Resident Evil 0 HD Remaster Reveals a Series Struggling to Reinvent Itself

Resident Evil 0 HD Remaster Reveals a Series Struggling to Reinvent Itself

While not completely deserving of its bad reputation, this prequel can't help but feel like treading water.

My first "welcome home" moment with Resident Evil 0 HD came about 20 minutes in, when I found myself trapped in a room with a broken lock. "If only you had something sharp and pointy," the game had the audacity to say as my character held a knife that would make Crocodile Dundee himself blush.

In an era where games bend over backwards to be accommodating—not that I'm complaining—it's a nice change to take morbid glee in the outright dickishness of old Resident Evil. True to the series' classic adventure game roots, there's a real adversarial spirit on display here that's hard to find in a modern game. Of course, if you've played a Resident Evil before, some of the tricks in part 0 won't be too shocking: The camera angle placing just a little too much emphasis on a window, for instance, means something will likely be crashing through it in the future.

Coming at the tail-end of a long line of traditional Resident Evil games, it shouldn't be surprising to know 0 didn't have the kindest reception: By 2003, survival horror's short period of relevance had come to an end, and people were more than a little weary of the many restrictions born out of technological limitations—even if said limitations were so vital to the experience.

It's interesting, then, to approach this new Remastered version of Resident Evil 0 after being so weary of the series' modern (well, post-2005) formula. As with the previous Resident Evil HD release, Capcom gives this one an optional, revamped control scheme, which alleviates but doesn't eliminate the series' healthy friction. But even if moving your two characters around no longer amounts to a perpetual struggle, the hard choices you're tasked with making won't be any easier. Having been removed from this form of Resident Evil for so long, I completely forgot just how much of the experience amounts to pure budgeting. Every hallway and room presents its own problem: Spend ammo (and potential health) defeating the enemies in your path, or leave them "alive" (for lack of a better word) and run the risk of taking damage both now and later. Ultimately, though, you're never truly safe, and Resident Evil has a cruel way of repopulating previously cleared areas as soon as you clear vital puzzles.

And make no mistake: 0 remains a very traditional RE experience by relying almost entirely on elaborate networks of puzzles. While the world of crests, levers, gears, and themed keys is old hat to series' veterans, 0 gives these old ideas new life via a two-character system making its debut and only appearance. It's not incredibly ambitious, but the inclusion of a second character at least allows 0 to come up with some puzzles the series hasn't seen before, most of which involve splitting up in areas that aren't fit for two people. Left to their own devices, whatever character you're not controlling can follow along or stay behind, and can actually fight alongside you—though their AI doesn't really recognize the value of ammo and will essentially fire away until whatever's moving isn't.

Bringing your partner along has its drawbacks though: Since you're managing two different sets of health, having the AI character take a hit (you would have avoided) in a crowded hallway means you'll have to use more of those precious healing herbs to keep them alive. At a certain point in the game, with both characters' health in the red, I had no choice but to go it alone—even if having another character along could conceivably make the hunt for healing items easier.

0's biggest issue comes in the fact that you're not doing this standard Resident Evil stuff in a setting that's not particularly interesting. The first train-bound chapter stands out as the most iconic backdrop from 0, and gets the experience off to a great start by maintaining the horror within some pretty cramped confines. After that, it's just your standard, dreary Resident Evil corporate dungeons, which may be spooky, but hold none of the charm of, say, the Spencer Mansion or a burning Raccoon City.

And the story—for as low as my expectations are—strikes a similarly uninspired tone. Regardless of whether or not everything fits into the timeline, 0 doesn't seem particularly interested in putting together a narrative that makes sense. A particularly telling scene early in the game has antagonist Wesker's second-in-command asking some very important questions, only to be dismissed with, "That's irrelevant!" In theory, setting a game before Resident Evil sounds promising, but it's incredibly contrived for Rebecca Chambers to have essentially done the whole zombie thing just one day before the events of the first game. (Then again, maybe you aren't supposed to think too hard about this.)

Part 0 doesn't completely deserve its bad reputation, but just a few hours with it shows why Resident Evil 4's reinvention was so necessary—and why Capcom allowed its developers so many chances to get it right. While 4 swerved wildly from the series' path, it also managed to cut through the many annoying contrivances we'd come to expect: Every time a wooden door or breakable window blocked my path in 0, I could only sigh and wonder how Leon Kennedy would solve the problem (most likely kicking and/or bullets). Still, Resident Evil 0 carries a certain amount of charm, magnified by the fact that we don't really see games like it anymore. There's definitely a reason for that, but 0's adventure game dickishness can be fun in small doses.

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