This survival horror misstep shambles back to life.
As I explore the atmospheric hallways of Resident Evil Zero HD Remaster, I’m conflicted. I’ve always enjoyed the games from the early years of this series — the original take on survival horror made clever use of fixed camera angles, limited resources, and stiff controls to create a distinct style of fear. And this HD update looks and plays like a modern game, and so is certainly the best way to experience this particular game. However, the superficial improvements that successfully update this old school Resident Evil game’s look and feel can’t cover up its deeper underlying problems: predictable pacing, weak story, and forgettable enemies. None of what was wrong with the original is fixed in this version.
I’ll give it this much: Resident Evil Zero HD Remaster looks good, thanks to improved lighting and updated textures that bring character models and environments up to modern standards. I noticed only occasional framerate hiccups on the Xbox One version. PC players get a better visual experience, with support for higher resolutions and an option for smoother 60 frames-per-second animations.
Spooky Sights and Sounds
Regardless of which platform you choose to experience this HD Remaster, it does a great job of preserving Resident Evil’s old-school pre-rendered backgrounds. It surprises me just how well they hold up. You can see wine bottles gently rolling back and forth on a moving train, or glimpse your character’s reflection in hallway mirrors. Little touches like these contribute greatly to the dark, desolate environments and create an evocative atmosphere that sticks with you.
Little touches… create an evocative atmosphere that sticks with you
In a touch that serves both the purist and newcomer audience, this version can bounce between the original 4:3 aspect ratio and a 16:9 view that zooms in and crops off the top and bottom of the image. The closer camera lets you get a better look at the characters and environments, which I found hard to go back from when I switched, but there’s a catch: it can sometimes obscure important items easily seen in 4:3 mode. The camera will slowly pan up or down to highlight them, but by that time I’d sometimes already moved on thinking there was nothing of note in the room. Additionally, while purists can keep the original tank-style controls, the default mode is an updated scheme that makes moving and bouncing between the two characters in the campaign easy and approachable.
On the other hand, the blurry, upscaled cutscenes didn’t get the same treatment. These CG-rendered story sequences look dated (because they are) and don’t even come close to fidelity of the refreshed in-game character models. It’s a shame Capcom made no effort to redo them.
Another thing that wasn’t improved that should’ve been is Resident Evil Zero’s constant inventory juggling act, which remains every bit as tedious as it was in 2002. While it’s true that the series has always used limited resources and carrying capacity to create tension and tough decisions, this chapter overburdens you with too much of inventory management. Rebecca and Billy can hold very few items, with larger weapons that take away up to two of a potential six precious slots of inventory space.
The inventory overload is a bummer, since both characters have interesting characteristics — Rebecca can mix together herbs and create helpful recovery items while Billy can push around heavy objects and take more damage. You have to keep their differences in mind when you solve puzzles or fight off monsters.
The improved presentation and controls feel fruitless since Resident Evil Zero is a such a by-the-numbers story. The six to eight-hour campaign wastes a bunch of time explaining things, in an attempt to build up some context around the first Resident Evil, but ends up with a lots of unsurprising reveals. Resident Evil was never the paragon of voice acting and story, but the series still sustained itself with entertaining campaigns and fun characters. Zero’s awful story borders on self-parody and, as a long-time fan of the series, feels almost as disappointing as a Star Wars prequel.
“…mutant creatures and bosses appear exactly where and when you’re led to expect them to”
Predictability also plays a major role in Resident Evil Zero’s story woes. For instance, mutant creatures and bosses appear exactly where and when you’re led to expect them to, and if you listen close enough, you can almost hear the bottom of the zombie monster barrel getting scraped clean when unremarkable monsters like Plague Crawler — a mutated insect that looks like a lame cross between a mantis and grasshopper — or the Eliminator — a silly mutated primate — show up. The Marcus Mimicry, a horrid leech monster that pops up in various spots throughout the story, is the one scary thing here, and it’s squandered by the campaign.
The only bit of new content added to this remaster is an unlockable mode that lets you replay the same poor story as recurring villain Albert Wesker. Though using his enhanced super-abilities was more fun than the first time around, it feels like an awkward apology for the rest of Resident Evil Zero’s bland and forgettable attempt at survival horror. Outside of nostalgia, there’s not much reason to revisit it.