Back from the dead.
Resident Evil Zero HD is going to be a tough game for me to talk about because, like the original PS1 release that brought the T-Virus to our living rooms, I’m not sure whether I love it or hate it. On the one hand, the atmosphere is first class. The cold, ornate surroundings play a fine host to the zombie hordes. The earlier games also have that point-and-click style of progression; you can get stuck for hours before the “aaaaaaah!” moment finally hits, opening up new areas of the map filled with devious puzzles and creatures looking to chew off your pretty visage.
Then you pair that with a severe lack of ammunition, enemies that take more bullets to down than a rampaging elephant, scant save rooms and very limited inventory space. What results is a survivalist’s paradise… or their worst nightmare.
Resident Evil Zero HD, predictably, takes place just before the Spencer Mansion incident that’s the focus of the original game. You play as the youngest member of the S.T.A.R.S. Bravo Team, field medic Rebecca Chambers. Separated from the group en route to the mansion, Rebecca flees flesh eating creatures and ends up aboard a train destined for Umbrella’s secret training facility.
She’s joined by Billy Coen, a convict who was scheduled to be delivered for execution before the zombies quite conveniently showed up. The story is a classic Resident Evil affair, which is something I can really appreciate. Resident Evil Zero was made in 2002, before Leon went to Europe to bombastically rescue the President’s jug-eared daughter. Before Chris roided up and tore Africa in half. It was a simpler time that gave way to more complex stories.
Not that “complex” necessarily means good. Resi Zero’s story has everything that makes a Resident Evil story, well, Resident Evil – the constant twists, the faux science of the numerous lettered viruses and of course, bafflingly designed facilities that trade top level security for easily cracked puzzles. Where Resident Evil Zero HD differs is in its insistence to needlessly convolute the origin story. Resi 0 introduces characters that we never see or hear from again in the entire series. The story is, at least, entertaining but it’s far from the most memorable in the series. Resident Evil 2 and Code Veronica outdo it in this regard.
Add Zombie to the Train
I’m grateful that Resident Evil Zero turned out to be way better than its first hour entailed. The opening location, a speeding train loaded with zombies, is one of the dullest and most uninspired areas in Resi’s classical era. It’s essentially a ton of back-and-forthing, with one bullet spongy boss fight (with little to no strategy to defeat it besides hit it more than it hits you) and a sprinkling of simple puzzles. It’s far from the freedom that the Spencer Mansion or Raccoon City give you in their respective games. Seriously, the adaptation of this level in Umbrella Chronicles is the better version. Certainly not awful by any means, but it’s not what you want to open a classic-style Resident Evil with.
Things thankfully do open up in the following area, Umbrella’s haunting training and research facility. In my opinion, this is where the game should have started, and it’s excellently designed around the character swapping mechanic that forms the basis of many of the game’s puzzles. It is of course filled with the biggest nasties Umbrella can brew up. While it’s not quite as iconic as the Spencer Mansion or indeed the Raccoon City Police Department, it’s quite striking in its own right.
The experience is annoyingly hampered by the Resident Evil Zero HD’s dated inventory system. Now to be fair, it’s leagues ahead of the original’s system but that’s not saying a whole lot. Like that game, Rebecca and Billy have a very limited inventory, but are able to drop items and return to them later. Items also, at least, show up on your map so you can retrieve them when needed. The downside is that Resident Evil Zero likes to throw items at you. A ton of them. Many of which take up two valuable inventory slots. This is exacerbated when you have a weapon like the shotgun, which already takes up two slots, with a further needing to be reserved for its ammo. This time, the challenge of inventory management is not in which items to take with you, but in remembering where the hell you left the ones you need. Having no storage boxes in save rooms is a notable hindrance.
Catching Some Z’s
Most importantly, Resident Evil Zero HD is a refreshing throwback to a bygone era of the series. Graphically it holds up better than a lot of modern titles, thanks to its use of REmake’s engine. And it’s one remaster I’m happy to see given how readily available it is now compared to its previous Nintendo exclusivity. However, if you’re not a fan of Resi’s classic top-down style then Zero will do little to win you over, but I highly recommend it for fans who’ve yet to experience it. Far from the best Resident Evil, but a solid entry in its own right.
A review code of Resident Evil Zero HD was provided courtesy of Xbox. The game was reviewed on Xbox One.
Resident Evil 0 is a fine reminder of the bygone days of classic survival horror. There are certainly better examples of the genre, and the game itself is far from the best in the series. However, bar a few annoyances, it’s aged surprisingly well and looks gorgeous to this very day.