It’s been a whole year since the original Resident Evil remake’s HD Remaster joined the cool kids in 2015, and in that year longtime fans, newcomers, and fans anew the world over have been reliving the original horror that has taken this franchise through numerous sequels, spin-offs, movies, books, you name it, Resident Evil has probably got it. The reception was good, great even, setting records for PSN sales and petentially helping resurface the love for the old school survival horror games of generations past. Because of this (or in spite of, depending on who you ask), we’re once again treated to the other former Nintendo exclusive Resident Evil game, Resident Evil 0. You remember, the game that was first conceived as an N64 game. We eventually lucked out in 2002 and because Capcom needs to line their coffers even further lately, we’ve lucked out again in 2016.
When it comes to reviewing a game like this it’s a little bit tough for someone like me. I’m very much living in the “now” when it comes to what games are, but being the old man I am, I very much remember (and often fondly at that) the way games were way back when this game was arriving in retail stores across the country. I was already out of high school at that point. The Patriots had just won their 1st Super Bowl. Jack Bauer had just started fighting terrorists for our enjoyment. I’m pointing all this out because I’m hoping you understand that to many people, this era in video game history may as well be the equivalent of the early 1900’s in America. I’ll do my best to serve both audiences, but I’m letting you know right now, the original game play mechanics of these classic RE games were my jam. And I ate that shit up.
Resident Evil 0 starts off as a game with a story that no one particularly asked for. I mean, not really, anyway. In the original RE game, the S.T.A.R.S. Bravo team had already stumbled upon the haunted mansion by the time the Alpha team made their way inside. That’s the reason they were there in the first place. Bravo team was sent to the quiet, mid-western town mountains of Raccoon City to investigate “mysterious” murders and their helicopter went down. The next day, Alpha team was sent to find their teammates who have disappeared. They, in turn, have their chopper go down – we’d later find out it was sabotaged – and because of this, they eventually make their way to the mansion to face the horrors inside (and out). Even though this is a super old story that most already know, I won’t spoil it much further (I hope) on the off chance you’re getting into these games for the first time today. The point in setting all that up is that the Bravo team was pretty much canon fodder for Alpha’s adventure. The team is either already dead or dying during RE1, save for Rebecca Chambers, and nary a mention of her previous day’s hell was given. Now, I’m kind of referencing the 1996 RE1 game, but to my recollection, in the REmake in 2002, once you meet up with Rebecca after napping her pain away, there’s barely anything, if at all, said about what she experienced the night before. That seems to me like something I’d super interested in telling anyone I could who also worked in an elite police task force with me. They kind of explain it away, again, not wanting to get into too much spoiler territory, but, honestly, it’s a little suspect. With that rant sort of over, the real point I’m trying to make here is that Rebecca and Bravo’s exploits weren’t really on anyone’s “must see” list. Well, except Capcom who saw dollar signs with the concept. All that said, I wasn’t about to tell them to stop making it, either. It was more RE, and at that time, more RE meant a specific formula that we all knew, before the franchise became more action than puzzles.
Anyway… You start the game off as Rebecca, scenario I described above, choppering in to investiga– yadda, yadda, yadda. They go down, search the area, and find a couple of dead military officers with paperwork on Billy Coen, a former Marine convicted of murder. Turns out they were transporting him to his execution when something went wrong, and, well, they no longer breathe. Billy escaped– blah, blah, blah, Rebecca and the team split up and set out to find him. As Rebecca you come across a broken down train, so naturally, you decide to board it. I mean, it’s pouring rain, of course you do. As luck would have it, on this young 18 year old girl’s first mission, her FIRST MISSION, she encounters a train full of zombies and monsters she’d only had nightmares about. Oh, and Billy Coen.
As one would imagine, this fateful meeting is tense and once the two realize they need each other to survive, they team up and eventually make it off the train into an Umbrella Corporation facility that puts that teamwork to the ultimate test. Intrigued? You should be. They fight monsters and solve really out of place puzzles all night. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH YOUR LIFE THAT’S SO GREAT? Besides, Billy has a SWEET tribal tattoo covering his arm (bonus points if you know what that tattoo spells). If that doesn’t scream “bad boy” I don’t know what does.
During said night, as mentioned the (likely) unlikely tag team of cop and fugitive have to solve puzzles and either avoid or kill monsters. Billy, as a man, is stronger in battle and can use his muscles in places Rebecca can’t, while she can take health items and mix them together for more powerful healing. It’s not because women are only good at taking care of guys. Because she’s a medic. Did I not make that clear before? See, that’s why they need to work together. She’s really good at mixology, and he’s really good at throwing people out of the club. Balance. And because of that balance, be prepared to do a lot of inventory management. A lot of it. Like, A LOT, A LOT. In past RE games there was quite a fair bit of that to begin with, but with those games, we had a magical box that we could store items in and littered throughout the adventure these boxes would allow us to reacquire an item put in the boxes, no matter where that occurred. I guess this particular part of Arklay Mountains never bothered to order those boxes because they do not exist in this entry. All over Raccoon City these boxes are available. Hell, in remote Pacific islands and even Antarctica we have access to these boxes!! Well, not here. Bummer. So because of that, you now can drop any item you’re carrying anywhere you want. You still have limited item slots in your inventory, so this will be an essential thing. You’ll be balancing what you can and can’t carry constantly. That’s no different than other RE games, but this time, it feels like you’re doing it more because you can literally drop any item in any room. I’m not a huge fan of this mechanic, but it does work well.
