One of my fondest video game memories from my youth was in 2002, sitting in the basement in the dead of night playing Resident Evil on my Gamecube; my best friend and I constantly passing the controller back and forth, both of us being too scared to keep playing. That very same year, Resident Evil 0 released and looked so scary I never ended up playing it. What a perfect opportunity that Capcom released an HD version for me to finally experience the last truly scary Resident Evil.
Resident Evil 0 puts players in the role of Rebecca Chambers, a member of S.T.A.R.S whose helicopter crashes investigating a mysterious leech attack on a train. Now trapped on the train and surrounded by the undead, Rebecca must team up with Billy Coen, a former Marine Force Reconnaissance soldier turned convict, if she’s to escape the horror and figure out the mystery behind the outbreak. Like many of the classic Resident Evil games, the story toes the line perfectly between being dark and tense, and just a bit silly creating an enjoyable and engaging experience.
As far as gameplay goes, it’s a loving retread of classic Resident Evil. Players try to get through the spooks, shooting zombies and solving puzzles. It adds a few gameplay tweaks like being able to turn off the “tank controls,” (although I would recommend playing with them on) and the game looks beautiful rendered in HD, thanks to already looking pretty amazing on the Gamecube. However, for those choosing to play in the classic mode, this is a “warts-and-all” remaster, so some newcomers may be taken aback by the seemingly unintuitive controls, the restrictive aiming, and somewhat annoying item management between the two characters, coupled with the removal of the ability to store items in the classic item box.
Resident Evil is a franchise with a special place in my heart. Having grown up a Nintendo-boy and never getting to experience the vastly superior Silent Hill, it was my first real plunge into the waters of survival horror. Resident Evil 0 was the last “oldschool” Resident Evil before Resident Evil 4 reinvented the whole franchise, and like Resident Evil 7 Biohazard would do again. However, despite how well both Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 7 improved the franchise on a technical level, both games effectively removed the horror from Resident Evil by giving the player too much control.
There’s something to be said for Resident Evil’s “tank controls” and restrictive aiming. It creates a sense of panic when enemies are on-screen, giving you limited mobility and an inability to pop off headshots like a badass. This is made more difficult as the camera perspective shifts between areas, messing with your sense of direction. On top of the tense atmosphere, it feels like the game is actively working against you, making you feel helpless despite the characters station and arsenal, and that makes it more terrifying. Even something as simple as saving your game is restricted to the ink ribbons, increasing the sense of tension and panic from not knowing if you’re going to make it to another save point, or if you get to one it’s even useful to you.
As is the problem in games like Dead Space, F.E.A.R, and even Resident Evil 4, it’s hard to be afraid of anything when you’re a machine gun-toting badass. Resident Evil 0, and all the early Resident Evil game for that matter square this circle in such a way that despite the main characters being armed and trained, they’re as helpless as anyone. It’s what separates a game from being startling from actually being scary. Not to mention, Resident Evil 0 was the last time in history that zombies actually had an intimidating presence. There’s something about their slow lurching forward and deep guttural moans that is so much more unsettling than modern zombies’ gasping and screeching.
Resident Evil 0 HD is definitely worth checking out, not only if you’re a fan of the series, but also a horror fan looking for a genuinely scary game. It’s an excellent blast from the past, and an amazing case-study in good horror game-design.
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