Resident Evil is a pretty old series. 2017 marked its 20 year anniversary and with that milestone, came an even more solid title into the Resident Evil Franchise with the super popular Resident Evil 7. But, 20 years of creating a living universe of characters and monsters does mean that sometimes, things are left a mystery. Case in point, the first Resident Evil (1996-2002) puts you in the shoes of either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine; both of the characters are members of S.T.A.R.S. Alpha Team and both characters have the exact same mission. They must investigate the Arklay Forest in search of Bravo Team who had gone missing 24 hours earlier the ongoing murders in the area where groups of 4 to 5 assailants were witnessed eating victims by multiple people. A lot of things can happen in 24 hours and countless fans (including myself) began to wonder, “What exactly happened to Bravo Team?”. And, in order to set things straight, Capcom rewinded the clock 6 years after the original Resident Evil had been released: Resident Evil 0 (2002) is the result of this. Now, it’s even more accessible to players wishing to see the beginning of a great legacy thanks to HD remaster available on Xbox 360, Xbox One, Playstation 3 and Playstation 4.
Let me start by saying this: Resident Evil 0 is fan service. It serves as a prologue to the first game, but you will be left with a ton of unanswered questions if you play it before any others. Even in the intro to the game, it names other incidents in storylines for other games, which could leave players confused. The game itself starts with Bravo Teams venture into the Arklay forest and the player is introduced to Rebecca Chambers. Rebecca started as a support character in the first game, but she is the main heroine of this particular installment. Alongside her is an escaped convict named Billy Coen, an Army Sergeant who has collectively murdered 23 individual people. That in itself is a reason not to trust someone, but in this nightmare, you are going to need all the help you can get.
After a brief intro, you play as Rebecca for a while by yourself, having to endure the first basic enemies of the game in the forms of Zombies and Infected Dogs. A few cutscenes in and you are introduced to the “Zapping System” which allows you to switch between characters at the touch of a button. While Rebecca has some useful talents such as combining health items to produce stronger effects, she is weaker and cannot take as much damage as Billy who will be your powerhouse through the game. Billy dishes out more damage with weapons thanks to his time as an Army Sgt. and can take a lot of damage. Players can use the inventory screen to trade items between characters, and from the inventory screen, you can set AI controls for the character you aren’t playing as. You can have them follow you or go their own way.
In addition to this, you can use the other joystick on your control to control both characters as long as they are on screen together. Problems can arise when splitting up and you’ll receive a radio call from your partner occasionally meaning you will have to rush to save them in a different room or switch to them, navigating them out of danger. Resident Evil 0 makes great use of this system, occasionally throwing puzzles at you which force you to split up or require one character to stay in a certain spot to access something while the other character flips a switch. It’s a unique balance of tactical thinking and tough puzzle-work.
The game initially starts you out on a recently abandoned train for Umbrella employees. As with all things Umbrella, everything has gone south and it’s up to you to get off the train, which starts moving of its own accord.
Players are introduced to common Resident Evil themes such as backtracking for key items, weapon/ammunition management and now, more importantly, remembering where you leave items. There are no item boxes acting as a storage unit for unused items as there were in previous installments. Instead, it’s up to the player to remember where they leave items and which items they think they are going to need to take into the next room. Juggling all of this makes it hard to discern what course of action you are going to take. Do you leave behind what precious health recovery items you have in order to fit a key you may eventually need? Or will you top off your guns ammo counter and leave the box of bullets behind? In my playthrough, I tried giving all weapons and ammo to Billy since he is a powerhouse, but the prospect of that left Rebecca vulnerable, constantly exposed to danger.
It’s a unique balance and one that is executed here with simpleness but in a way that makes the player constantly stressed. The game has aged well and looks amazing after High Definition enhancements, but I couldn’t help feeling that the CGI cutscenes were left untouched. It was strange to go from a fantastic 1080p game world and then to be suddenly transported back to GameCube quality cutscenes. The shadows of the cutscenes felt oversaturated and badly dated, but I still loved them. It kept me grounded in the idea that this game is now considered a classic: it is 15 years old after all.
The game sets you up for tense horror atmosphere immediately. Everything feels spooky and macabre, from the bodies lining the seats in the train to the forgotten feel of industrial and mansionlike settings. Players can expect to be tense upon taking in their surroundings, and unsure of what exactly lies around the corner. Enemies appear in greater numbers than one would encounter in the first Resident Evil because you have your partner with you. Going alone could spell disaster even quicker than my dumb mistake of stripping Rebecca of items, but bringing your partner may be more problems depending on the situation. In one occurrence, I had managed to make my way back to Billy who I had forgotten had the shotgun equipped. Before I knew it, our precious shells were wasted by an AI that considers all dangers as target practice. Most other veterans of Resident Evil, including myself, know that fighting is not always the answer. Where I, by myself, would attempt to juke and outrun a threat, the computer controlled partner would just blast away. I feel like if this game was released a handful of years later, it would have made for some great online co-op in the style of the Outbreak Games, but I’m sure many fans would disagree with me.
Resident Evil 0 is great. It won a fair share of game awards back in the day and it plays just as fantastic as it did back then with the addition of updated controls. Back when it was released, players had to hold a separate button to run while using the joystick; however, with the modern upgrades, you don’t have to hold the run button at all. For players who miss the nostalgic feeling of keeping that button mashed down, though, you can switch control schemes. In what I found to be an odd addition, there is a briefcase players can start out with that give you the entirety of unlockable outfits. I was worried this would take away from replayability, but an entirely new game mode was added and built from the ground up for the HD Remaster that is unlocked upon completion of the game, which I found odd considering that nothing had been done to touch up the CGI cutscenes. It seems the priority here was adding more content instead of improving the existing content, but I cannot complain. I enjoy every bit of gameplay I can get and adding it along with the Pre-Existing Leech mode makes for a lot more hours to invest in the game.
If you ask me what the biggest flaw of RE:0 is, the only issue I can testify to is the neglect of CGI cutscenes and lore that may go over the head of some newcomers. If you have never played a Resident Evil game and ask me where to start, I would gladly hand you a copy of this one, though, for the great experience overall, although I still recommend 1 for a full understanding to the lore chronologically. It will leave you craving more and perfectly encapsulates everything that makes Resident Evil one of gamings greatest IPs while also adding some unorthodox but brilliant ways to keep it fresh. I’m positive this is one game that many of the newer gamers of our generation are not going to forget if they invest the time necessary to delve through this nightmare.