This also ties in with the partner “zapping” system. Remember, you and Billy are a team, and with that you can swap back and forth between each person. Not only will you want to do that for fighting tactics, but you’ll also need this tactic for puzzles. You can thank your lucky S.T.A.R.S. that the areas in this game have puzzles suited for that, otherwise you’d be Lurker lunch rather quickly. This is something you’ll be doing all game, save for the times when the team is split up for story reasons. You can control your partner with the right stick, but sometimes you guys will need to be in separate rooms, so you’ll need to zap your way around. Get used to it. It’ll (hopefully) become second nature by the end. While zapping (I wonder if Capcom trademarked that phrase) you still need to swap items. A lot. You may think it’s too much, you may think it’s not that much. Regardless, it’s still a lot. With an adventure game like this, your item management is absolutely key (no pun intended), but you’re probably going to run into item management problems. Especially if this is your first time through this game. While you can drop anything anywhere, there is a limit to how many items can be placed in a room/floor. A problem that was not present with the glorious item boxes. I was going to use personal screenshots to illustrate just this problem at work, but apparently Capcom has disabled the sharing feature on Xbox One with this game. That is not confirmed, but it is the consensus online from what I can find. So just take my word for it, or try it yourself. It definitely sucks, especially when trying to hoard all your important items in a “safe” room and you have to use somewhere else. It’s frustrating, but at the same time, it’s a puzzle all in itself. Knowing what you need and when to take it with you was always a tricky thing in RE games, and now it almost feels a little bit trickier with the way the item storage works. However, you do have essentially double the slots because of the tag team game play, so if you manage it just right, you may rarely feel the burn of leaving a key item too far away (and just past a hoard of monsters).
In 2002, both this game and the REmake were gorgeous games. Today, that is no different. The cliche is absolutely true here: this game looks just as good as your mind remembered it looking. Clearly the game, rendered in at most 480p at 4:3 on blurry box TVs didn’t look this good, but in our minds, it totally did, because back then, this game DID look like this to us. Now, in 1080p, available in a really well done pan and scan to afford the widescreen look (you can still use the original 4:3 if you desire), this game still looks incredible. The HD Remaster team has done a wonderful job. The way these 2 classic RE games were made did not automatically mean an HD port was simple. A lot of work had to go in to not only the character models, but the pre-rendered backgrounds that blew our minds over a decade ago. Sadly, as it seems with all the RE ports, the FMV cut scenes did not get any upgraded treatments, so those get stretched out and even more blurry because of it. In an otherwise masterful graphics work up, the usual video cut scenes you longed for now have you wishing it was a cut scene using in engine graphics. Something of the norm now, but this was not the case then.
When it comes to the controls for the game, Capcom has decided to obey both masters here. You get the old school “tank” controls, where up moves you forward, down makes you back up, and left and right turn you in that direction, but you also get the more modern way to control third person games where whatever direction you press, you move. That will please many, I’m sure, but in all honesty, it doesn’t always work here. I set out to play this game with the modern style (called “alternate”) so I could compare. It definitely works, and can make some enemies a bit easier to navigate around, but it can also turn the simplest things like moving to a part of the room into complex chores. The reason for that is the way the camera works. The game is set up with fixed angles for a more horror feel. Watch this quick video and see what I mean. If I were able to move the camera I would not have been scared or in jeopardy. If you walk into a room and can pan the camera around, it’s not as scary once you notice the zombie hanging out in the corner by the back door. By using the pre-rendered backgrounds and using the fixed camera angles, every time you enter a room you fear for your life. It works, and it works well. However, using the modern control style, when that camera angle shifts, you can become disoriented and if you don’t hold true with the direction you’re pressing, you’ll start a cycle of camera shifts that will almost certainly annoy and potentially kill you, and you’ll start getting caught on edges of the environment, etc., and you’ll possibly get mad at the game, but you need to keep in mind this was not how you played it before. I often found myself naturally reverting back to the tank controls unconsciously and having to force myself back each time once I noticed. It’s with that in mind that I recommend at least trying the tank controls first. The game was made with them in mind and works perfectly with them. I know, if you aren’t used to it, it’s like writing with your non-dominate hand, but if you practice a little bit, you’ll catch on quicker than you think. Besides, by using the original controls it’s much easier to move in a straight line and turn while running. It’s really difficult to do that with the modern. And trust me, you may not think that matters, but here it does. Maybe it’s because I grew up and started with the tank, I can’t 100% say, but to me, it just feels so much better that way.
