Resident Evil Zero GameCube Review

You may have thought that entering the world of survival horror would be a terrifying and angst-ridden experience, but according to director Koji Oda this is not quite the case. Though he may not have said as such in person, it is evident from the early stages of Resident Evil Zero that action, ammo and aggression have predominance over tension and panic. It’s widely agreed that the Resident Evil series in general has never managed to create an atmosphere of genuine immersive fear – the original having come closest in my opinion – but ever since Leon and Claire had their little escapade through Raccoon City in Resident Evil Two, there has been a continual transition away from the genre that the first game set out to define. The current culmination of these changes is the outstanding Resident Evil 4, and it’s evident, as you’d expect for a game 2 years its predecessor, that RE0 is a step back from such a masterpiece. Even so, it does still manage to add a few new gameplay elements of its own along the way, the end product of which is both comfortably similar and yet sufficiently different to warrant its existence.

The intro movie boasts glorious attention to detail, with Capcom once again incorporating absorbing fluidity and stylistic action sequences that succeed in grabbing the player’s full attention, along with anyone else who may be nearby. Thankfully, such sequences can be found throughout the game, giving a reassuring awareness that the developer’s effort wasn’t all used up in making the first half hour.
From the off, this game definitely feels like a Resident Evil game; Beretta in hand, fifteen bullets loaded, three zombies to kill. Firing the first shot into one of the unsuspecting piles of rotten flesh is, as always, eminently pleasing, mainly due to the satisfyingly loud bang complete with overly long pad vibration, followed by the copious amounts of blood that subsequently messes up the floor. Granted, that blood may not (or, more accurately, will not) actually be there the next time you enter the room, but that’s just nitpicking at very small and pointless nits in rather un-nitty hair. The next round of shots are equally as satiating as the first, I’m pleased to say.

Soon enough the beauty of the artwork becomes apparent, whether it lies in character modelling, pre-rendered backgrounds or the previously mentioned CGI. Rebecca, the main playable character, looks fantastic, complete with smooth animations and a number of facial expressions that add depth to her person. She is voiced by Moneca Stori, who actually manages to do a decent job of bringing her character to life in a believable way, something of a rarity in Resident Evil games. There are a few dangerous phrases near the beginning that threaten to plunge her back down to the depths of voice-acting hilarity, such as her first conversation with convicted murderer Billy Coen (“Don’t call me little girl!”) – who subsequently becomes the second playable character – but other than these there’s not all that much wrong with it. The rest of the voice acting, Billy excluded, is laughable at best, though better than none at all.

As always, this chapter in the series has its fair share of clichés, with more than a little nod towards The Matrix’s massively over-exploited bullet time effects in some of the FMV sequences and the usual ‘pick this item up to have a monster smash through the window and jump on you’ moments, but then when would a Resident Evil game be complete without them? Still, these slo-mo effects are produced with flair and aplomb, so they’re still fun to watch, and the ‘monster smashing windows’ incidents consequently lead to more of that gun wielding fun that I mentioned earlier…

Anyway, back to the artwork. When Billy becomes playable, it is clear that just as much attention has been paid to him as to Rebecca, if not more. A pair of handcuffs dangles from his left wrist, which swivels and swings as he moves. They could easily have been omitted to save time and effort, but it is things like this that add to and augment the overall playing experience. Similarly, a zombie’s arm is dangling over the top of a chair in the train, which forms the starting location, and once the train lurches into motion and hurtles along the tracks the arm begins to swing in conjunction; once again a nice little touch that accentuates the atmosphere.

The backdrops are mostly superb. Even after the luxurious train interiors, when the two main protagonists find themselves in yet another mansion-esque training facility, the likes of which have become commonplace in the series, the surroundings never seem boring. The scenery is beautifully rendered, with many screens having small animations integrated into them, such as flies buzzing around a light or grass and leaves swaying in the wind, all of which add life to the proceedings. Shadows and lighting have also been implemented excellently, with character shadows being projected in the correct places respective to any light sources, and sharp beams of light contrasting starkly against foreboding darkness.

Complementing the visual side of things is a very moody set of ambient drones, clunks and bangs, along with a dramatic score, neither of which get too monotonous nor seem out of place. Glass breaks under your footsteps with a suitably nervy crunch, distant drops of water play with your mind by creating the false sense of a monster’s footsteps, and low hums of machinery induce unease and anxiety. Footsteps falling on different surfaces sound realistic, from the chunky thud of wood to the cold clang of metal. Zombies, Hunters, mutated monkeys and leech monsters all have their distinctive noises as well. The combined effect is somewhat impressive, though in truth the underlying sensation of fear that is attempting to make itself known is never fully realised, partly due to the events being so familiar to previous games, and partly due to the companionship of the two playable characters, Billy and Rebecca.

