Resident Evil Zero Review
The smoldering, destroyed helicopter of the S.T.A.R.S. Bravo Team is one of the first sights to behold in the original Resident Evil. Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield, and the rest of the Alpha Team crew have little time to investigate what happened to their lost compatriots before they're forced to flee into a nearby mansion to avoid becoming puppy chow. Resident Evil 0, set a day before the infamous Mansion Incident, explores the journey of S.T.A.R.S. Bravo Team medic Rebecca Chambers and an unlikely ally through Umbrella's nasty facilities. Capcom has given this prequel the same treatment as last year's HD update of the excellent Resident Evil GameCube remake, complete with more accessible control options.
Resident Evil 0 is the last hardcore survival horror entry in the series, before the juggernaut Resident Evil 4 sparked a dramatic paradigm shift away from the demanding resource management, complex puzzles, and fixed camera angles. Rebecca teams up with fugitive Billy Coen as they explore a runaway luxury train, abandoned Umbrella Training Facility, and other appropriately ominous locales that tie into the early RE games in fun ways. Controlling both Rebecca and Billy, sometimes simultaneously, is a unique departure from the standard formula. The new control scheme - which eschews awkward "tank controls" in favor of characters moving in the direction of the analog stick - works wonders here, especially when controlling both characters with both sticks at once. The more agile characters don't break the balance of the game, either, as sloppy play will get you chewed up by zombies or swallowed whole by mutant frogs.
The original 1996 Resident Evil kicked off an early series tradition of magically interconnected storage boxes. Before settling on that design decision, Capcom experimented with not having them connected, and instead tasking players with lugging all their guns and items around the game with them. Resident Evil 0 returns to that concept, but instead removes all the boxes entirely, allowing players to leave items anywhere on the map. While it's initially liberating to quickly toss out your knife or an unwanted ink ribbon, the system can become tedious. Trying to angle your character just right to pick up an item can be tricky, especially if the new, optional zoomed-in widescreen mode cuts an item you're looking for out of the shot. Additionally, nearly as much time is spent swapping ammo and items between characters as exploring the creepy environments, which can hurt the pacing.
Surviving Rebecca and Billy's journey through Umbrella's treacherous past unlocks Wesker Mode. This new feature, not included in the original GameCube release, allows fans to play through the entire story as the super-powered Wesker (circa RE 5) and a mind-controlled Rebecca. Besides her red, glowing eyes and villainous outfit, Rebecca plays the same as in the main game. Wesker takes Billy's place, including in-engine cutscenes where he syncs up with Billy's original voice acting and animations. Seeing Wesker implemented into some cutscenes is a goofy bonus, but the real meat is finally controlling the series' big bad guy in a core storyline. Wesker can dash around environments at comically high speeds, juking past enemies with ease. Controlling such a nimble character within a game designed with cautious, meticulous play in mind is bizarre at first. Wesker's Death Star ability breaks the difficulty in a delightfully absurd way, allowing him to charge up a laser-eye attack that blasts out enough power to pop off every zombie's head in the entire room. Imagine Tetsuo's bloody hospital hallway scene from Akira and you're on the right track. The absurd new mode is a fun power-trip victory lap for longtime fans.
This HD remaster of Resident Evil 0 is an easy recommendation for anyone who enjoyed the original GameCube release and has enough patience to navigate the sometimes tedious inventory management. New fans of the classic survival horror formula that came on board following last year's Resident Evil HD Remaster shouldn't expect as tight of an experience, but one that's deserving of its place in the core franchise and fleshes out Umbrella's troubled history with dramatic flair.