When it comes to some of the negatives of RE0, many people are quick to point out the enemy designs. It’s almost always the biggest complaint. To me, I really don’t think that way. Yes, we get the classic zombies, which no one has an issue with, nor the Hunters or Tyrant, but otherwise we get “generic” animals and insects. If you pay attention at all to the story (and that we can complain about in a moment), you’ll know that the facility you’re in currently is where the Umbrella viruses were first being developed. If you think about that at all, and remember the timeline of events, of course there will be “generic” enemies. It’s even very much explained in the files you can find throughout the adventure. The virus was initially meant for militaristic use. Bio-Organic Weapons. So using that logic, of course they will try it first out on monkeys or insect-like creatures (there are more, I just don’t want to give them all away). If you read the files, they go into detail on what worked and what didn’t, and this is what lead them to start using people. Mad scientists and story aside, this is just so logical to me that I had no issues with the designs. But in an industry where people argue for logic and things of that nature, I guess this is one time where they don’t want logical, they want “cool”, logic be damned!! Well, if you ask me, the entire rest of the series has “cool” enemies. Umbrella had to start somewhere, and this is it!!
Now that we’ve covered the enemy designs, we can move onto the story. I guess we can lump the puzzles in here, too. Remember when I referenced logic just a minute ago? Yeah, that kind of goes out the window with the puzzles and story. The story for RE0 is exactly the kind of story you expect from RE by this point and as we all know, a good RE story has more holes in it than Swiss cheese. I’ve already explained a little bit at the start, and if you think that’s enough, well, too bad, because the story makes sense just enough to exist, but don’t go thinking any more about it. The more you try to justify using logic, the more your head will hurt. If you just let it happen and enjoy it for what it is, B-movie grade horror, you’ll be golden, because even though these GameCube games have gotten better story-wise than the original games, that doesn’t mean they got BETTER, if you catch my drift. The writing and the acting doesn’t help itself, either. Whether it be the weird dialogue, odd delivery, or campy nature of some scenes, you’ll be tilting your head with some sort of emotion you may not be able to put your finger on. Part of me thinks it’s purposely bad at times, part of me thinks it’s bad for us in the West because even though it’s in English, it still feels completely Japanese in the way people interact and talk with one another, and another part of me has no idea what to think and doesn’t even want to try anymore. Which is why I again recommend just letting whatever happens happen, and moving on from there, something I keep telling my girlfriend to no avail. For the puzzles, it’s really hard to accept the shenanigans that goes on with those at first. I mean, they do explain it away every game, but it just boils down to one main sticking point: the people in charge of the evil organizations are bat-shit insane, but the kind of insane that can still function normally. Most of the puzzles you encounter make little sense. You all have heard the jokes -“Take the wooden board and insert it into the clock and turn it to the time you saw in a random note and then take the gem that the clock spits out and put it in the eye of a tiger that you had to maneuver around a statue to depress a tile so you can get the fire key to open the fire key doors”. That’s not quite what happens, but that’s pretty much what happens. And I guess it has to be that way, these are adventure games, after all. And honestly, I kind of love that. I miss this. It sets this series (originally, before it became just a shooter) apart from other games. So much so that it was copied. A lot. People lovingly mock Grim Fandango’s absolutely obtuse puzzles, but chalk it up to being an adventure game of it’s era. Well, SO WAS RESIDENT EVIL. I think people are less forgiving with this series because of the “action” part of the genre. This game is so clearly an action-adventure game (a genre that seems to have lost all meaning today), but because of some genius marketing or just because it lucked into it, the term “survival-horror” was coined and that’s became the new genre. A genre, once again, that seems to have lost all meaning today. Such is the times, I guess. So, yeah, I can absolutely understand the criticism on the story and puzzles, and I can understand if some people dock the game points for it all, but to me, this makes the series memorable and enjoyable to work through.
Once you beat the game you get the original release’s Leech Hunter mode and a new one called Wesker Mode. The gist of this one is that Billy is replaced by Wesker, Rebecca is looking super sexy in her Wesker brain wash outfit a la Jill from RE5, and you can use a couple of Wesker specific attacks to really open the game up for some fun. I haven’t dabbled too deeply in this, but I can tell you it’s nice to see Wesker on screen in a fighting role not reserved for Mercs or Raid modes. He takes a bit to get used to, but you’ll have fun. Very odd when you see Wesker in cut scenes with Billy’s voice or just Billy for the FMV, but, for a bonus mode, we can’t complain too harshly.
At the end of the day, I can’t recommend this game (and the original REmake HD) more for fans of Resident Evil. If you’ve grown up with them like I have, it’s a no brainer. If you’re a bit younger or haven’t really played any RE games other than the recent ones (or even worse, none at all), I do believe this is worth a look. There’s still boss fights and action sequences littered throughout, it’s just more methodical with its pacing. Or, to put it another way, it’s worth it if only to see where this franchise came from. You may find a style of game that you come to enjoy. It may be the nostalgia talking, but even if it is, the product we have is proof that my nostalgia hasn’t necessarily blinded me here. Who knows, you may even be practicing for what I and a lot of other people are hoping for – the Resident Evil 2 Remake using this format. Sure, it may be wishful thinking, but a girl can dream.