This dual character gameplay is the most obvious difference from any other Resident Evil game so far. Players have previously had the chance to control more than one character, but never at the same time, with the ability to switch between them at will. Not only does this allow for more sensible character cooperation, thanks to the hugely belated ability of being able to search a few rooms without having the somewhat less than sensible idea of getting as far away from each other as possible, but it also opens up some very welcome freedom with which to tackle new situations. Taking combat as one example, Rebecca’s slightly faster speed could be used to distract an enemy whilst Billy’s greater weapon accuracy deals the damage, or both characters can attack simultaneously to take out more enemies in a shorter time. The actual switching couldn’t be simpler, requiring only the press of one button, and rudimentary control of the secondary character is constantly present via the use of the C-stick, though this is very imprecise and only really useful to move someone out of the way, onto a pressure panel or just as a brief novelty. The ‘passive’ character can be told to stay idle and not attack anything, or become active and supposedly shoot anything on sight. Whilst useful for bosses and stronger creatures, this feature often causes distress and annoyance. Characters will either shoot any monsters present with whatever weapon is equipped, leading to many a zombie seeing a wasted grenade blasted into its face, or not at all; several times, most notably during a boss fight against a Tyrant, Billy refused to fire a single shot, even though he was fully armed with a grenade launcher and 13 napalm grenades. Most irritating indeed.

On a more positive note, doubling the number of people also doubles the available inventory space to a slightly more reasonable size of twelve blocks. True, more health items are required in order to keep both characters alive, and roughly twice the amount of weapons will be carried at any one time, but there are still more than the usual two slots of space free to pick up any items that may come in handy. As if that wasn’t generous enough, it is now possible to drop any carried items in the room currently occupied, saving the need to trek back to a chest to free up some badly needed pocket room. Indeed, the ability to drop things has been ingeniously learnt by Rebecca and her male counterpart, in place of the technologically superior ‘amazing transporting space chests of infinity’, a change which works in both favourable and not so favourable ways.

On the plus side, required items can be exchanged for less important items without leaving the room, thus removing a possible long, boring and probably bloody dangerous trip back to the nearest chest room. On the negative side, when the characters occasionally become separated, items can only be exchanged between the two via the use of handily placed dumb waiters, something, which quickly becomes extremely tedious. Though logic may suggest that an ink ribbon may take up slightly less space than a box of shotgun shells, this is apparently incorrect. No matter what the size, with the exception of two-block items, only one object can be sent at a time. The player’s mind is further patronised for thinking that it may be a bit quicker to pass items through a very large hole in the floor. After numerous vain attempts, I decided to sulk back to the dumb waiter with the exceptionally useful knowledge that ‘this hole is too dangerous to go through’. Furthermore, if a required item has been left miles and miles away, with numerous deadly creatures standing between you and said object, then you will find that there is nothing you can do about it except make the journey. Sadly, Resident Evil Zero can be rather unforgiving at times.

After the overall positivity of the newly learnt dropping technique, it’s just a shame neither hero has figured out a way of moving in a manner dissimilar to a half drunken elephant trying to push a leopard up some stairs. Turning around takes half an afternoon, and the less said about walking backwards in a hurry the better. The 180° turn has been included, but that’s no excuse for the inclusion of a very slow ‘sloth moving backwards very slowly’ impersonation. A few dodgy camera angles give absolutely no clue as to how close approaching footsteps really are, and aiming can sometimes be akin to ripping out your eyes, sticking them at some stupid angle to the ceiling and trying to shoot a moving wobble with a gun that fires backwards. Only a few times, mind.

Finishing on a low point for such a good game would be cruel, so I won’t. Replayability hasn’t been forgotten, with a few notable inclusions. Upon completion of the story mode, ‘Leech Hunter’ becomes unlocked, pitting Billy and Rebecca once again in the training facility. This time blue and green leech objects need to be collected, leading to a number of infinite ammo rewards to be taken advantage of in the main game. Alternative costumes are also unlocked upon completion, providing anyone who wants to see Billy in a sharp tuxedo, sunglasses included, and Rebecca in either a leather or cowgirl outfit with a valid reason to play through the story again.

On the whole, Resident Evil Zero is a solidly built game standing on mostly sturdy foundations. Granted, there are a few times when shoddy design leads to unfair disadvantages and annoying errors, but the good points far outweigh the bad. The game is excellent fun from start to finish, with all the usual weapons and monsters thrown in to raise the stakes in an orderly fashion, and the character interaction is worth seeing through to the end, where a true sense of accomplishment is felt. Survival horror it may no longer be, but who cares when it’s as satisfying as this.

7.5 out of 10

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