Inside Pulse 12

Review: Resident Evil 0: HD Remaster (Sony Playstation 4)

Resident Evil 0: HD Remaster
Genre: Survival Horror
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: 01/19/16

Well, this day was bound to come sooner or later. Capcom’s rereleased most of their up-to-date Resident Evil back catalog on the current and prior generation of consoles, between Resident Evil 4 and an HD remake the Resident Evil remake, and with an announced remake of Resident Evil 2 on the horizon, it only makes sense to revisit Resident Evil 0 at some point. Actually, it makes a lot of sense, if you think about it; while most of the main franchise titles have seen several rereleases on multiple consoles over the years, this particular game is one that’s only been released twice, on the Gamecube and Wii, so if you’re not a Nintendo person you might well have never seen it. The closest the game has come to a non-Nintendo console release is the PS3 release of The Umbrella Chronicles, and even then it’s a condensed version of that game. On the other hand, Resident Evil 0 is also one of the more divisive releases in the franchise, as it’s the last game in the series to feature the mechanics that really made Resident Evil what it was until Resident Evil 4 reinvented the series from the ground up. Featuring the tank control style play mechanics and at times absurd puzzle mechanics, it also was the first game to implement a full game two character play system that’s since been refined in games like Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil: Revelations, and the only game in the series to completely remove item boxes in favor of a “drop items anywhere” mechanic. Now, fourteen years later and with some modifications to the mechanics, Resident Evil 0 has a bit more room to breathe, and it’s definitely a better experience overall for it, but is it a good experience? Let’s take a look.

On mansions and slug-men

The storyline for Resident Evil 0 acts as something of a prequel to the first game, albeit one that needs you to have played the first two games so that it will make sense. You take control of Rebecca Chambers, sole survivor of the STARS Bravo team, as her team investigates some cannibalistic murders in the woods near Raccoon City, only to suffer engine failure in their helicopter, stranding the team. Investigation of the area leads them to an abandoned Military Police transport and some dead MP’s, who appear to have been killed by the transported prisoner, one Billy Coen, and while searching for Coen, Rebecca ends up stuck on a nearby train with Coen, who seems to be far less concerning than you’d think. Coen and Chambers end up stuck in a huge mess of an Umbrella plot, as a weird shaman-looking dude is summoning leeches to kill Umbrella employees, and the duo needs to put aside their concerns of each other in order to survive, uncover the secrets surrounding this mystery, and escape alive. Taken entirely on its own merits and compared to nothing else in its series, Resident Evil 0 tells a story that’s fine enough as a backdrop for killing zombies for six to ten hours. Rebecca and Billy are likable enough on their own and together, and the main Big Bad is interesting enough as a character to carry much of the plot, as he has a reasonable motive and is clearly just insane enough that he can’t be allowed to accomplish it, so as a plot driver, it works.

The problem is, Resident Evil 0 is meant to act as an establishing storyline for much of the franchise universe, as it attempts to tie in the events of the STARS Bravo team from Resident Evil with the relationship between William Birkin and Albert Wesker, and it’s… not great at this thing. The problem here is, Resident Evil 0 falls into the “pre-crisis” plotline aesthetic the series was known for until Resident Evil 4, meaning that it’s built around the goofy pseudo-science and one-liner heavy dialogue of the early games rather than the more serious and structured narratives of Resident Evil: Revelations or Resident Evil 5. This presents more than a few issues for what is ostensibly meant as a storyline that ties together the background of two different storylines with events from later games like Code Veronica. Part of the problem is, the game is trying to tell three stories at once: the establishing storylines of Birkin and Wesker, the plot of the Big Bad, and the plot of Chambers and Coen, and nothing gets a good amount of time to go anywhere. I mean, when your storyline Big Bad meets the main characters directly for the first time, at the end of the game, and their response is literally “Who are you?” or when you essentially realize that your protagonists are mostly disconnected from the core events of the story going on around them, that’s not great. The bigger problem, though, is that the plot is just kind of… stupid, honestly. Obviously the biggest issue is that it needlessly complicates an already complicated universe; it’s one thing to have weird experiments in a mansion in the woods, but to have two weird mansions in the woods within walking distance of each other, both of which have weird underground labs, defies logic. The Big Bad is also really goofy, in that he’s a dude made of monster slugs who can summon more monster slugs to do his bidding, somehow, and you can tell that Capcom was running out of things to do with the T-Virus by the end of this game. The end result is a plot that’s goofy at best and hard to care about at worst, and as a time capsule, it’s clear why we went to Los Plagas with the next game, since there was little left to mine in the T-Virus by this point.

