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Resident Evil 0

Review By:  Siou Choy

Developer:  Capcom
Publisher:  Capcom
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Survival Horror
ESRB:  Mature
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  6-5-03

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly 7 years since, to paraphrase Yeats, the first Resident Evil reared its misbegotten head and slouched towards Bethlehem to be born, as it were.  Above and beyond any other contenders to the throne, RE was nearly alone in bringing about the birth and ever growing popularity of the survival horror genre.  It even spawned one of the mere two watchable movies ever based on a video game.  At this point, one doubts there are more than a handful of gamers outside the age of parental consent who haven’t taken a few potshots at RE’s grisly gumbo of zombies, mutates, and grossly enlarged bugaboos.  For this, the 7th entry in the series, Capcom is turning back the clock, in a matter of speaking, and adding a few welcome changes to a tried and true formula.

Resident Evil 0 technically is not a sequel to the Resident Evil series but rather a prequel, taking place before the events of RE1et al.  The game starts off, more or less as usual, with the S.T.A.R.S. team sent to investigate a series of unusual murders in Raccoon City.  On their way, their helicopter experiences some unexpected engine trouble, and they are forced to land.  In a brilliant sweep of deus ex machina, the team just happens to have landed near an abandoned military transport truck, its crew murdered.  Circumstantial evidence would seem to convict one Billy Coen, a military man under court martial, being transported in that very vehicle.  Mousy medic Rebecca Chambers is assigned to check out a nearby abandoned train, and as luck would have it, finds our man Coen, complete with half-removed handcuffs, aboard.  Her sorry attempt at turning him in is derailed when the train unexpectedly starts up again, taking her and Billy to yet another mysterious Umbrella Corp. related mansion (those bastards must be in the money!).

Billy, despite his mumbliness, absurd looking tattoo, and Corey Feldman looks, represents a nice change for the series; a real departure from the uptight straight-arrow military zombie-types you usually get forced to play as in the RE series (if you choose to play as the guy, anyway).

Graphically speaking, Capcom outdoes themselves once again, taking full advantage of NextGen capabilities and setting the standard for other games to inevitably fall short of.  There are very few games that can match Resident Evil 0 in terms of graphics, and if last year’s pattern holds true to form, there likely won’t be any contenders stepping up to the plate, either.  Outstanding animation and top notch character design are complemented by spectacular pre-rendered backgrounds and realistic sound effects, in what has quickly become a RE standard.

Two significant changes have been made to RE0; the first being the ability to and necessity of switching players at will.  In previous games you were only able to control one character at a time, switching characters only at certain given points in the game narrative, and then generally for a brief period of time.  In RE0, however, you can switch between Billy and Rebecca at the touch of a button, with your choice of separating the team or combining efforts at any given point (the only caveat being an obvious one: you can only exchange items or join forces when the two characters are onscreen at the same time and location).  The advantages of this framework are obvious and inherent to RE0 gameplay: to wit, there are certain tasks to perform that can only be completed by one of the two characters (thus the “attributes” menu that appears in-game when they first join forces).  Billy is stuck doing the harder labor such as moving heavy objects (because he’s so strong and muscular -snort- ahem) or playing the piano (ooh, he’s a sensitive type too!), while Rebecca can fit into areas Billy can’t access, and is the only one of the two capable of mixing herbs.  Supposedly, she’s also weaker in battle, but he seemed to be in “caution” or “danger” consistently throughout my game, while she would vacillate from healthy to sick in a more standard fashion for an RE main character, proving just who of the two can actually take a punch (hint, she’s small, squeaky voiced, and don’t have no foolish looking tattoos).  There are also puzzles that require you to switch between the two in order to complete a given task, such as pressing two buttons across the room from each other in a short amount of time.

The other major change incorporated into the game is the ability to drop items at will.  This is an absolute necessity, unfortunately, since just about every single item you pick up requires you to combine and/or drop another one in its place – no mystically connected item boxes or expandable carrying capacity here.  These two clowns can carry 6 items – period.  Doesn’t matter if it’s a box of bullets, 4 credit cards and a motherboard, that’s the best they can do for you.  Therefore, the only intelligent option is to run back and forth like an idiot, dropping everything off in one centralized save area.  But our friends at Capcom won’t even let you off that easy: we’re to believe that it’s very easy to “fill up” these areas with junk – even in the huge mansion foyer!  Of course, you can always do things the stupid way, leave items everywhere as you go, forcing yourself to travel back to weird (and enemy re-populated) locations to retrieve items left behind; but I don’t think there’s too many people out there that dumb.  Then again, look at certain prominent current affairs and the general public’s apparent reactions to them…

Unlike your usual RE scenario, you are sort of forced to kill every single zombie and monster you run into.  Luckily, there’s more than enough ammo (and a fair amount of health) lying around to compensate. 

Overall, the game is much faster and far, far shorter than usual.  With few exceptions (the “leech monsters”), this is probably the easiest RE game ever released. 

