Looking Back on… Resident Evil Zero (Nintendo Gamecube)

Resident Evil Zero.
System: Nintendo GameCube.
Genre: Survival Horror.
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: November 11, 2002. (We’re almost done with the 411 Games reviews, and thank Christ for that, though the final one will actually be for a game that I feel I probably did… okay by overall. At this point in the review process I was, frankly, wearing on the whole 411 deal; I was kind of aware that I wasn’t especially great at writing game reviews, I felt like there was no real input on the process, and basically it was a case where I was getting no feedback and everyone was content to let me suck out loud and hate my work instead of telling me I sucked out loud and that they hated my work. I’d sooner just get into the argument that comes from telling someone they suck, frankly, because at least then they might get better, and if they leave, they sucked, who cares?

Also I’m absolutely certain I overscored this, but we’ll get there in due time.)

Ah, Resident Evil. The series itself has managed to attract a huge fanbase, and it’s no wonder why: with the exception of the X-Box and the Gameboy Advance, there has been a RE game available for every system released since the Sony Playstation. (This remains true today as well, as all three of the seventh generation home consoles saw a Resident Evil game in some form or fashion, and the eighth generation consoles will all be graced with Revelations 2 soon… well, sans the Wii U, though it received the original game, so it still got one. The handheld market is much the same, as the DS and 3DS have already seen releases, and the Vita will also be seeing Revelations 2, so basically, the original Xbox has less Resident Evil titles than the Sega Saturn. Think about that.) The series has been widely considered a fan favorite, and even though fans argue that the games have stagnated somewhat since RE3: Nemesis, the series has always been a hit, and has produced more than a few instant classics. (Amusingly enough, we were only a couple years removed from Capcom’s massive revival of the franchise with Resident Evil 4, and a complete change of MO for handling the series, as up to this point, the idea was “do the same thing, but bigger and in new places,” while the modern games make active efforts to change the mechanics around from game to game. They aren’t always good changes mind you, but it shows that Capcom can, at least, learn… sometimes.)

Enter Zero. Originally planned as a N64-exclusive title, the 64 tanked before Capcom could put the finishing touches on the game, and it was pushed back to the GameCube as a result. Now, after having released the stunning remake of the original RE, (Which will be released again in a few days on modern consoles and PC, in case you missed it in one of the several other instances it’s been made available.) Capcom is hoping to once again strike gold with this new chapter in the RE series, a prequel to the first game that also answers many questions players might have asked along the way. (Because when you think of complex plots, think Resident Evil.)

Story sum up: STARS Bravo Team (for the uninitiated, they’re the equivalent of a SWAT team in Raccoon City, where the game takes place) (If you’re somehow not fucking familiar with the Resident Evil franchise, you’re probably not starting with this game.) is in the process of investigating a series of murders in the local area when their helicopter goes down unexpectedly in the Raccoon Forest. The group evacuates from the copter, and promptly splits up to investigate the forest. They come upon a tipped transport van and two dead MPs. Upon investigating, they learn of one Billy Coen, a convict being transported aboard said transport van, who is apparently responsible for twenty-three murders. (Not that this should be a surprise or anything, but he was totally framed, because of course he was. Billy is part of a long-standing tradition in the franchise, starting from the third game, of characters who no one gives a shit about showing up to help the established characters before disappearing into nowhere afterward. Unfortunately, in this case he’s paired up with Rebecca Chambers, who ranks fairly low on the “characters fans care about” scale in Resident Evil fandom, which is a shame, as I’d like to see her in a game now that she’d be in her thirties and probably a lot more skilled as a character.) From there, STARS Bravo Team splits up to investigate the surrounding woods, and that’s where things get weird…

Gameplay

The gameplay here is standard RE fare here; if you’ve ever played any RE game, you know the control scheme by heart. (This can be translated to read “tank controls.”) For those that somehow managed to avoid the deluge of titles released, the controller moves the character forwards and backwards, as well as allowing them to turn left and right. Buttons are designated for running, performing actions or firing your weapon, arming said weapon, opening your inventory, and accessing the map. An added feature has been placed in game that allows you to perform a quick 180 degree turn, which is a nice feature in theory. (In practice, it’s just meant to allow players to forgive the shitty tank controls.) Also, the game has received two new additions, in the form of a partner system, which basically allows Rebecca and Billy to work together, complete with controller functions to auto-swap players on the fly, as well as being able to move the second character independently; (Basically the prototype for Resident Evil 5, only far less interesting and functional.) and the drop and pick up system, which, instead of using item boxes (which was a tad unrealistic, I will admit), allows you to drop an item anywhere in the game, and pick it up later, when it’s needed. (Far more realistic, and also far more of a fucking pain in the ass.) Overall, the system is more of the same, with some new bits thrown in to keep the game fresh.

