first game. The engine was getting tired at this point, and the new additions didn’t really do anything for me, or even detracted from the game. In terms of the core Resident Evil games, this was my least favourite.
“Oh my God! This is obviously going to be the most horrible thing to happen to me in my life!”
Now? Much the same. The controls are awkward as per usual, the partner swapping and item sharing is more of a pain than a good game mechanic, and no item boxes? What is this madness! Granted I haven’t played the HD Remaster (which apparently adds a new “Wesker Mode” on top of all the gameplay and graphics changes) so maybe that would change my mind, but for now I have to agree with my past self. This is still the low point in the core franchise… thought Resident Evil 6 comes damn close…