Resident Evil Zero
By: Tristan Jones on March 31, 2006  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Platform: Nintendo GameCube
Developer: Capcom
Year: 2003
OFLC Rating: MA15+
When Resident Evil Zero came out, it looked to be the title that would answer all the questions, tie all the threads together and give us a better understanding as to why the events of the original Resident Evil and beyond took place. It did… to an extent…

Set one night before Resident Evil, S.T.A.R.S. Bravo Team has been sent into the Arklay Mountains to investigate a string of bizarre murders, but when their helicopter encounters engine problems, they are forced to make an emergency landing far from their intended drop spot. Being Resident Evil, you know what comes next.

Zero again incorporates the dual character play that most of the games in the series presented. This time around you take control of Rebecca Chambers, a recognisable character for veterans of the series, and Billy Cohen, an ex US Marine who was imprisoned for the murder of 23 innocent people during a mission years ago. Cohen escapes custody when his military transport crashes in the aforementioned woods. You have your gender-balanced protagonists, the difference this time around is that you can, and at times must, control them simultaneously. When the characters are together, you can use the C-Stick to control the secondary character's movements, and if your primary character shoots, the secondary will fire at the target too. Alternately they can be left for the computer to take control of until you decide to split the team. For those new to the series, each of the older games that used two protagonists had you play as one while the other was doing something else in another area. This still happens occasionally, but you could never switch between the two whenever you felt, nor could the characters trade off equipment when they accompanied each other. This new inclusion may not seem like much, but it really does become a very important and incredibly useful feature of the game, particularly when character traits are taken further than "the male can take more damage, the chick can carry more stuff".

Another interesting new gameplay feature is the removal of the famous 'magic boxes' of the Resident Evil series. In the games that came before this one, boxes were scattered throughout the games that could be used to store any items you didn't wish to carry. The 'magic' part meaning that even if you put something in one box, you could retrieve it from any other. The Resident Evil remake was the first to toy with this idea, making realistic boxes (which meant having to remember where you put what), but Zero allows characters to simply drop items from their inventory wherever they please (however, much like the realistic boxes, means that the player has to be careful where he or she leaves particular items).

With the actual technical sides of the gameplay given the tweaking it received, the progression through puzzles was taken to a whole other level. Previous games would see characters work through traditional puzzles to obtain objects for progression, but in Zero, the puzzles are a combination of character co-operation and traditional problem solving. There are a number of puzzles that will require players to have the characters together in order to go on, which means, especially under the circumstances being able to switch back and forth at will presents, it's best to keep an eye on what each character is doing constantly, without getting too carried away in one character's progression. While the puzzles themselves might seem inane or frustrating, they are significantly, simply by their nature, more logical in their placement than those presented the earlier titles. Thankfully, Zero doesn't have anywhere near as many moments where you find yourself presented with a problem that requires the character to run all the way back to the other side of the game to retrieve an item and then, arduously make your return (unless you leave a needed item somewhere and forget about it), as the others did.

Graphically, the title is superior to the Resident Evil remake, and easily one of the nicest looking games on the Cube. Sure, the backgrounds are still pre-rendered, but there's enough animation incorporated into the environments to give them the life they need (standing atop the moving train being a perfect example, absolutely awesome). The character modelling is fantastic, though not quite as down to earth as the original's remake. Billy and Rebecca both look a little too perfect when you compare them to Chris and Jill from the original. The enemy models however are perfect, there's more diversity in the zombies (which actually appear more infrequently than one would think), and the monsters, though far more fantastic than any of the other titles, are superbly designed. I was taken aback by the appearance of giant frogs (their existence made a little redundant by the Hunter creatures), but they look so damn good that I just accepted them. The most disturbing creatures, humanoid masses comprised entirely of mutant leeches, are easily the best looking things in the game and their animations, fluid movement and general aesthetic make them genuinely impressive, and probably the most disturbing creatures to appear in the series. However, while the creature design is always impressive, the ideas behind the creatures are often questionable. I think the final boss is one of those situations where you really have to completely suspend disbelief, as it's one of the more absurd ideas the series has put forward (though it looks very cool). Oh, and zombie monkeys, very cool!

The cutscenes that take place throughout the game are equally as impressive visually, again, surpassing those presented by the remake. The only problem is that they manage to jump the shark with Wesker in a way that is so horrifyingly obvious that his character takes on a totally new and far less sinister tone. The same is to be said with Enrico, Bravo Team's leader, who sounds like a G.I. Joe dropout, yet in the remake sounds awesome. Generally speaking, Zero does a pretty good job with its voice acting. Aside from the aforementioned duo, the rest of the cast does a pretty damn good job, given how ludicrous some of the characters are (well, one really).

Now, in my opening, I said that Zero was to be the game that answered all the questions. It doesn't. It does answer some things to a certain extent, but the answers that were promised in the build up to this game aren't given. Zero is more of an informative piece in regards to information than one that answers all. It doesn't really take you right back to where it all began, as some claim it does, it takes you right back to where S.T.A.R.S. became involved physically. Essentially, Zero is an extension of the original Resident Evil, telling us the purpose of the original's mansion, a little more background on the Umbrella Corporation, Wesker and William Birkin's (Resident Evil 2) connection and involvement in the T-Virus research, and basically what happened to the team that came before the original's Alpha Unit. The story itself is fairly self contained, and raises more questions that aren't addressed come the resolution. Cohen has a pretty interesting background, the circumstances surrounding his involvement in the events of the game probably could have/should have been addressed. Still, I suppose it's these questions that keep spawning the sequels we come to love (or loathe… Code: Veronica!). The strange thing about Resident Evil Zero is that while the story is so relatively small, the game itself is quite lengthy and certainly feels longer than most Resident Evil outings.

All in all, Resident Evil Zero is definitely one of the better titles in the Resident Evil series, and has certainly come a long way from its Nintendo 64 origins (check some RE sites for comparisons). It's fresher than you'd think, given that it runs on the same engines as the previous games, and it looks absolutely stunning, both reasons why I find myself replaying this one more than any of the others (sans 4). It's these pros that heavily outweigh the minor continuity quibbles and sporadic moments of sheer absurdity. Plenty of great horror moments, plenty of gore, plenty for any Resident Evil fan yet to play this one to sink their teeth into (and now that it's a Platinum Title, you have even more reason to get it now).
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