Resident Evil Zero: When collecting herbs, always keep the terracotta pot…

Warning: I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, but in discussing the game I mention things which may be considered spoilers if you are completely new to ‘Resident Evil’ (Biohazard) and have absolutely no knowledge of any of the content therein. 

You are now entering a world of subjective blogging horror…
Good luck… 

The ‘Resident Evil’ plot reached the level of ‘fiasco’ a few games ago and is now so convoluted that it’s sprinting towards farcical with no sign of slowing up. The series has seven numerical offerings (including Zero); other titles that also slot in to the plot (e.g. Code: Veronica); Spin-off series’ (e.g. Gun Survivor, Revelations, Outbreak); and one-off obscurities (e.g. Umbrella Chronicles, Mercenaries 3D). For this slice of ramble-pie I’m focusing in on ‘Resident Evil Zero’ (HD re-release for PC); a title which in itself requires some scene setting preamble, as my completely subjective opinions should at least be put into context. In early 2002 the original ‘Resident Evil’ (1996) was remade for the Nintendo Gamecube; the remake brought all aspects of the game up to the (then) current generation of consoles. It included some additional content to lengthen the game and was well received by both veterans and new comers to the series. Later in 2002 ‘Resident Evil Zero’ was released, also as a Gamecube exclusive, visually following the same aesthetic tone set by the preceding game. RE:Zero is a prequel to the events that transpire in ‘Resident Evil’ and provides a backstory for the fresh faced rookie, Rebecca Chambers. Following the success of the HD re-release of the ‘Resident Evil’ remake (2002) in 2015 (still following?) Capcom has given RE:Zero that same HD respray and allowed those of us who didn’t own a Gamecube to once again enter the world of survival horror and experience the prequel to those infamous events in Raccoon City.

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I’d love to make a journey on a train like this… possibly without the zombies…

 

The previous allusion to subjective opinion stems from my own attachment to the Resident Evil Series – specifically the original trilogy. To avoid digressing into a large chunk of my gaming history and growth, I’ll keep it simple and state that, despite the some failings, those original three games set in Raccoon City hold a special place in the retro-classics vault of my heart. My interest was waning by the time ‘Code: Veronica’ rolled in and the new-style action heavy Resident Evil 4 (despite excellent reviews) is something I have just never gotten around to playing. The fixed camera-angles, pre-rendered backgrounds and tank controls of the originals go hand-in-hand with the shambling Romero-esque zombies to make up what I consider to be a Resident Evil game.

Experiencing this immediate prequel to the original is a long held empty box I have longed to tick. Being objective about it is just not on the cards, so I’m going to embrace the skewed view I have on those games and simply give my views on how it stacks up as a ‘classic’ Resident Evil game.

What’s Different?

It is rumoured that Capcom wanted to up the challenge with RE:Zero, so they tweaked the original formula with the intention of raising the difficulty and adding some fresh life. The “Item Boxes”, with a look and sound that is almost as synonymous with the series as that of a shambling zombie, have been removed; the upshot being that you can no longer store items in these magically linked chests all over the map. The idea of disabling these mystical teleporters was tested in the ‘Real Survival Mode’ of Resident Evil, but in RE:Zero they have been completely removed and replaced with an option to leave items on the floor wherever you happen to be standing – a practice made all the more weird by the tables and cupboards lying empty in most rooms.

Capcom’s second big shuffle is to put the player in control of two characters: the aforementioned Rebecca Chambers and Billy Coen, a vest wearing tattooed ruffian with a shady past, which at least proves that Capcom didn’t walk too far from their big book of stereotypes when putting the game together. Being able to switch control at will between the two characters; have one character follow the other; give standing ‘attack’ or ‘idle’ commands to either character; and differences in basic character abilities opens up the scope for a new range of puzzles. It also forces a number of clichéd mechanisms for separating them and the the follow-up challenges to reunite this mismatched pair.

