The former Gamecube exclusive hits the Switch with a modern control scheme and improved visuals.
Survival horror title Resident Evil tells the story of the gruesome events that took place in the Spencer Mansion, but leaves much of BRAVO Team’s tale a mystery. Resident Evil Zero pulls back the curtain of what transpired in the Arklay Mountains, giving insight to how Racoon City met such a tragic fate. This release of Zero gives players a better visual experience, but more importantly it adds a more modern and approachable control scheme. Things can still get a bit wonky with the stationary camera angles and some load times do slow things down a bit, but this remaster offers a tried-and-true classic Resident Evil experience.
Resident Evil Zero is the first mainline entry to feature two simultaneously playable protagonists, Rebecca Chambers and Billy Coen. This feature is heavily relied on within the story and puzzle-solving elements, requiring you to switch between partners on the fly. This is made easy with a single button press, which is important because it’s something you’ll be doing often. The character not being controlled can be set to idle so they simply follow passively or they can be set to help attack enemies, but of course at the expense of your limited ammo. The AI controlled character has a knack for getting in the way, but Capcom smartly allows you to move them around with the right stick without fully switching to them, alleviating the recurring issue. Having a companion for most of the adventure dampens the sense of dread and horror, but fortunately the strikingly creepy atmospheres reinvigorate those feelings.
Spanning a few different locations, the events of Resident Evil Zero start out in the Arklay Mountains and more specifically on a train traveling through them. Rebecca finds herself stuck on this runaway train full of zombies and is forced to team up with the fugitive she’s been searching for, Billy. The train layout leads to tight passages and claustrophobia, and since it’s moving with no real escape, it’s a perfect anxiety-inducing area for the game’s introduction. However, it isn’t long until we find our protagonists in a more standard fare location for the series, the Umbrella Training area, which resembles the Spencer Mansion. As you explore the facility, the eerily stationary camera angles help to perpetuate the feeling of fear as you never know what’s waiting for you around the corner. Revisiting areas is a must as you bounce around finding items to help solve puzzles and unlock paths forward. The introduction of new threats on a second passthrough of an area forces you to never put your guard down. I found the puzzles that require the pair to split up to be enjoyable, especially since the other character is always in danger in spite of not being on screen.
Fans familiar with the series will be accustomed to the item boxes found beside typewriters in safe rooms. Dropping items into these boxes helps free up your limited bag space, and accessing the items is as easy as visiting any of the item boxes found in the game. However, Resident Evil Zero, does item management differently. Instead, items can be dropped onto the floor to clear space immediately, but then they require backtracking to retrieve. This new system certainly has its pros and cons, but I found myself preferring the item boxes of previous installments. While you might have to run to a box to drop off items as opposed to simply placing them on the floor, retrieving them at a later time was far simpler. Although dropped items are marked on the map, it can be easy to forget about them or only remember them when they’re far enough away that it isn’t worth the trip, despite your limited resources. Juggling items between characters is also an ongoing process throughout, which leads to a good amount of time spent in menus. Space is limited, as it should be, but having to worry about not forgetting an important weapon halfway across the game map lead to forgoing some items that could have proven beneficial later on.
Resident Evil Zero has never looked better on a Nintendo console. The last release was on the Wii and still featured the original 4:3 ratio display. The Switch release does include that option, but I’m certain most will choose to play with the 16:9 display utilizing widescreen. Although the graphics are improved, I found the new control options to be much more appealing. The original tank controls were never a deal breaker for me, but given the option of a more modern style of play—moving in the direction of the stick— is something that works much better. Once again, you can choose to play with the original controls, but everything feels much more fluid using the updated style. There still are some weird moments when camera angles change and you turn a way you weren’t intending to, but it’s unfortunately just something you need to deal with on the fly. I also wasn’t expecting to deal with annoying load times. I was surprised to see the classic opening door animations finish only to have to wait a few moments on a black screen. They’re not egregiously long but noticeable.
Resident Evil has a storied history and the series has evolved over the years to feature a wide range of gameplay styles. Revisiting the core survival horror gameplay with an added modern control scheme proves to be a wonderful pairing. Featuring two characters for a majority of the adventure adds some interesting puzzle design, but also takes away from the feeling of isolation and dread. Fortunately the frightening and off-putting atmosphere helps to counteract that. While it isn’t the best of the classics, Resident Evil Zero still manages to deliver an authentic survival horror experience.