Resident Evil Archives: Resident Evil Zero Review
It was a decidedly unusual moment when a seminal, still-popular franchise like Capcom’s Resident Evil series decided to reboot itself beyond recognition in 2005, but for many it was a move that came as a blessed relief. That year’s Resident Evil 4 (much like the recent fifth instalment) took a simpler, more immediately rewarding action-centric gameplay tack, and existed many worlds away from the nerve-shredding, often frustrating and often chilling, survival horror benchmarks of years past.
At the time, that feeling of relief was primarily a response to the novelty of being presented with a Resident Evil game that you knew, beyond doubt, that you had an excellent chance of fully completing. Because those early games really were ferocious, hardcore and unforgiving like the earliest and most brutal arcade machines, and a change of pace felt like a wonderful idea. However, everyone was so thoroughly excited by Resident Evil 4 (absolutely one of the finest games of its generation, make no mistake) that they never stopped to mourn the passing of one of the most distinctive videogame series of all time.
But luckily there was no need, because Capcom are now endeavouring to re-release some of those original classics (or more specifically, the graphically updated versions from 2001 onwards) and offering them up at a seriously appealing budget price. They may not have been optimized for the Nintendo Wii (a bit of a shame, admittedly) but then again, whether your desire is to re-live the past or investigate it for the first time, maintaining the most distinctive gameplay aspect of those original titles has proven to be an incredibly shrewd move.
Because as maddening inappropriate as they often seemed to be all those years ago, in retrospect it has all become clear. That early, incomparable Resident Evil control style (in crude shorthand: similar to that of a remote-controlled car) may have been a bizarre design choice, perhaps initially assumed to be the best way for players to manoeuvre properly through the game’s pre-rendered backgrounds, appears to have been one kept alive because it made everything at least twice as nerve-racking. Even seasoned professionals were never able to shake that feeling of panicked inadequacy, and this dynamic is surely, inadvertently responsible for the continued success of those early games.
2003’s Resident Evil Zero (originally released on the Gamecube) was one of the last of the old-school, and despite an inventive new gameplay feature (the instantaneous player switch routine known as ‘partner-zapping’) it fits into the series’ portfolio perfectly, and is as good a Resident Evil game as any other from that period. It has the atmosphere, it has the tension, and it has the bombastic, amped-up cut scenes.
It is tough (like the best of the early games, it frequently features puzzles that are simultaneously demented and ingenious) satisfyingly meaty and sprinkled with genuine shocks. It also fits rather neatly into the average gamers’ understanding of the Resident Evil timeline, working as a solid, join-the-dots prequel – easy to decipher for newcomers, and satisfyingly rounded for fans. Regardless of your relationship to the franchise (then and now) a few winter evenings spent in the company of Resident Evil Zero is time very well spent indeed.