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For those of you who wondered why anyone would pre-order to get the DLC: I give you the Jill Sandwich t-shirt…

The Good…

As with all the classic RE games, our protagonists pass through several key areas during the events of the game; these are all suitably appropriate and pretty much read like a ‘Best Of’ setlist for the series: Spooky House, Sinister Lab, Industrial Facility. The opening stages of the game play out aboard an ornate Gothic train which stands out as a signature environment within RE:Zero. These are all elaborately labyrinthine; full of overly complicated locks, hidden switches and meandering puzzles. To the cynic the complexity of simply opening doors in these locations is baffling and defies logic; but these overtly ridiculous buildings are as much characters in RE games as the Redfields or zombies. The pre-rendered backgrounds bring the environments to life with detail and depth whilst necessitating the need for the classic fixed camera angles. It’s not everyone’s favourite brand of Assam; but this visual style rates very highly on my own personal nostalgia-o-meter. The ink-ribbon saving system and limited inventory are also features that newcomers to the series may find archaic; but these mechanics, designed to encourage a cautious nervousness in play, all build in making this a true ‘survival horror’ title.

The two-character mechanic, in the most part, also makes it into the list of positive features. It adds variety to the puzzles, although some that require large amounts of character switching verge on tedious. The practicalities of switching between characters, ensuring that a following character doesn’t get in the way, and making sure they don’t waste all of your ammo have been thought out and addressed, albeit in a clunky, functional sort of way.

The Bad…

It’s not all a big picnic chowing down on Jill sandwiches however; RE:Zero has some flaws that even my rose-tinted retro-vision can’t overlook. The lack of item boxes fails to add anything besides annoyance and clutter. A fair chunk of my time playing RE:Zero was spent ferrying items from one place to another as I progressed through the different areas within the game. On the one occasion that I did decide to leave a few things behind, gambling that they wouldn’t be needed again, I ended up sprinting back through the empty rooms to retrieve them. Dropping items is also a risky business as the game style is really not suited to having things left in random places. It’s very easy to leave an item on the floor so that it is obscured by foreground scenery, or struggle to pick up the specific item you want when half-a-dozen are scattered around you.

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Seriously, look at all these items lying on the floor…

Plot is also a weakness of the game. Without wanting to spoil, I’ll simply state that it is a prequel being shoehorned into a space where there was never meant to be a story. One of my largest complaints in this respect (which I think I can safely mention) is Rebecca Chambers; this rookie is scared and inexperienced when you run into her in ‘Resident Evil’, however she is supposed to have fought her way through the horrific events of RE:Zero hours before? Likewise she learnt a great deal about what was ‘happening’ in those hours and yet never thought to share it upon meeting S.T.A.R.S. Alpha team?

The Verdict…

RE:Zero satisfied my want for one more foray into those earlier style of RE games. The whole experience seems tailored to do just that; several times during the game I had the feeling that the game designers were saying “Hey! Remember this bit from another RE game, well here it is again”. The classic enemies were paraded out for you to admire amongst familiar architecture and gameplay mechanics.

… but for newcomers to the series I couldn’t recommend it as a starting point. The HD re-release of the ‘Resident Evil’ remake is much better. It is the source material for all those nods in RE:Zero and it nails the pacing and tension superbly. Play it first and then move to RE:Zero if you want more; but tackle them the other way around and you’ll miss out on so much.

One final note: Capcom are currently in the process of making a HD remake of ‘Resident Evil 2’ – being my favourite of the series, I’m hoping they do it justice…

Resident Evil and Resident Evil Zero are both available on Steam for PC… 

16 thoughts on “Resident Evil Zero: When collecting herbs, always keep the terracotta pot…

  1. Yeah, the no item box thing was annoying and they should’ve implemented the boxes in and made it strictly like the remakes true survivor. Had they put a separate scene with Rebecca and Chris, in the Remake following the Tyrant battle. This would explain the events of RE0, making sense of the two incidents and not spoiling the whole Umbrella involvement. Not only that, Wesker’s true intention and involvement is still never revealed UNTIL just before this event.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good points!… I want to go back now and play the originals (PSX versions) to see how much Wesker “plot-stuff” they contained. I’m pretty sure that most of it was shoved in later during ‘code: Veronica’.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s in a lot of the mythos put in from many Capcom’s supplemental material on Wesker.
        These are the Wesker Reports
        (1 and 2)
        As a gift to further enlighten you, here are links to each of them.

