Dear Reader, I’d like to begin with an assumption if I may. That being, you are at least semi-familiar with the Resident Evil franchise. There have been countless games, films and books which all tie into the gruesome universe, with many more slated for release on the very near horizon.
However, did you know that when the humble GameCube was announced, Capcom got behind the little box of joy with some very big guns? Namely, the “Capcom Five”, which would be released exclusively for the console. In the end, thanks to the GameCube’s well-documented struggles, it was only Resident Evil 4 that remained exclusive, but even that came to an end after only a few months.
Along with ports of all the other main games in the series, Capcom did also release Resident Evil Zero for the GameCube, several years after development started for the Nintendo 64. Set before the first game, it teased players with the promise of explaining just what caused the nightmarish experience of Resident Evil.
You play as two characters in Resident Evil Zero (more on that later), who must work together to survive. Rebecca is a S.T.A.R.S. officer who is sent to investigate some grizzly murders in the Arklay Mountains. Whilst exploring a zombie-infested train, she bumps into Billy, a convicted murderer who was on his way to be executed. Before long they find themselves thrown head first into a hellish world of zombies and leeches, all intent on bringing you both to a bloody end. Oh, and there’s a giant scorpion in the mix for good measure.
Fast forward just over thirteen years and the game was given the HD remaster treatment, alongside the original, with the launch on Xbox One. This, of course, included improved visuals for both character models and environment details, as well as an upgrade to support surround sound. It has to be said, the game was looking beautifully sharp after its makeover.
Not only this, but both an Easy Mode and Wesker Mode were added to the game. I don’t think I need to explain what the former of these brought to the Resident Evil table, but the Wesker Mode allowed you to play as the series’ villain, taking advantage of his enhanced abilities, which not only made things much easier, but also provided a lot of fun in the process.
Resident Evil Zero was more difficult than its predecessors, and this was by no accident. In a major departure from the other games in the series, there were no item boxes to stash your loot in. What replaced them was an item dropping mechanic, making choices regarding your inventory all the more difficult. As a result, you could quite easily walk into a situation with very little in the way of firepower to see you through.
For example, I distinctly remember encountering the second boss, a giant centipede, and pretty much immediately running out of ammo. The fight quickly became near enough impossible, forcing me to backtrack considerably. I hadn’t exactly been wasteful with my weapons up to that point either.
For me, this was one of the big differences with Resident Evil Zero, and why it didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the series. The balance was off. Despite it having the usual mix of survival horror elements that we have all come to expect from the series (puzzles, jumps, horrific mutated animals trying to tear you to shreds), the changes to how you played the game worked against it.
Accompanying the item changes was the real-time Partner-Zapping system. That’s right, as I said earlier you play as two characters simultaneously in Resident Evil Zero – Rebecca and Billy. This is probably what the game is most well-known for, and at the same time is its most divisive aspect.
Personally, I don’t think Capcom quite pulled it off. Puzzling together was a fairly slick experience, but during combat the cracks started to show. The character you weren’t controlling would often stand directly in harm’s way, reacting far too slowly and costing you umpteen green herbs, and eventually both your lives. Not only this, but the controls took some getting used to, especially when trying to react quickly to impending danger, which pretty much lurks around every corner in the world of Resident Evil. The words “You are Dead” had never been so frustrating.
I view Resident Evil Zero and the 2016 Remaster as a bit of an oddity in the series; the black sheep if you will. It tried something a bit different, and in the end did so with limited success. The HD remaster tidies things up and adds a bit of sparkle, but it does nothing to address the root cause of the game’s issues. It’s definitely worth a look for fans of the series, as there’s a gripping story waiting to be told. However if you’re looking to discover what’s behind the hype, the original game is still the best place to start.
Let us know in the comments what your memories of Resident Evil Zero are; either in original form or the Remaster from 2016. You can find the latter available on the Xbox Store. Feel free to give our full Resident Evil ranking piece a look too: you’ll find Zero hitting the seventh spot on that list – do you agree?