When Resident Evil
first hit the scene back in 1996, it was embraced largely because it was full of surprises. It was a game unlike anything console gamers had seen before, and better yet, it was genuinely scary. You never knew what would be waiting around each corner, and even if you thought you did, Resident Evil was able to shock even the most jaded horror fan.
Now a number of sequels, a movie, and six years later, the Resident Evil series hasn’t really changed all that much. Gamers are still involved in a life or death struggle to solve puzzles, investigate deathly quiet locales, and get out of huge enclosed zombie filled houses. The problem is, quite simply, the Resident Evil world is no longer as scary, interesting, or shocking as it once was, and in turn, has lost a lot of its charm.
As the title indicates, Resident Evil Zero
takes place before the other episodes in the franchise. Like most of the games, though, Zero starts with the S.T.A.R.S. team investigating strange happenings. After an unfortunate helicopter crash, Rebecca Chambers, our hero, uncovers a lead, a motive, and a suspect, named Billy Coen.
Of course, things are never that simple. The trail leads Rebecca to what appears to be an abandoned train, where the real adventure starts. As she investigates the train, Rebecca becomes torn between tracking what she believes is a cold blooded killer, Billy, or finding out what’s going on, and why the dead seem to be coming back to life. Either way, things don’t look good for this young S.T.A.R.S. member.
It doesn’t take much convincing for Rebecca to realize that Billy is indeed a good ally to have against the waking dead. He is a better shot, and frankly, he can take a lot more punishment than Rebecca, making him a valuable fighter to have on your side. Unlike other Resident Evil games, Zero allows gamers to use both characters in real time. For the most part switching between characters is as easy as a push of the button, adding an entirely new element to the game.
You can have your characters search independently, or together as a team. If you decide to journey solo, the other character will stay behind in whatever room you leave them, and radio if they get into trouble. As a team, however, the computer will control the other character, running right behind you and aiding in fights with monsters. For the most part this set-up works out well, but there are times when the computer-controlled character gets trapped by zombies, or stuck behind things in the foreground.
No matter if you’re playing with Billy, or Rebecca, both survivors are presented in amazing detail. You can see every detail of Billy’s jeans, or his handcuffs, or even his exceedingly large, and detailed, tattoo. Sadly Rebecca isn’t as interesting looking as Mr. Coen, what with her plain white vest and fanny pack on. She is extremely detailed, is pretty dull, and lacks that charm and beauty we’ve come to expect in our Resident Evil women.
The backgrounds are also exquisitely detailed. When I first saw the way the glow from the lightning burst through the train windows at E3, I had no question that this was the best looking game of the year. The backgrounds are alive with detail, much of it moving and changing as you move by it. They are still pre-rendered backgrounds, but there is no doubt they are the best yet.
Early on Resident Evil grips you with one amazing visual after another. At first it’s just the lighting effects, but soon the fire starts eating away passenger car, and you’re forced to head outside the moving train. With the trees coming at you at rapid fire, and the rain beating down, it’s an effect that’s hard to forget. An hour into Resident Evil Zero, you will be convinced that this is the best looking game ever.
Problem is, the train is just a brief, albeit refreshing, introduction to the greater quest. After spending a few hours speeding down the tracks, your ride derails, and sends you flying into a whole different location. Soon enough you find yourself in the Umbrellas Research Center, which looks an awful lot like a giant mansion. From here on the game takes an extremely predictable turn, which was a unexpected, and a little disappointing.
As Rebecca and Billy search the Research Center, they learn all about the T-Virus, and the events that would eventually lead to a whole string of sequels. It is here that Billy’s violent past is uncovered, including just why he’s up for execution. The interplay between the two characters is far from Hollywood-grade, but is better than the first couple games in the series. Billy is voiced by a slightly more convincing actor, while Rebecca is stuck with unconvincing lines of dialog.