        Wesker Report I
        (Narrated by Wesker himself (seriously))

        Wesker Report II
        (Translated from Japanese)
        http://residentevil.wikia.com/wiki/Wesker%27s_Report_II

        Any other info I can dig up on him I will submit as a blog entry ASAP, so stay posted!!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Highly recommend watching it and looking the Resident Evil Wikia, which is VERY accurate on everything canon for the games. DC Douglas the voice actor actually made that video with collaboration from Capcom for the fans. (The original was also written solely in Japanese.)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. To be honest, the only game in the series I’ve played is Resident Evil 4. I heard it’s enjoyable even to those who are only passingly familiar with the franchise (such as myself), but I wonder how many references and plot points I didn’t get. I do know that Leon made his debut in Resident Evil 2, however.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 4 is generally regarded as being a more accessible game, it brought the series back in line with gaming ‘norms’ of the time. I put my partner in front of Resident evil 2 a while back and she couldn’t handle the fixed camera and tank controls. I would like to play 4 at some point to compare.
      There is not a large amount of plot that you missed by skipping ‘2’… But you should play it anyway, because I’m hugely biased 😛.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve been interested in playing this game on the PC. While I enjoy some of the newer Resident Evils, I think I’m in the same position as you in that I have a real thirst for the classic style RE. Really hoping they do right by the RE2 remake.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, the idea of the RE2 remake both excites and worries me. There was a fan project remaking it in the unreal engine that obviously caught Capcom’s attention (for legal reasons) that sparked this whole thing off… And the early footage of that looked really interesting.

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  4. Surprising that Capcom re-released Zero (oh wait, it’s Capcom). It’s a weird expansion on the REmake. I recall at the time reading good, but not great reviews, with the REmake recommended over it. I can definitely see the logic in that, because for me even though I was shit-scared of the REmake (to the point of not wanting to play it… and giving up on it for several years before finally beating it…) I didn’t find Zero scary at all. Having two characters on the go, as strange as it sounds, took away much of the tension of being alone and defenceless. In Zero, instead of worrying about zombies and monsters, I was concerned about my partner AI wasting precious ammo.

    I thought the drop item mechanic was very useful in some respects, but I ran into a lot of the issues you describe in your post too. One thing that I did like (if I’m remembering this rightly) is that dropped items were marked on your map. That at least was an improvement on the REmake which didn’t mark anything – not good when you want to backtrack to that one room that had that one item in…

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    1. Yes, the dropped items are marked (which is useful). Also, you’re right about the ammo thing, on several occasions panic set in, not from the onscreen horror but because my partner had started eating through grenade ammo taking out a few leaches that happened to be in the room!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh wow, that’s terrible! Funnily enough they brought back the co-op aspect in RE5, with Sheva, but in the modern REs the game provides enough ammo so it’s no big deal when the AI chews through clip after clip (just maybe don’t give it the magnum).

        Anyway it’s good to know it’s not just my memory playing tricks on me – Zero isn’t the most memorable game and in any case I haven’t played it since it first came out on Gamecube, so 2003 in Europe.

        Lastly, I’d recommend giving RE4 a go at least. I’m a fan of the old style, especially RE2 which is my favourite of the ones I’ve played, but I also love RE4 and the changes it made. The modern games are in a completely different genre for all intents and purposes, but they’re also well worth playing, especially RE4 which is flat-out amazing, one of my all-time favourite games. Still, it can only be a good thing that Capcom is putting some money and effort back into the old RE style, so the new and old styles can co-exist together.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Sounds like a solid recommendation for RE4 😀 – I will add it to my wishlist. Playing Zero has rekindled my interest in the series so I’ll give it a go at some point.

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      3. Quick aside on RE4, if you’re unsure which version to play (Capcom are re-releasing like crazy these days aren’t they?!), I’d recommend the Wii version over any others, including the HD console ports. The Wii controls are a wonderful addition, and a substantial improvement on the traditional analog stick set up. I’m really feeling it right now playing through RE5 – missing the smoothness of those Wiimote controls!

        Liked by 1 person

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