The Resident Evil series has a lot of titles that can be referred to as a “black sheep.” Whether it is the abysmal first-person games, the disappointing Operation: Raccoon City, or the inherently flawed Outbreakgames, the series has just as many lows as it does highs.
However, there is one game that can be seen as a black sheep not because of it being “bad,” but because it had the unfortunate circumstance of coming out between two of the greatest games the series has to offer, that game is Resident Evil Zero, and it is perhaps one of the most important entries in the series’ mythos despite the underwhelming reputation it has.
I have always loved survival horror games.
It all started as an eight year old watching my older brother play Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2 on his Playstation. Despite him never letting me touch the games, the characters, monsters and atmosphere simply fascinated my elementary-aged self. I must have spent hours on that bed watching him collect arbitrary puzzle pieces and mixing herbs, and I was so excited when Resident Evil Zero was announced for the N64.
I actually had that system, and Rebecca Chambers had always been my favorite character from the series, so finally, after months of begging, I managed to convince them to buy it for me. Then the game was canceled.
I was devastated.
Fast forward a few years, and the game is re-announced for the Gamecube. At the time I was still riding the high from the remake of the original and still retained my love Miss Chambers, so needless to say, I bought it the day it came out. I had no idea what to expect putting it in, and my views of survival horror have never been the same since playing it.
One thing needs to be said about Resident Evil Zero: it is not legitimately scary.
There are several reasons why, but the important takeaway is that the game simply does not deliver the scares other titles in the series have to offer. However, this doesn’t spell failure for Zero, and perhaps makes it the most interesting game in the series–focusing instead on genuine story and character development instead of cheap shock and scares.
Zero is a prequel to the first game and features rookie S.T.A.R.S. member Rebecca Chambers, who gamers might know from Chris’s scenario in the first game.
Setting up the events to the first game, Rebecca is investigating a series of murders occurring around the forest area of Raccoon City. After her team’s helicopter crashes and she gets separated from the rest of the group, she finds safety in an abandoned train running through the woods. However, things are not as they seem, and between the monsters wandering around and murderer Billy Coen on the loose in the area, Rebecca is in for the nightmare of her life.
The best part of this game is everything it adds to the Resident Evil mythos. Players will learn so much about the Umbrella Corporation’s backstory, how its downfall started, and Wesker’s role in the original mansion incident.
That being said, because of all the big story and plot reveals, players should definitely play the first game in the series before going through Zero. It would be sort of like watching the Star Wars prequels before seeing the original trilogy; the “wow” moments of both would be lessened.
Even beyond expanding on the series’ key figures, watching the relationship develop between Rebecca and Billy is one of the storytelling achievements of the game. Seeing the rookie cop and convict finally start to understand and trust one another is a real treat, making the characters seem less like avatars and more like genuine people.
However, even though the dynamic between Rebecca and Billy is one of the best parts of the game, the gameplay suffers from having both characters stay together through most of it. When compared to other games in series, like Nemesis or Code Veronica, there are very few moments where Zero actually caused me to feel genuine terror, and this is largely due to the partner system.
Familiar to people new to Resident Evil since games 4 and 5, the partner system debuted in Resident Evil Zero, and allowed the player to go between the two characters, Billy and Rebecca, during gameplay. Since the two are almost always at each other’s side, this takes much of the fright out of playing a horror game.
Since the A.I. is decent enough to be fully capable in combat, fighting monsters becomes a relatively unfrightening experience knowing there is a computer there to save you from whatever creatures you may face. This puts a serious damper on the gameplay, taking the “horror” out of survival-horror.
Outside of that, the game follows the same, tried and true formula that all of the “classic” Resident Evil games use. You have limited inventory space, games can only be saved at typewriters with ink ribbons and the controls are of the clunky “tank” variety that all of the games previously contained.
Regardless of the hate these aspects generate, I think they are a fundamental component of the Resident Evil experience. The game’s limited controls force players to act with more caution while fighting zombies and the inventory forces you to take time to consider which weapons, healing items and puzzle items warrant space. These are staples of the series, and I think they actually add to the game, creating some tense moments.
Lastly, the graphics are some the best the Gamecube has to offer, with gorgeous pre-rendered backgrounds and character models that still are a marvel almost ten years later. The soundtrack to the game is appropriately eerie, with all the music selections feeling appropriate to the moment and adding to the atmosphere of the game.
Why You Should Play It
If you are a person that is genuinely interested in the Resident Evil series or survival horror in general, then playing this game is a no brainer.
Although it doesn’t offer the scares of the Remake or the innovation of Resident Evil 4, it is still a solid gaming experience with a great storyline that fills in a lot of the gaps in the series. After the disappointment of Operation: Raccoon City, and with Resident Evil 6 right around the corner, gamers need a reason to fall back in love with the series.
With slightly updated graphics and a new control system, this game could be released today and still stand up to some of the modern releases. Although it is short, averaging around ten hours without a guide for the first playthrough, this is a game that can be played several times without growing stale.
However, as with many survival horror titles, don’t expect to get dozens of hour of enjoyment out of this one. I’d say two playthroughs tops are what players need to get the fundamental Resident Evil Zero experience.