Release Date: January 19, 2016Platform: Xbox One (reviewed), PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, PCDeveloper: CapcomPublisher: CapcomGenre: Survival Horror
After the success of last year’s well-received Resident Evil Remastered, Capcom has now given the same welcomed treatment to Resident Evil Zero, a prequel game set just before the events at the mansion that started it all. The game puts players in the dual role of S.T.A.R.S. medic Rebecca Chambers and mysterious newcomer, Billy Coen, and attempts to shed more light on the true horrors behind all of that shady Umbrella business. Even though Resident Evil Zero may not be considered one of the most popular or even memorable entries in the series to some, this remastered version breathes new life into the harrowing 2002 adventure, offering a polished presentation, a solid technical performance, and a new extra mode that is sure to leave fans with a smile on their faces.
Much of Resident Evil Zero will be familiar to those who’ve played through Chris and Jill’s adventure in the original game, from the visual style and puzzle-focused progression, to the silly cut scenes and ominous door loading screens. Even the game’s main environment, the Training Facility, feels like a smaller and less memorable version of Resident Evil’s iconic mansion. But then there are other areas, like the roaring passenger train where you begin the game, that are very fresh and exciting. There is also a noticeable change in the types of enemies you’ll encounter this time around. While you’ll still find your traditional zombies lurking about the various train compartments and shadowy basement corridors, you’ll also be contending with a lot more animal-based adversaries. And I’m talking more than just rabid, undead zombie dogs here — think giant scorpions, centipedes, bats, and a terrifying frog with a long and sticky tongue.
Even so, Resident Evil Zero tries to change up the series’ formula in two other significant ways. First, players can freely switch between controlling Rebecca or Billy whenever they choose, and you’ll often need to utilize both characters and their respective strengths in order to solve certain environmental puzzles. For instance, Billy can withstand more damage and is capable of pushing heavy boxes or bookshelves, while Rebecca is essential when it comes to mixing herbs or other concoctions that are essential to progressing through the story. You also have the option to give commands to your AI-controlled partner, so you can either feel out that next unexplored room on your own first, or rush right into it together with both guns blazing. It definitely adds a cool twist to the original Resident Evil framework, and brings a welcomed layer of depth in coordinating with the two different heroes effectively.
The other big gameplay change in Resident Evil Zero is a tweaked item system: Namely, the traditional storage boxes have been done away with, forcing you to leave your excess items strewn about all over the place. Given that both Rebecca and Billy have a very limited number of six item slots (and a lot of the better weapons like the shotgun and grenade launcher take up two at a time), this makes meticulous item management a crucial tool for making it out alive. While this design choice works in tandem with the largely interconnected structure of the game’s different areas, it can also lead to a lot of frustrating backtracking to find forgotten or misplaced key items if you’re unfamiliar with upcoming puzzles or desperately need to retrieve that extra handgun ammo you just didn’t have room to carry several game hours ago.
As far as the remastered qualities are concerned, Resident Evil Zero HD Remaster looks and plays absolutely great in high-definition. In the same vein as last year’s excellent Resident Evil Remastered, Rebecca and Billy’s origin story is polished to a shine, with great visuals, a steady frame rate throughout, and another wonderfully improved control scheme (though as with Resident Evil Remastered, the quick camera changes of the game’s original design can still trip you up on occasion). Also like Resident Evil Remastered, you’ll have a few settings to play around with, like switching on widescreen presentation or reverting back to the original game’s tank controls.
Besides the upgraded performance in the visual department, the biggest addition to Resident Evil Zero HD Remaster is the all-new, zany Wesker Mode (unlocked after completing the game once), which lets you play through the original campaign again with the villainous Albert Wesker in place of Billy. The draw of this fun and lighthearted mode is that Wesker comes with a set of wild superpowers, such as lightning-fast sprints and the menacing Death Stare, which strikes down enemies with a laser-like precision from afar. Given the close-quarters environments and fixed-camera changes that permeate the game, I didn’t find myself using Wesker’s sprint power all that much (except for a good laugh or two), but the ridiculously cool and effective Death Stare is another story entirely.
Besides Wesker Mode, we also have a return of the Leech Hunter extra from the original game’s release, which finds Rebecca and Billy trudging through the Training Facility and Basement maps from the main game, collecting dozens of colored leech charms and fighting through familiar rooms with reshuffled monsters. The catch is that Billy can only hold the blue charms, while Rebecca can only hold the green ones, and you’re unable to drop them once they’re added to your inventory: another lesson in strict item management and character cooperation. Overall, Leech Hunter mode offers a highly entertaining and challenging task for those who want to squeeze a little bit more out of the experience.
If you’ve never had a chance to play Resident Evil Zero before on the GameCube or Wii, the gameplay and character mechanics still hold enough merit by today’s standards to warrant a first play through. And if you’re a veteran of the series, then the shiny new visuals and solid performance offer a great incentive to go through the journey all over again. What’s more, you also won’t want to miss having a go at the ridiculous Wesker Mode, either. In both cases, the replay value of Resident Evil Zero HD Remaster is very high. Compared to the original Resident Evil, the prequel story of Rebecca and Billy offers just enough new ideas while still feeling, almost comfortingly, very much the same.
Joe Jasko is a game critic.