Resident Evil 0: HD Remaster
I have a strange history with Resident Evil 0. One of the first things I ever wrote professionally was a strategy guide for it for a British magazine, so I got to know it better than most people back in the GameCube days.
Since then, it’s gradually acquired a reputation as the armpit of the core franchise, to the point where many fans assume or argue that it isn’t canon. I never really agreed with that, but some of that might have been that aforementioned proficiency, since playing RE0 was actually my job for a couple of weeks.
12 years later, replaying the new HD Edition… yeah, okay, I get it.
RE0 had a notoriously troubled production. It began as a Nintendo-64 game before eventually moving to the GameCube in the wake of the success of the remake of Resident Evil; by the time it originally came out in 2002, it had been in development hell for about five years. There was a lot riding on it in the wake of the “REmake,” and at the end of the day, it didn’t live up to the hype. It’s an awkward, shambling mess of a game, and it adds a half-dozen further complications to what was already a kudzu vine of a franchise plot.
RE0 is set on the day before the original Resident Evil. In that game, the plot begins as one unit of the STARS team is searching for the other, which disappeared while conducting an aerial search of the nearby forest. In 0, you play as that unit’s rookie medic and its lone survivor, Rebecca Chambers, who’s separated from the rest of her team as she searches a stopped train that they find in the middle of the woods. Soon thereafter, Rebecca finds that the train is infested with some kind of mutant leech, which has transformed the train’s passengers into zombies; that some unknown agency has locked the train down and started it moving again; and that her only potential ally in this is Billy Coen, an ex-Marine and criminal fugitive.
Once you meet up with Billy, you play as both characters at once, and can swap between them with the touch of a button. It’s a bizarre sort of precursor to the co-op focus that would take over the series after Resident Evil 5, and many obstacles and puzzles throughout the game require you to play around with character swapping. Billy is a walking tank with an insane amount of health, and only he’s strong enough to move certain objects, while Rebecca is smaller, slower, and weaker, but can combine herbs to form better healing items. Really, Rebecca caught the bad end of this deal.
The bigger problem with the game is that it abandons the old RE inventory management system in favor of a new and decidedly imperfect model. Both Billy and Rebecca have six inventory spaces, and long guns take up two of them. Instead of stowing your excess inventory in a weird magic box that shows up in every safe room, you can simply drop items wherever you like, and they’ll be labeled on your map until you go back to reclaim them, and once you get off the train, you can backtrack as far as you like.
In practice, this means that if you want both characters to go armed, which is generally wise, you’re already burning two or three inventory spaces on each character on a weapon and ammunition. If you want to have an emergency healing item, that’s a third or fourth gone. Playing through RE0 again, I felt like I spent half my time tweaking my inventory in an attempt to juggle basic equipment plus health plus the usual pre-2004 RE assortment of crests, keys, statues, typewriter ribbons, and assorted mechanical parts. Unless you know exactly what you’re doing on the level of an average speed-runner, it’s a frustrating and badly-designed extrapolation on the typical inventory system.
This would almost be forgivable if RE0 wasn’t a damp squib of a horror game. In Zero, Capcom seems to have settled for making its own shovelware cash-in game, where many of its most theoretically terrifying moments are blatant callbacks to the “REmake,” or which require you to have played that for them to have any impact. Monsters show up out of nowhere, and the reaction of both the characters and player is dull surprise, if that.
In the recent HD remaster of Resident Evil, one of the things that came into sharper focus was how good of a setting the Spencer mansion was, in all its demented surreality. While Zero gives it the old college try, and gets close at times, there’s nothing that can compare, no matter how many bizarre puzzles or hidden torture chambers you cram into a building. It gets closest when it deals with Umbrella’s corporate culture in the 1980s, which makes it sound like an outright cult that serves a business instead of a theology, but that’s barely set dressing and you leave it behind by the halfway point.
In the larger series, Zero is one of the last “classic” Resident Evil games, and it’s here where you can most clearly see Capcom’s developers struggling with the straitjacket that their form of survival horror had become. They’re just riffing off of themselves here, and it shows. It’s an eminently skippable entry in the franchise, and in its own way, it paves the way for RE4 to blow everything up and start over.
Reviewed By: Thomas Wilde
This review is based on a digital copy of Resident Evil 0: HD Remaster for the PC provided by Capcom.