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Resident Evil Zero is better in 2016 than it was in 2002. When examined today, against the Resident Evil games that came after it—and there are a lot—it looks better now than it did back then. Its current quality has been shaped by its successors.
The Resident Evil franchise is one of the most storied video game series of all time. It represents the pinnacle of the horror genre. Within a four year span, the first three entries in the sequential arc appeared, starting in 1996 with Resident Evil. Priding itself on the art of survival, the mantra leading into the new millennium was less is more. In an industry obsessed with run-and-gun shooters, high octane explosions, swarms of enemies and seemingly endless supplies of bullets, Resident Evil honed in on primal instincts.
Just like many other great intelligent properties, the well began to dry. By 2002, alongside a third version of the original game, a new origin story was created: Resident Evil Zero. Suffering from the perils that prequels often face, it failed to capture the promise of what made Resident Evil so great in the first place. Technically, Zero was an authentic ode to the gameplay and style of the opening venture. Yet the story felt forced, as if it was built purely on the premise that the name itself would sell copies. It was unnecessary.
Quietly praised by reviewers, Zero was a commercial success, moving over a million units. But those tentative compliments appeared to be stem mostly from the fact of its name and its status as a Resident Evil game.
Fast forward to 2005, and the franchise reinvented itself with Resident Evil 4. Emphasis on survival tactics faded in favor of tight controls and chaotic, persistent gunplay. It would become both one of the greatest games of a generation—a true peak—and an ominous precursor. I believe that Resident Evil 4 holds the distinction of the best of the series, the top of the roller coaster before it came spiraling down, unhinging from the tracks, destined for a devastating collision.
In the ten-plus years since that fourth game, gamers received two main entries and a jumble of spinoffs that encapsulate portions of both sides of the Resident Evil coin. The fifth and sixth games took what Resident Evil 4 did well and extrapolated the growing action sequences into full fledged action adventure diversions. The mystique of unexpected frights became increasingly absent, replaced by endless swarms of enemies and multiple tired carbon copy characters. For a decade, Resident Evil has been a standard issue third person shooter, and an extremely underwhelming one at that.
Fourteen years and thirteen Resident Evil games later, Capcom has remastered the earliest chronological entry, Resident Evil Zero. At this juncture, the gameplay is dated. The graphics, while tweaked rather impressively, are subpar compared to current high budget games. The controls aggravate. Load times are excruciatingly prolonged, and worse, maddeningly frequent. Even bookkeeping aspects like saving progress is tedious thanks to the mechanism of securing finite ribbons to place in sporadic in-game typewriters.
Is Resident Evil Zero a good game in 2016? Probably not, but damn it’s a great Resident Evil game. The perspective gained from repeated uninspired attempts that progressively diminished the constructs of a solid Resident Evil experience allows Zero to become one of rare examples of a game that is actually better fourteen years after its initial release than it was at the time.
RE0 has transformed into a refreshing spectacle as it returns gamers to a place where the quiet, unexpected terrors are the foundation. From the claustrophobic beginning in a runaway train to the depths of the treatment facility battling Queen Leech, Zero enthralls and excites throughout the roughly ten hour campaign. The team consisting of straight edge police officer Rebecca and rogue fugitive Billy gives a two-playable-characters dynamic appreciated more today since Resident Evil 5 and 6 failed to provide reasons to care with two and then three protagonists.
For those fans who came to Resident Evil when the tide turned with Resident Evil 4, the most jarring aspect of Zero is its limited inventory slots, six each for Rebecca and Billy. Sometimes crucial items are dropped in favor of additional ammunition, and part of the learning curve is deciding how to best use the precious space without backtracking to reacquire valuables needed to carry onward. Resident Evil was originally designed as a survivor’s perseverance test, not a conqueror’s quest, and this remastered edition resurrects that vital facet.
Still today the story is untidily strung together. However—and call it nostalgia if you want—pulling the curtain back on the early days before the nefarious Umbrella Corporation reigned supreme is a welcome excursion from the monotony spanning across console generations since. At least it was a valiant effort, and despite minor plot holes and blemishes, it allows gamers to peer into the imagined world at a time when the magic of Resident Evil was still a source of exhilaration and intrigue.
Give me a jagged, unapologetic, imperfect tale of beginnings over a refined, overproduced, mass-appealing, generic action romp any day of the week—specifically when it involves the Resident Evil franchise.
Steven Petite attempts to divide his time between freelance and fiction writing, reading far too many novels, and playing half a dozen games simultaneously. He is a lifelong Cleveland native, and consequently a tortured sports enthusiast. He is a staff writer for Fiction Southeast and The Rock Office. He has frequently written for The Huffington Post and his fiction has appeared in Cigale Literary Magazine.
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