That said, things haven’t changed all that much:

  • Playable characters still tend to move slowly and awkwardly, particularly in difficult boss fights or situations requiring split second timing (leading to several unnecessary deaths).
  • Cameras are stuck at one set angle, which is annoying – if attacked and pushed back, you lose track of your enemy’s location.  This happens a lot.
  • In an all too typical videogaming standard, there is literally only one way to solve the various puzzles – no creativity or leeway allowed.  I wasn’t aware I was signing up for a crash course in right wing thought patterns, here.
  • Resident Evil games are famous for their horrible voice acting.  The voice acting in RE0 is still pretty bad, but like its immediate predecessor on the GameCube, represents a vast improvement over previous incarnations.  Of course, having a cheap tape loop of Rebecca shrieking a particularly emotionless, but shrill “Billy, help! Help Billy!” over and over again during two particular sequences almost makes me reconsider that statement…

For some obscure reason, the folks at Capcom decided to skimp on zombies this time around.  As a result, you’ll find yourself fending off giant centipedes, leeches, crazed monkeys, and giant bats far more than any zombies.  I might be speaking for myself here but, somehow, none of these guys really cut it in the scare sweepstakes.  Sorry, guys, but enlarged bugs don’t exactly instill the same kind of spooky atmosphere as a zombie does.  So in some respects, RE0 is the least scary and involving of the 6 Resident Evil games.  I want my zombies back!

Those, like myself, who were excited to hear that RE0 was to take place on a train, prepare to be disappointed. You don’t spend much time in transit – less than a quarter of the game is spent exploring the rails, before shoving you straight into familiar RE territory.  After completing a few minor tasks on the train, the stage shifts to yet another mansion owned by the Umbrella Corporation.  It would have been nice if the game designers had left us on the train longer, or found some other exotic (for the series) locale to explore.  As much as I love them, it’s starting to get boring having to spend game after game exploring mansion after mansion.  A true, extended change of scenery would have been a welcome addition.

For those who complete the game, there is a fun and silly “extra” game called Leech Hunter.  Essentially, all it consists of is the two of you running around picking up 50 leech charms each (green for Rebecca, blue for Billy, respectively).  He gets to change into a bad Italian suit with an extremely tacky, garish yellow Hawaiian shirt untucked sloppily; she gets your choice of a sexy “cowgirl” outfit (daisy dukes, boots) or a comparatively drab, but still rather attractive leather pants-and-halter top ensemble, complete with sexy arm-length gloves.  A nice touch, but it might not compensate longstanding RE diehards, who’ll probably be expecting to play through a second time as a different character. 

In all, RE0 feels more like an extended, fleshed out industry demo than an actual release.  The speed and ease with which one can beat the game (particularly if you discount the exorbitant percentage of gameplay time spent accessing and reorganizing in menus) is surprising, in light of the length of previous releases (and particularly the last 2, Code Veronica and the GameCube’s take on RE, which really crammed in more bang for your buck), and leaves the experienced RE gamer, in particular, feeling somewhat gypped.  While it’s a beautiful game, and what changes there are (accepting their inherent faults) are much appreciated, it feels like the anti-Nemesis: where Nemesis was an extra hard Doom run for the hardcore RE gamer to test their mettle while waiting for the more hyped and story advancing Code Veronica, RE0 feels like RE for beginners.  Maybe the “zero” in the title meant something more than just having the game storyline set prior to the events of RE1.  And while it may be very pretty for a training camp, those of us who’ve been there through 5 prior entries don’t exactly need a refresher course with the dial set on “basic”.

Highs:

  • Gorgeous graphics.  The Resident Evil series has emerged as the one truly unparalleled franchise in Next Gen gaming, and perhaps the only releases making appropriate usage of the more advanced systems’ capabilities in a sea of over-hyped junk.
  • Excellent use of visuals, sonics, and soundtrack music to create some serious atmosphere and draw you firmly in to its virtual world.  The only true parallels are Silent Hill and Parasite Eve, with Eternal Darkness pulling up the rear.
  • A few welcome innovations make the gamer hungry for further change.  Character switching, the ability to drop items at will, a “black sheep” hero and one radical (if brief) change in setting whet the appetite for something truly new and different from future installments in the series.

Lows:

  • Insufficient inventory space; even taking character switching into account, prepare yourself for far too much running back and forth to get and retrieve items…only to inevitably ponder what essential item or weapon to leave behind in its place.
  • Controls still awkward at points, with way too much game time spent fiddling about in menus (exacerbated dramatically by inventory and character switching issues) as opposed to exploring, solving puzzles, and fending off monsters.

Final Verdict:

Any die-hard Resident Evil fan should be happy with anything Capcom puts out, particularly if it looks (and sounds) this nice.  Absolute beginners, apply here first – this is decidedly the one for you to cut your teeth on; with plenty of health and ammo, this is a quick, relatively easy introduction to the world of RE.   Both camps should be satisfied with the solid story and atmosphere.  New features like character swapping add nicely to the game, but could use some streamlining.  Not a bad choice for your hard earned dollar (or mounting unearned credit card debt, as the case may be); particularly considering your other choices out there at the moment, which so far as true quality goes, remain sadly few and far between.

Overall Score: 9.0

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