The problem is that the systems the game presents you with are neither solid nor terribly fresh. The controls were solid enough a few games ago, but with the recent steps forward with games like Devil May Cry, one seriously has to wonder why the RE0 stuck with the classic controls, without offering full 360 degree movement options, as that would certainly have made the game easier to deal with. (One presumes it was because they already had the framework in place, and were most likely just trying to get it done to fulfill their contractual obligations to Nintendo to create their six exclusive Gamecube games, as that almost certainly had to be killing them fiscally at that point.) Also, having to hold a button to run is a little annoying, since you generally spend most of the game running everywhere, and supporting analog sensitivity would have been a marked improvement. (I’m pretty sure the games do that now, though it’s far less obvious and annoying.) Ditto for aiming, as a more sensitive aiming system would have allowed the player to more accurately target a zombie’s head, knees, and such. (This kind of happened in later games, though far and away the best handling of this was in the Wii version of Resident Evil 4, where skillful aiming with the Wiimote basically made headshots amazingly common.) In fact, there are a great deal of innovations and improvements that could have benefited RE0 greatly, and yet for some reason, Capcom chose not to implement them, which, while it might may be fine for the hardcore audience, but for those looking for improvements on what is now a several year old control scheme, this is something of a disappointment. (This was basically the last time we’d see these mechanics outside of the odd remakes here and there, though even their most recent remake of the first game eschews the terrible tank controls, or so sayeth previews anyway.)

In addition, the partner system, while fundamentally novel, oftentimes feels tacked on, since Rebecca eventually becomes little more than a pack mule, carrying around spare ammo and curatives for the much more powerful Billy to use when needed. (Seriously; in earlier games there were specific benefits or negatives to playing as one character over the other, but in this game, Rebecca’s notable points are “makes healing items” and “dies quick,” while Billy’s are “hits hard, has a lighter, and can move heavy objects,” with no obvious negatives. Rebecca felt like a chump in that regard, and thankfully modern games treat male and female characters as basically identical functionally speaking.) In addition, the CPU controlled character is not too bright, and might get themselves into spots they are hard pressed to get out of, and might not shoot when needed, or keep aiming at already dead enemies. (They didn’t really fix that in RE5 either, though at least you could just give them a stun prod and hope for the best.) And the drop anywhere system is annoying, to say the least, as you eventually get into the habit of dropping items into places that contain a typewriter, which often is the safest place for them. (A million times this. Being able to drop stuff wherever you want probably seemed like a great idea at the time, but it just meant you had to backtrack to the specific place you dropped something instead of retrieving it from any box available, and it made the game needlessly complicated. Later games simply segregated key items from everything else and let you store consumables between levels, and thank God for that.) And the frequent backtracking needed to perform even mundane tasks is a giant pain in the butt, and is much more repetitious than the use of item boxes has ever been. It might be more realistic, but it’s also much more of a hassle than it should have been. (See above.)

Graphics
The staple of the RE0 series has always been photo-realistic backgrounds combined with rendered characters, and this always resulted in a very attractive gaming experience. (Until the Capcom created actually rendered backgrounds and we decided we liked those a lot better.) Capcom has seen fit to render the backgrounds in this installment, and the improvement is immediately noticeable, as the backgrounds now move realistically, and the animations are all well done. This gives the game the feeling of being more alive than before, and the overall effect is stunning, to say the least. On the character graphic side of things, enemies are now much more gruesome, and more varied, than any RE game prior. Zombies come in multiple appearances, and have a few different types, which makes for a nice touch, if nothing else, and the new enemies, while not as memorable as the giant spiders (I refuse to be scared by a killer cockroach or centipede), are certainly freaky enough to stick with you for some time. (To be fair, RE0 got the shit end of the stick all around, as its main boss was made out of slugs, basically, so honestly, we’d scraped the bottom out of the barrel and were digging to China at this point.) All in all, the graphics are easily the best of the series, and are fantastic on their own. This really is a beautiful game, and you can tell Capcom pulled out all the stops at making it a visual work of art.

