Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Resident Evil Zero Review

I have tried to get into the Resident Evil series many times in the past: in-store kiosks of the original PS1 games, playing through the Gamecube version of RE1 due to the instance of a friend, and being coached through the opening section of RE4 at a party. In each case, there was some sticking point (often the control scheme) that kept the series from really clicking with me. That all changed last year when my wife and I had a fantastic time playing through Resident Evil 2 Remake. Now that I've come to appreciate what this series is all about, I thought it might be interesting to go back to an older game in the series for my next #CapcoMonth game.

Resident Evil Zero is a survival horror game that serves as a prequel to the original Resident Evil. It is the fifth game in the series and the last to be made in the classic pre-rendered adventure game style of RE1 before the series transitioned to the full-3D action game format of RE4 and its successors. Resident Evil Zero's unique feature is that it features two protagonists, Rebecca and Billy, who must work in tandem to navigate zombie-infested environments to discover the origin of the T-virus. This review is based on the PC version of the game, Resident Evil Zero HD, which I streamed in its entirety on my Twitch channel.

  • It's been a long time since I've played a game that uses pre-rendered backgrounds and fixed camera angles. While it can be an impediment to action and navigation at times, the aesthetic appeal of this style is hard to deny.
  • While most of the Resident Evil games feature underground scientific facilities at some point, and this game is by no means an exception, I appreciated that RE Zero offered some new types of environments to explore as well. Starting off on a luxury train in motion was a nice change of scenery. I also liked the abandoned church in a later section of the game.
  • Alternating between controlling Billy and Rebecca added an interesting wrinkle to exploration and puzzle-solving. Since Billy and Rebecca each have their own distinct abilities, this character swapping mechanic reminded me a bit of the classic puzzle game, Lost Vikings.
  • The puzzles in the game make for some surprisingly good brain teasers. However, I have to admit that the contexts in which they appear in the game often make very little sense. Why would it be necessary to solve a number puzzle to activate the emergency brake on a train, or map out a logic puzzle to reset a power breaker?
  • The PC version's mouse and keyboard controls were easy to pick up compared to how I remember the gamepad controls of the original RE games feeling. Using WASD to move the character and the mouse buttons to use weapons and interact with objects felt pretty natural. A few exceptions existed in areas where the camera perspective would abruptly change, leading to momentarily disorientation. 

  • The inventory management in this game is extremely cumbersome. Each character only has six item slots with many items and weapons consuming two of these slots. The game does not offer any opportunities to expand the size of your inventory or store items externally. As a result, a disproportional amount of my gameplay time was spent shuffling items around between my characters or dumping items on the floor to free up space. I would then have to backtrack across the map any time I needed to retrieve an item I had dropped. The other games in the series solve this problem with item storage boxes located at each save point. It baffles me why the designers of this game decided to omit this feature.
  • Resident Evil Zero retains the slow door opening animations present in earlier RE games every time you move between rooms or floors in a building. While these screens may have been necessary to accommodate loading times on the PS1, I don't see why the PC version of RE Zero elected to keep them. This slowdown coupled with the large size of Zero's map exacerbates the issues with backtracking that result from poor inventory management.
  • While the controls of this game are generally improved over earlier RE games, I found that they were very fiddly when it came to trying to pick up specific items on the floor and interacting with certain objects in the environment. The frequency with which you have to shuffle your inventory by picking up and dropping items really highlights this particular issue. 
  • Due to the issues above, the game feels tedious after a while and outstays its welcome. In order to spare myself some time and frustration going into the game's final area, I elected to use a cheat to replenish my ammo supply rather than trudging back and forth across the map to collect all the extra ammo I had dropped in various places throughout the campaign.

In summary, I was initially really enjoying this journey back to the classic Resident Evil style but over time, quality of life issues made the game feel like a slog. I think similar to my experience with Final Fantasy 13, using cheats to spare myself some late-game tedium was the right decision and keep me from being soured on the overall experience. There's enough interesting ideas here to make RE Zero worth a look for RE fans or those nostalgic for the pre-rendered style that was popular 20 years ago. For everyone else, however, I'd say this is an entry in the Resident Evil franchise that can comfortably be skipped.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐
Completion Time: About 20 hours

Note: This post is part of the Chic-Pixel community's #CapcoMonth event. For more info and their full list of events, check out this page: Community Game-Along Master List 2020

Many years removed from its original release, this is still a very pretty game.

My scorecard at the end of the game reports an artificially low playtime since the game requires reloading your last save after every game over.

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