Visually, Resident Evil 0 looked pretty great at the time, and the HD remake helps bring the game into the modern era quite well; it’s still somewhat apparent that it’s an updated game rather than one made for the current generation, but it still looks quite nice, and Capcom did a mighty fine job updating this for the current generation. Character and enemy models look great and animate well, environments and environmental effects have been touched up nicely, and even the cutscenes have survived the transfer with no apparent artifacting or issues, making for a game that looks quite solid on the PS4. Aurally, the game is mostly as spot-on as the franchise can get, thanks to some top-shelf soundtrack work, especially during combat sequences and in quieter areas (such as save rooms) that help emphasize the tone of the environment well. The voice acting, while not quite up to par with later games in the series, is generally fine enough as well, and while some lines are delivered with a bit of cringe-worthiness, overall the voice work is perfectly acceptable. The combat and monster effects, on the other hand, are quite nice even now, as the various monsters have very distinct and well assembled audio cues to announce their existence and attacks, and gunfire sounds as powerful and satisfying as it ever has in the series.

On shooting things and managing items

If you’ve played a Resident Evil game released prior to Resident Evil 4 you should have a fairly good idea how this game plays, but if not, the game is based around the older mechanical style of the series, meaning “tank controls” and “fixed camera angles.” The good news is that the tank controls of games past aren’t mandatory; you can choose to move characters using either the standard tank method (up/down are forward/backward, left and right turn) or more conventional controls (press a direction to move in it). The game still uses the fixed camera angles the series was known for at that point, however, which are generally fine (as they were in the Resident Evil HD remake last year) but may be hard to adjust to for those who started into the series late. Combat also works the same as it did in older franchise games, IE, holding down a button aims at enemies and your character will snap to aim at the closest threat, and you can aim up or down (if needed) before shooting by pressing another button, though you’re wholly stationary while doing so. The game regularly alternates between combat with monsters of various sorts (zombies, zombie apes, slug monsters and so on) and adventure-style gameplay where you’ll need to pick up items from the game world and either combine them with other items, inspect them to reveal other items, or use them in the world to advance, and this still works as well as it ever did. The game also uses the same tropes as earlier games in the series, including finding weird items to solve puzzles, saving your game at a typewriter using a consumable ink ribbon, and mixing up healing herbs to patch up wounds, so it’s basically like coming home again for long-time fans. Anyone who’s used to the older style Resident Evil gameplay will be right at home with this game, and if you’re not, the game does a good job of providing an in-game manual and occasional explanations to help you out easily enough.

Generally speaking, however, Resident Evil 0 is probably the most experimental of the early franchise games, as it adds in two gameplay mechanics that were (at the time) wholly unique for the franchise: two characters in play throughout the game (which we’ve seen again in Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6) and a complete absence of item storage. Regarding the first point, the vast majority of the game is spent playing with Billy and Rebecca as a duo; each can follow the other around (though this isn’t required) and the two will have to solve a few puzzles together in order to make progress, as well as split up occasionally as the plot dictates. This offers some interesting puzzles that often require one person to perform a task while the other explores a location or claims an item, but more importantly, it also offers twice the firepower in several battles. The AI isn’t quite as fast-and-loose with its ammunition use as Resident Evil 5 is, so equipping them with a weapon isn’t a bad investment, and they’re often good at hitting harder to hit enemies, so it’s not a bad concept overall. Each character also has specific bonuses, as Rebecca is the only character who can mix herbs and solve mixing puzzles, and gets a couple bonus items (but is weaker), while Billy can take far more damage and has a lighter, as well as the upper body mass to move large objects and… uh, no downsides whatsoever. Anyway, regarding item storage, while the majority of franchise games offer you direct item storage of some sort, in this game magical item boxes don’t exist. Instead, items can be left in any room you want for you to pick up later, which is a far more realistic mechanic in theory, and allows you to leave things in a set hub or near rooms where they will be used as needed, at your convenience.

On replay and rough patches

Resident Evil 0 takes around six to ten hours to complete during its first go-round, though there are plenty of reasons to come back to it. While the game doesn’t feature the “different characters, different paths” options of the Resident Evil HD rerelease, here there are a sizable amount of unlockable doodads to play with once you’ve beaten the game. For one thing, the score you get at the end of the game (based on the time it takes you on Normal or Hard) will unlock you some goodies, including costumes and (potentially) weapons, as well as the Leech Hunter minigame. This minigame tasks you to hunt down hidden leaches and also unlocks neat toys to play with on completion, including weapons and infinite ammunition for later playthroughs, which is a major boon for replays. Finally, there’s also a Wesker Mode in the game on your first completion that unlocks the all-powerful Albert Wesker in Billy’s place, which is a lot of fun to play around with, especially since he’s ridiculously overpowered and can destroy enemies without ammo, making him a fun toy to run through the game with once you’ve completed it normally. Finally, the game also offers multiple difficulty levels and an extensive Trophy count to unlock for the completionist, so there’s lots to do with the game even after a first run, so fans will find that there’s plenty of good reasons to give this game another go-round.