Sound

The music of RE is always fantastic, and RE0 is no exception. From the beautiful melody that plays in save rooms, indicating safety and tranquility, to the dramatic music used in boss battles, which evokes a feeling of panic and energy, RE0 is a musical masterpiece, and I can honestly say I’d consider picking up a CD soundtrack from the game, if the opportunity presented itself. (That’s a trend that more or less continues today, though outside of the save room tracks I’m mostly ambivalent about listening to any of the music on its own these days.) The sound effects are also well done this time around, and add a feeling of life to the game. Things make moving sounds on the train, the rain pelts down, the wind howls, and ambient noises abound. Monsters also make more believable and freaky noises this time around (wait until you meet the killer monkeys), and this also adds a sense of freakiness to the game. (To be fair, the early games were mostly zombies and monsters; we didn’t get into fucked up animal zombies until much later so it wasn’t like we needed realistic effects.) Also, character voices are largely improved this time around, and the actors seemed to genuinely know what they were doing, in terms of conveying the appropriate emotions and feelings. All in all, the game is an aural treat, and it seriously helps to make a beautiful game better. (Outside of the first few games, Capcom has treated the voice work reasonably well for this franchise, actually, and it’s amusing that a lot of what follows the franchise is stuff like “The Master of Unlocking,” when that was basically one game. It was pretty bad though so I guess it’s fair.)

Fun Factor
Somewhere along my quest in RE0 I found a suitcase. Bear with me, this has a point… I think. Anyway, I found the suitcase, and I noted that it appeared to be a leather suitcase with a lock on the front. Eventually, fulfilling the required task to open it revealed it to contain a keycard that opened a door I had been trying to open for the previous hour or so.

It was at that point that I realized that I had not only been doing the same thing for the past few games, but that I was tired of doing it. (Had I written this story out now it’d have been a full paragraph, which would’ve run down the specific steps I had to go through to get to that final point. It also probably would’ve been more entertaining and sensible, if longer, so I feel like that’d be an improvement, if perhaps a bit windy.)

Now, I’m not saying RE0 is a bad game in that respect, (Yes, actually, I was.) but Capcom is doing nothing to re-invent the wheel that they basically innovated here. Instead of getting new, fresh puzzles, we’re getting the same “find the x amount of items to open the door/lock to progress”, and it needs to change. (Thankfully Capcom agreed with that assessment, as Resident Evil 4 was a whole new beast.) I mean, yeah, I found a leather suitcase with a lock on it. Why not shoot off the lock? Why not cut the leather with my knife? (Why not make the suitcase a Samsonite or something basically resistant to normal abusive methods of opening, if you insist we have to do it your way? I’m willing to work within the structures of the game, just give me a reason.) Or, as another example, Rebecca gets stuck in a room with a locked door that needs “something sharp” to get it open. So why doesn’t Billy pass her the hunting knife to open it? “This won’t fit in the elevator”. But a can of First-Aid Spray will? And why doesn’t Rebecca just shoot off the lock? (I think they were using a dumbwaiter or something similar to pass items back and forth, but honestly this was a fucking stupid-ass puzzle and the less said about it the better.) And this is why RE fans are complaining the longer the series goes on; it’s hard to be afraid of what might happen next when you pretty much know, and it’s hard to be intrigued by the puzzles when you’ve seen them all before, and can imagine better ways around them than the developers decided to allow. Granted, the designers had a vision they wanted to portray, and I can handle that. But it’s still annoying to see the same puzzles done over again, only this time with two people involved as opposed to one. And in the end, even with all of the innovations provided, and even with the new storyline elements given, the game feels like it’s a lot less fun than it ought to be, which is something of a shame. (In general video games mostly learned this lesson, as the whole “rub two things together until something happens” system Yahtzee crucified years ago has since been replaced by more conventional problem solving methods, so no more salty bears on sticks for us.)

The 411

Well, I suppose it’s an overdrawn conclusion that if you like RE games, this one is probably already in your library, or will be soon. And for those of you looking for some closure on story elements you were missing before, this game more than wraps up the important questions without asking too many new ones. (Basically all it does is explain the relationship between Wesker and Birkin, and how Rebecca got to the mansion in RE1, but honestly, we didn’t need a whole game set in a different facility to answer those questions, and it stretches belief that there were this many forest facilities in such a small area.) But in the end, fans of the series looking for a good reason to invest in a GC would be better served in waiting for Devil May Cry 2, (Or RE4 which single-handedly justified Gamecube ownership, unless you’re a communist.) and those that weren’t fond of RE for one reason or another won’t find anything here to motivate them to buy it. That’s a shame, too, because this game could have been so much more than it is, and instead of reinventing the wheel, it only makes it prettier, and while this a good game, it leaves you with the feeling it could have been much more.

Rating:
Gameplay – 6/10
Graphics – 10/10
Sound – 9/10
Fun Factor – 7/10
Overall – 7.5/10 (not an average) (You want to know why I sucked? I gave that review a final score of 7.5. Jesus Christ I was not good. This game was probably somewhere between a 5 and a 6 if we’re being honest; it was pretty and sounded good but the bloom was super off the rose by then, and the smartest thing Capcom can do at this point is leave this game in the fucking past where it belongs, because WOOF.)

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