If you say the name “Resident Evil” to a long-time gamer, a myriad of memories rockets through that person’s mind. From the moment the dogs jumped through the window and scared the ever-loving sh** out of all of us, that series has remained an integral part of the industry. It has also been the focus of much argument and debate in the past decade or so, as many horror aficionados believe the series has lost any sense of focus and direction. Well, if you want to return to the roots of this popular franchise, Capcom has offered several remakes and remasters in recent years, the most recent of which is Resident Evil Zero HD Remaster , an updated version of a classic title that didn’t fare quite as well as other entries.
As a bit of history, the first Resident Evil Zero was a prequel to the original game – that’s right, the very first Resident Evil – and when it first arrived on GameCube back in 2002, it met with substantial critical acclaim. In fact, hardcore horror fans might tell you they purchased a GameCube for the express purpose of playing this game. The only problem was that the timing was bad; it released between Resident Evil Remake and Resident Evil 4 , two of the most revered titles in the franchise’s history. RE4 went on to be a giant seller on PS2 and Xbox and for the most part, Resident Evil Zero was forgotten. Now it’s back and despite the unfortunate remnants of the past (awful camera, terrible voice acting, etc.), it’s still an effectively terrifying adventure.
Back in 2002, the graphics were a triumph. Or, if not exactly a triumph, many would argue it was the best RE had ever looked. The remarkable attention to detail amped up the tension to ridiculous levels and with excellent lighting and shadows, the immersion had never been more pronounced. In this high-definition remaster, we get a refined presentation that cleans things up and offers fans a sharper and – unless I’m hallucinating – brighter atmosphere, which brings the chills and thrills to the forefront. It’s not the best visual upgrade you’ll ever see, especially in the increasingly competitive world of remasters and remakes, but it’s sufficient. The character models and creepy backgrounds obviously got some love and the result is a solid if not impressive update.
Terrific sound is essential for any truly terrifying game, and Resident Evil Zero HD Remaster doesn’t disappoint on this score. The effects are as bone-chilling as ever and the background and ambient effects do a magnificent job of freaking you out. The soundtrack is good without being great and for the most part, the emphasis is on the most important aspect: Combat and atmospheric audio. The only downside is the aforementioned poor voice performances, which, by today’s standards, are downright laughable. Okay, so they were laughable back then, too, but at least it was on par with the rest of the industry at the time. Now, it’s hard not to smirk and roll your eyes whenever a character opens his or her mouth. Bad dialogue doesn’t help, either.
At its core, this is indeed a true-blue horror classic because it was released before Resident Evil underwent a metamorphosis. It now labors within a serious identity crisis and I think we’re all waiting with bated breath; what will Capcom do with Resident Evil 7 ? RE5 split the die-hard fans right down the middle and RE6 only served to alienate old-school fans even further, while somehow still managing to cater to a younger and more action-hungry audience. The unfortunate truth of the matter is that you just can’t make a ton of money by giving a tense, taut, smart thriller to the masses. There needs to be an abundance of action and flash and if that means leaving the very tenets of horror and fear behind, so be it.
You don’t have to worry about that saddening trend here, though. This remaster can be frustratingly clunky and downright annoying in its old-fashioned way, but it’s unabashedly pure. The zombies, spiders, crazy-ass mutated monkeys, and hellish bosses can still strike terror in your heart, and the exploration and minor puzzle-solving only serves to increase the tension. In other words, the game understands that fear is rooted not in what we can see, not in gore or nightmarish phantoms leaping into our grill, but rather in the anticipation of all that. The best horror productions, be they games, movies, or books, keep us in suspense by toying with our minds, by being subtle, by not giving away the farm, by realizing that an assault on the senses isn’t half as scary as that which our imagination can construct.
Moving on to the gameplay side, those who played Resident Evil Zero might remember switching characters throughout the quest. This adds some dimension to the story and gives us a fresh perspective but these days, we expect more. Unfortunately, splitting time between the two major characters doesn’t really enlighten us further in regards to the plot, and the item dropping going on between the two can be cumbersome and irritating. You can leave items anywhere you want in the environment, so if you wish to leave behind some healing items or ammo for your partner, feel free. If either you or your ally wishes to retrieve an item at any given time (maybe you dropped it because your inventory got full, which happens a lot), you can always backtrack and retrieve that item.
Now, you do have the freedom to place items anywhere you like, so if you leave them in bad locations, it’s your own fault. This system means you really have to pay attention to your surroundings and forces you to remember where you’ve been. You have to plan for the future while still keeping a running inventory of items you’ve left behind in your head; specifically “what” and “where.” You also have to leave enough room in your inventory for when you stumble across critical items you simply can’t ditch for any period of time. Therefore, I appreciate the nod to strategy. That being said, by today’s standards, it just feels like a manufactured means of implementing more depth. It also adds a lot of unnecessary time to the adventure, as you often spend more time considering your inventory than anything else in the game. That’s just plain tedious.
Not to mention that STARS members Rebecca and Billy shouldn’t be constantly backtracking for items they left behind, either; they should be able to carry a lot more than they can. And like I said above, having these two characters could’ve made for a much more intriguing setup but instead, it feels like a missed opportunity. Again, we’re talking about a 13-year-old game so I shouldn’t be overly critical, but you can’t help but think: “If this was a remake as opposed to a remaster, imagine what the developers could’ve done with this concept…” The good news is that the two characters are indeed different (Billy is stronger but Rebecca can mix herbs), so at least there’s a distinct dynamic for each. The gameplay does feel different when you switch to the other character.
I should add that the camera is just plain bad. It wasn’t altered in any way for this re-imagining and yeah, it basically sucks. Back in those days, we were used to fixed cameras and we’d often curse those cameras for getting us killed, as our often obscured view could cause fatal issues. The only saving grace is that we now have the option of various control schemes; if you don’t want to suffer through the “tank controls” from yesteryear, you don’t have to. On the other hand, when you do switch to the more modern controls, the camera issue becomes even more prominent because you can move that much faster, and the camera just can’t keep up. The camera was never meant to handle the new control schemes and that’s painfully obvious with every updated step you take. But maybe the hardcore purists will go with the tank scheme, anyway.
Resident Evil Zero HD Remaster will remind you of the good ‘ol days when horror was horror . You will appreciate this supposedly “outdated” mode of gameplay, especially if you recall the early days of this franchise with extreme fondness. Yeah, like most remakes, this one has to thrive on some nostalgia. You have to be able to overlook the lingering age-old issues, like the terrible camera, comical voice acting, and unfulfilled promise that is the two-character approach. The problem is that newcomers to the series probably won’t be able to ignore all that, which is too bad. But let’s face it: Such productions are really designed for the core fanatics of the IP, anyway, and I imagine they’ll be satisfied – if not ecstatic – with this overhauled effort.
The Good: Sharper, crisper visuals lead to greater immersion. Great combat and background effects. Item-dropping system requires strategy and thought. Gameplay is different when switching between the two main characters. Retains the original heart and soul of the franchise.
The Bad: Horrid voice acting. From a story standpoint, feels like a missed opportunity with the two protagonists. Fixed camera remains as infuriating as ever.
The Ugly: “The older you get, the more you start to see the necessity of a ‘remake’ rather than a ‘remaster.’”