That said, while there are certain benefits to playing Resident Evil 0 in a vacuum, detached from the comparisons that plagued it during its first release, it’s still one of the weaker entries in the pre-Resident Evil 4 main series releases (IE not the Outbreak or Survivor games), and even in its re-release it shows its flaws. Dismissing the plot problems, the biggest issue is that the “no item boxes” mechanic is honestly super frustrating in practice; at best, you’ll be dropping everything into one room and transferring it to new hubs periodically, and at worst you’ll be leaving stuff all over the place and having to figure out what’s where later. Also, it really doesn’t help that rooms have item limits for some awful reason, even with the PS4 tech behind the game, so you can only leave a set amount of items in one place, which makes moving things around a major chore. Despite the heavily changing environments the game takes place in, it’s also one of the most backtracking-heavy entries in the series (behind Code Veronica) and it gets especially tedious toward the end. Finally, due to Rebecca’s inherently weaker constitution and lack of a significant positive compensator, she’s often going to be relegated to pack mule for most players, as she take damage fast, which isn’t great during solo sections (or the final boss, for that matter), and Billy is far more powerful all in all, especially when compared to the balance between Chris and Jill in the original game.

Resident Evil 0, taken on its own merits, is an acceptable entry in the series, and it’s fine for those who love the game and want to experience them all or those who enjoy it and want to play it again, but it’s a hard game to recommend otherwise. The game looks and sounds quite nice on the current gen hardware, and the gameplay is easy enough to get into and understand even if you’re not used to the older style Resident Evil games, especially with the new movement system in place. The game also has some unique novelties, such as a team mechanic that’s become something of a staple in later games and a “drop anything anywhere” item management system that’s never been used since, as well as a lot of post-game content to play with, so there’s plenty of reasons to check it out if you’re coming in fresh or like to get the most from your games as well. However, the plot is seriously convoluted and poorly thought out, even for an earlier game in the series, and the whole thing just feels like a messy jumble of ideas your characters have almost no impact on, making it hard to care about as you play. Further, the item management is at best tedious and at worst frustrating since you’ll have to move items around or backtrack to find where you left things and rooms can only accommodate a set number of items, the game features a lot of backtracking in general, and Rebecca feels far less useful than Billy all in all, which isn’t great in a team setup. If you can look past its flaws, Resident Evil 0 can be a fun experience to play through and it has some interesting post-game content, plus it’s interesting from a historical context. It’s not one of the best entries in the franchise, but it’s acceptable enough on its own, assuming you’re fine with what it does.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Resident Evil 0 is one of those odd entries in the franchise that takes a lot more flack than it deserves, as it’s a fine enough experience when considered outside of its release period and the trends of the series as a whole, but is still harder to recommend than it should be unless you’re a diehard franchise fan. The HD remake gives the visuals a strong look to them and the audio is as strong as it ever was (outside of some spotty voice work), and the gameplay takes the classic formulas and swaps out the tank controls for more modern movement options (though the tank controls are still there for purists), making it easier to play than ever. There are some novel ideas here, such as two characters to work with at once and the ability to leave items wherever you want, that were new and novel at the time, and there’s an exceptional amount of post-game content to play with and Trophies to unlock for those who want to get the most out of their dollar spent. That said, the plot is quite problematic, even for a Resident Evil title, as it’s way too convoluted and overinvolved than a game attempting to connect the events from later games should be, and it’s a plot that leaves the main cast feeling like they basically had very little to do with any of it. Further, the item management system often leaves the player dumping items in a set location and backtracking to move them around or leaving them anywhere and hunting for them later (especially due to an item limit per room), the game heavily leans on backtracking as a mechanic especially in the late game, and Rebecca feels like a pack mule rather than an equal character due to how powerful overall Billy is, which isn’t great in a team mechanic. If you can look past its flaws, Resident Evil 0 has some neat concepts to show off and it’s fun enough to go through on its own merits, but The Umbrella Chronicles is a more enjoyable way to experience the plot, honestly, and it’s hard to recommend to anyone but the more serious franchise fans out there.