Much More Than Zero.
Unlike last year’s too faithful HD remake of the original Resident Evil, Zero offers crisp visuals, a few bonuses, and most importantly, a control scheme that works. In fact, one of the first things that pops up when starting a new game is the option to use an alternative control scheme. Capcom has heard your complaints, delivering an old-school return to survival-horror that will be a joy for fans of the fixed camera era of RE while having plenty of control types to choose from for newbies.
Visually, the 16:9 widescreen mode is the way to go. (4:3 is fine too.) The somewhat soft, blurred look of the RE HD Remaster backgrounds is remedied. Beyond the static backgrounds and other design choices from the period, let’s remember that the original RE debuted in 1996 on PlayStation while Zero[Yes, that's a link to GR's review of the game way back when. ~Ed. Nick] was released on Gamecube in 2002. The six-year difference brought a number of new features, the biggest being the ability to control the two main protagonists at once. On my Xbox One, this is done by moving each character with the two control sticks although for the most part I tended to take full control of my primary character and let the secondary one just follow automatically.
Beginning on the Ecliptic Express, a train full of the undead and other things out to kill, Zero follows S.T.A.R.S. operative Rebecca Chambers and escaped convict Billy Coen in a prequel tale that takes place before the events of Resident Evil. After a quick meet that would have been a staple in a nineties Nora Ephron comedy, this pair of "will they or won’t they" needs to work together to overcome a deadly strain of the Progenitor and T-Virus. The “witty” banter between the two could be a geeky version of When Becky Met Billy…
Clocking in around eight hours to finish, the cheesy dialogue is dated for sure (okay, it was still dumb even back in 2002), but I love it. There may not be any classic lines like “Jill sandwich,” but it feels like classic RE; if anything, I wish there were more. A bulk of the gameplay is spent having Rebecca and Billy work together which means, for the player, having them separated and doing different tasks so that one or both can move to the next area. These are not complicated tasks; an early moment on the train involves Rebecca needing a sharp object to poke through a keyhole of a jammed door. Billy is in another room, but it turns out the place Rebecca is in has a dumb waiter. So Billy just needs to kill the undead on his way to the other lift and send her the item. Easy peasy.
What’s not easy (a drag, really) is that Zero ditches the easy-to-use, albeit ridiculous, storage units that were common in the previous titles. If you never played RE, the idea was that item management was key since characters only have a limited number of "slots" to hold an item. (A big one, like a shotgun, takes up two slots and so forth.) You could put your extra ammo, health spray cans, or rarely used items into this container for safe-keeping. Later, when you’re in a different level, you can find other storage units that somehow have all your items. It never made any sense, but gamers went with it.
Zero’s answer to this is to just let Rebecca or Billy drop their extra loot on the floor of whatever room they’re in. This is irksome for two reasons: first is that it’s just sloppy to have random stuff on the floor of some mansion you’re presently in, and second—and way worse—is if you need, say, a grappling hook, but you left it in a different area, you need to backtrack. Ugh!
There are cheats built into the game that somewhat addresses this dilemma. After the opening scene on the train, all the items you used but left behind somehow just show up outside the train car. Yes, it's convenient, but it’s a lame way to manage items. Still, this is a criticism of the original game, mind you.
The story is still not really that great, but the locations look really good and feel even better. That creepy atmosphere this groundbreaking horror series is known for is still here. More so than in the later games like RE5 and RE6. The opening train sequence has a lot of character as a setting, even if the bug-like creatures do not. Later, a visit to a church features plenty of Old World Victorian menace that feels right. There's also some backtracking to a training facility that gets old, but this is, essentially, a game designed nearly fourteen years ago.
Once you’ve finished the campaign, the brand-new Wesker Mode is unlocked. It’s sort of like the Tofu mode from Resident Evil 2, with Albert Wesker replacing Billy. (Wesker, for newbies is the one of the main human villains from he series, sort of.) This mode allows for goofy over-the-top abilities like making the heads of your enemies to explode with Wesker's evil red eyes. It’s a fun bonus, I suppose, although I’ve never been that into extra stuff like this in the RE universe. The best in my memory is the Ava missions added to RE4 version for PS3.
Overall, Zero HD is a pleasant surprise after the underwhelming Resident Evil HD Remastered last year. There are still issues inherent in the original game, but Zero is still fun to play. And hey, it’s way better than Resident Evil 6.