Resident Evil Zero is probably the most under-appreciated game to exist in Capcom’s legendary survival horror series. While it indeed deserves that to some degree, it’s also a fascinating game in a number of ways when we look at it from modern eyes—which we can now do thanks to Resident Evil Zero HD.
Two years following its release, the world would be given Resident Evil 4, the game that would forever change everything we knew about the battle between the S.T.A.R.S. forces and the evil corporation Umbrella. In 2002, however, Resident Evil Zero was still crafted in the style of the original games, and the cracks in that design were becoming more and more apparent. The variety of locations that players could be taken to—and the situations they could be put in—remained limited due to the reliance on pre-rendered backgrounds, which themselves had already been made to look like outdated technology with the advent of Resident Evil: Code Veronica’s more dynamic polygon-rendered locations two years earlier. Gunplay and combat remained largely unchanged—and clunky as a result—as did how the game unfolded overall: hunt for specific items, use them to solve nonsensical puzzles, unlock a new area, rinse and repeat.
In 2002, we wanted something new from the series, so Resident Evil Zero felt more than a little like the lumbering zombies it offered up as enemies. Now, thirteen-plus years later, it’s easier to be more forgiving of the game’s faults. Resident Evil Zero is like the younger sibling that wants to emulate its older brothers and sisters, but who doesn’t always understand the things it’s copying.
One of the ways that Resident Evil Zero does try to chart its own path is its “partner zapping” system. Plucky S.T.A.R.S. Bravo Team medic Rebecca Chambers teams up with convicted ex-soldier Billy Coen to survive the horrors the duo are faced with, and at any time—outside of specific moments—you can swap between the two at will. Whichever character you aren’t controlling at the time becomes an AI partner, able to either follow you and assist with taking down enemies, or stay in place to facilitate solving puzzles and accomplish goals. In a historical sense, Zero is fascinating, because it both executes on some of the ideas that seemed to be in place for early versions of Resident Evil 2, while also serving as a huge source of inspiration for the focus on co-op the series would embrace in Resident Evil 5 and beyond.
In 2016, it’s a system that’s fun but also hugely frustrating. Having another character there to get your back felt empowering after other chapters of the franchise where you being alone and vulnerable were the main focus, and reliving that very modern gameplay element in such a classic setting is quite cool. On the other hand, years of progress have left Resident Evil Zero’s tag-teaming feeling incredibly outdated. Your partner’s intelligence can be very suspect at times, and getting both characters in their proper positions to solve certain puzzles can be clunkier than it should be. Far worse than any of that, however, is item management. Already the bane of classic Resident Evil, things are made worse here by completely removing item banking in exchange for having the storage room of two characters combined with the ability to leave equipment on the floor to be picked up later. Except, when you’ve got two characters, you need twice as many weapons. And ammo. And healing items. So, you’ll be in a constant struggle to juggle who’s carrying what, what items you’ll have to go back for because you had no room, and where you left that particular puzzle necessity now that you finally need it. Resident Evil Zero has what I’d consider the worse inventory management of any game in the series, and it stands as a perfect reminder of why you’re glad we no longer live in that era—and why I originally gave up on the game back in the GameCube days.
While nowhere near as bad, there are other frustrations that pop up when viewed with more modern eyes. The game’s aim assist can be quite helpful when you’re not sure exactly what angle an enemy is at in relation to your current position, but seems to actively work against you when you’re trying to aim at a downed zombie and, instead, your gun ends up pointed at another target in the room. Meanwhile, the “treasure hunting” to solve puzzles here reaches near-parody levels at times, and almost every task will feel like something you’ve already done in an earlier Resident Evil. Also, I can’t not mention just how weird this game is in terms of storyline. This was a series that never really needed an origins story, and in giving it one, the franchise’s already-complicated lore is contorted and twisted even more. All of this, by the way, is placed on the shoulders of Rebecca—you know, that meek and mild supporting character from the first game that never once mentioned anything about being a badass who survived an entire separate adventure of horror with some random dude before getting to the mansion?
With all of the things that are working against it, it’d be easy to end this review by saying that Resident Evil Zero HD isn’t anywhere near as good of an experience as what you’ll find in last year’s Resident Evil HD, and that you should just simply play that one instead and call it a day. The thing is, even with its faults, the game’s mixture of tradition and quirkiness honestly comes off as kind of charming. As much as I loathed the inventory system, that didn’t stop me from enjoying myself. Nor did the issues with aiming. Nor the ridiculousness of the puzzles. Nor anything else. The quest to do something different while sticking within the confines of those core classic concepts of the Resident Evil series are part of what breaks the game where it breaks, but it’s also what makes this worth playing in those times when the pieces fall into place. It’s also the more attractive sibling between the two—by far. Unlike their previous release, Capcom still had the original assets for Resident Evil Zero, resulting in backgrounds that were re-rendered instead of upressed, and 3D assets that could be brought into higher resolution in better ways. The developer’s previous effort to bring back a horror classic certainly wasn’t bad, but Resident Evil Zero HD truly feels like the proper culmination of said efforts.
If Resident Evil HD was about going back to what started it all, and respecting the tradition that was first laid out 20 years ago, then Resident Evil Zero HD is about remembering the point at which the reign of that tradition was quickly coming to an end, as the series was making its awkward attempts to evolve into something new. Even with the usual amount of forgiveness one typically carries with them when returning to games from years gone by, replaying the journey of Rebecca and Billy will still leave you constantly reminded of why this is one of the black sheep of the Resident Evil family. And yet, in-between cursing the various things it does wrong, you might also rediscover those shining moments of the game many of us never properly appreciated the first time around.
Resident Evil Zero HD sees the return of a weird chapter in the Resident Evil saga, one that feels clunky and frustrating in its low points, but which also shows some uniqueness from the legacy it helped bring to a close.
M - Mature
|Resident Evil Zero HD is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC. Primary version played was for PlayStation 4. Product was provided by Capcom for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.
Mollie got her start in games media via the crazy world of gaming fanzines, and now works at EGM with the goal of covering all of the weird Japanese and niche releases that nobody else on staff cares about. She’s active in the gaming community on a personal level, and an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming, consumer rights, and good UI. Check her out on Twitter and Mastodon.