Last year, Capcom delighted fans (and newcomers) with an HD remaster of its legendary GameCube exclusive remake, Resident Evil. A year later and the firm's other former Nintendo exclusive Resident Evil Zero has arrived on the PlayStation 4. But while last year's efforts were great, the ported package still had some areas of uneven graphical upgrades showing some washed out textures, which were otherwise concealed by the darker lighting in the original. So how does Zero pan out?
The game follows the events of medic S.T.A.R.S officer Rebecca Chambers and escaped convict Billy Coen, only 24 hours before the Spencer Mansion incident. The story starts with Rebecca and her S.T.A.R.S. team safely crash landing in the forest, where she happens upon an overturned military police vehicle, with the officers dead inside. Finding a transport document, it's revealed that Billy Coen is the escaped convict responsible for the deaths of 23 people. The team splits up – never a smart thing to do – and Rebecca comes across the Ecliptic Express train, shutdown and full of dead bodies.
Throughout the course of the game's seven to ten hour campaign, the engaging plot unveils the events that transpired before the Spencer Mansion, where the T-Virus originated from, and the involvement of key characters from the Resident Evil universe. It's honestly one of the series' better storylines to date, with interesting and well-developed characters – Billy being a particular highlight.
The gameplay is largely similar to a traditional survival horror game, with "tank" controls and all – though there is an alternative control scheme for more modern movement if you prefer. There are a few twists along the way, though. First off, this is technically the first Resident Evil game to feature a partner system called Partner-Zapping. Unlike newer instalments which force you to work with an accomplice (and ruin the tension), this entry lets you instantly swap between Rebecca and Billy with the press of a button – with no loading times. So while one character is in one area, the other can be in an entirely different location and instantly swap.
The partner AI is very good and still holds up very well to today's standards. You can command them to either follow you, stay back, and, of course, to attack. Should your partner block your path, you can easily move them with the right analogue stick as well, which is a solid implementation. It's amazing, though, that unlike newer instalments, this game actually maintains its tension even while having a partner present. It's still the best implementation of a partner system in the franchise's history.
Another tweak here is the manner in which it handles inventory management. Instead of going to an item box to store/retrieve your items, you'll now simply be able to drop them on the floor in any room. This provides some positives and negatives: it's nice that you can snatch up key items more easily when the situation arises, but it can result in a lot of back tracking if you drop key items early on. This system certainly adds to the game's overall challenge, but it can be a bit tedious at times.
Naturally, a Resident Evil game isn't complete without its share of puzzles, and Zero has a nice balance of head scratching, alongside action and exploration. Puzzles take advantage of the partner system, with some truly clever ones that will make you feel rewarded upon success. There's something about carefully analysing files and the environment to help solve a puzzle that results in immense gratification – it's honestly something that's severely lacking in gaming today. There are also several boss battles to tackle against some truly horrific abominations. Prepare for some intense encounters that will test how you've been managing your resources.
With the essentials out of the way, let's move on to the fresh stuff, exclusive to this remaster. One of the new modes in this version is Wesker Mode. Upon completing the game, you'll unlock this option where Wesker takes the place of Billy, and Rebecca is wearing an outfit that shows that she's under his control (glowing red eyes, attached chest plate). While Rebecca controls the same, Wesker can do his lightning-fast running through environments (which is cool, yet comical at the same time). There are no different cut scenes or dialogue, but it's a rather fun twist on the campaign. Other extras include a Gallery mode, enabling you to watch all of the game's cinematics again, which is certainly a nice addition. Additionally, Leech Hunter mode is also still intact and as challenging as ever, alongside New Game +.
Visually, Resident Evil Zero has received a dramatically better touch-up than last year's already decent Resident Evil remake. Indeed, every single environmental detail and character model has been meticulously upgraded. Animations are still incredibly well-done, with enemies moving as creepily yet believably as possible. Even the character models boast more dynamic lighting on them, adding to the detail.
Interestingly enough, the game's inventory menu has been tweaked a bit to support the full screen (versus last year's retained 4:3 ratio for menus), as well as different character images showcased compared to the original. The only odd thing that we encountered was that the inventory menu ran at 60 frames-per-second in the original, whereas this one sticks to 30 frames-per-second. While this may be nit-picky and only die-hard fans will notice it, it's worth mentioning. The game itself still runs superb at the locked 30 frames-per-second, though.
And in terms of audio, Resident Evil Zero is a strong package. Creepy, atmospheric music perfectly captures the setting in every area, whether it be walking through a desolate training facility or the loud orchestra that cues in when the leech zombie appears on-screen. The soundtrack is excellent and really elevates tension at the right moments. Voice acting is really solid for the most part, with just a few lines coming across campy. This is Resident Evil, though, so it's to be expected and that's not a bad thing.
The sound effects are also fantastic, with environmental ambience really upping the ante. Firearms all sound powerful and crisp, while enemy grunts are downright eerie. You'll even notice some areas will have sound effects playing from an adjacent room. All in all, the audio really provides a sense of place. Crank up the volume here, as it's an immense part of the experience.
Resident Evil Zero not only feels fresh 14 years after its original release, but it also showcases a superb remastering effort. A methodical game which truly rewards deep thought, this survival horror classic stands tall in genre that's been streamlined a little too much in recent times. If you've never played 'Becca and Billy's escapade, then there's never been a better opportunity. And for those who have survived the nightmare before, the new modes and graphical upgrades mean that there's plenty of reason to climb aboard.