While this is all going on, the game cuts back and forth to cinemas showing that our two heroes are being watched on the security cameras by a certain S.T.A.R.S. member who has traitorous plans of his own. There is also a side plot regarding a mysterious man in a long white robe. From the onset, the man seems to have a gift allowing him to control small worm-like creature.
Eventually all of these stories collide, but not before asking, and answering, a number of important questions. Other Resident Evil games have been more focused on the survival aspect, but Zero manages to fill in some of the back-story surrounding the disaster in Raccoon City. You may not get all of your questions answered, but you’ll come away more knowledgeable about Umbrella than ever before.
Besides the usual zombies, hunters, and spiders, this Resident Evil offers a number of new and interesting enemies to avoid. Frogs, extremely large insects, and other mutations stand in your way of just exploring the mansion in peace. Thankfully, the Crimson Head zombies from the recent Resident Evil redux do not make an appearance, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t difficult enemies to avoid here.
Unfortunately the new enemies don’t add enough new to make it feel like a different games. This Resident Evil lacks the major scares that have come from previous survival horror games. Fans of the series will notice that just about everything in the game can be predicted well in advance, and very little is really surprising. For a series built on its scary content, Zero lacks any real frights.
It does set a great mood, though. From the rush of the train to the numerous footsteps characters make while walking over different types of floor, Resident Evil Zero sounds unbelievable. The music’s not half bad, either. With a dynamic score, and what appears to be hundreds of sound effects, Zero could be the best sounding Resident Evil yet. The only thing this game lacks is the addition of Dolby Pro Logic II, which was featured in that Resident Evil remake, and just about every other GameCube game these days. Even without the surround set-up, Zero sounds unbelievable, and will definitely set the right mood.
Most of this new Resident Evil will remind you of the old games. Items still flash at you, as if they want to be found, characters will still need to use ink ribbons to save their progress, and you can still mix potions for maximum effect. Capcom did manage to make one major improvement, which is getting rid of the storage crate all together. Now you will be able to simply drop items on the ground, and collect them later, when you need them. This works essentially like the storage crate, but makes it easier to simply pick up what you need and go.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Resident Evil Zero is that Capcom has still not addressed the control problems. No matter whom you play, the feeling of the game is sluggish, and awkward overall. Since the character controls similar to an R/C car, avoiding enemies and fighting bosses is sometimes difficult to accomplish. The control is no worse than it was in other games in the series, but here we are six years later, and only a few minor changes have been made to the game play. Capcom has had ample time to fix this flaw, so there’s just no excuse anymore.
Like the recently released Resident Evil remake, Zero comes on two GameCube discs. But, don’t be fooled, that doesn’t mean the game is especially long. Fans of the series will breeze right through this game, and since it is fairly straight forward, even those new to Raccoon City will be find their journey fairly effortless.
Most of the puzzles are extremely basic, and require only a limited amount of thought. In fact, I found it a little disheartening when I remembered a few of the puzzles from other Resident Evil games. To its credit, Zero does offer new puzzles that require you to utilize both Billy and Rebecca, but they never really flesh that aspect out as much as they could have.
Most of the challenge in Resident Evil Zero comes from the lack of green health herbs and ammo. This is nothing new; survival horror games have been notorious for giving you only the amount you need, and nothing more. But it’s a little more noticeable here in
Zero for some odd reason.
Fans of the series will appreciate the way the game warps and questions the story of Resident Evil, but you can’t help but feel as if it’s just going through the steps. The game may look unbelievable, but without a serious makeover, Resident Evil will run the risk of being just another cookie cutter adventure game with a good story. If you’re a fan of the series, there’s no reason not to pick this up, but be warned, it doesn’t address any of the problems you may have had with the other games.Has the horror consumed you? For help in those extra tricky situations we recommend you pick up Brady Games' excellent strategy guide that will tell you everything you need to know.
Capcom doesnâ€™t address any of the problems with the previous Resident Evil, yet still manages to release a good, but not great, prequel. But be warned, the formula is starting to wear a little thing.