Welcome back to the Resident Evil love/hate series! In this entry we’re going to be looking at Resident Evil 0, the oft-overlooked Game Cube prequel to the original game. Having come out at a time when classic survival horror fatigue was at an all-time high, does this game hold up 20 years later? Read on to find out…
- Partner Switch Mechanic – By far the most notable addition in Resident Evil 0 is the ability to switch characters with the press of a button. Not because it opens up new gameplay possibilities (which it does, but it’s arguably under-utilized), but because the technology of it is so cool. Seriously, in a game series where opening every door results in a loading screen, the ability to press a button and then a second later be on an entirely different part of the map with another character is mind-blowing. Seriously, this is the kind of thing that modern games struggled with until the most recent generation where SSDs became standardized, but seeing it on a Game Cube game is wild.
- Graphics – Resident Evil 0 was easily the best-looking Resident Evil game until the series made the jump to PS4. The pre-rendered backgrounds look great and, uncharacteristically, Capcom managed to not lose their hi-res masters so the HD remaster actually looks fantastic in action (although, like the Resident Evil remake, the cinematics are still in stretched 480p). I feel like the art direction in Resident Evil remake is a bit more distinctive overall, but Resident Evil 0 is definitely the prettiest of the “classic” era of the franchise.
- Train Opening – Resident Evil 0 makes a big impression in its opening hour, which sees you having to deal with zombies on a train. It’s easily the most memorable and unique area in the game and… well, honestly, it was pretty frustrating to play this section but the art direction and level design are so distinctive that it left a positive impression on me overall. It’s too bad that the rest of the game feels like it’s recycling series tropes with its locations, but at least the train at the start of the game gives 0 its own legitimately iconic identity.
- Billy and Rebecca – Like Sherry and Jake in Resident Evil 6, Rebecca Chambers and Billy Coen make for a great odd-couple pairing (albeit without the romantic tension). At the game’s outset, Billy is straight-up a convicted murderer whereas Rebecca is the straight-laced soldier, which makes their forced cooperation and eventual warming up to one another great to see play out. The voice acting is also better-than-average for a Resident Evil game, especially from Billy’s actor, James Kee, who gives his character a confident, menacing, sarcastic edge.
- Innovations – It’s not unusual for a prequel to be used as an excuse to repeat familiar beats one more time, but Resident Evil 0 actually makes the brave decision to shake up the gameplay of the franchise. For better or for worse this gives the game its own unique identity. First of all, as I’ve mentioned, it introduces an AI partner for the first time in the franchise who you can switch to control on the fly. The game also allows you to drop items and they will stay on the map later, alleviating some stress about item management. Both of these changes fundamentally switch up the way you play the game and make Resident Evil 0 an interesting entry even now, whether you like the changes or not.
- HD Remaster Costumes – Okay, I’ve gotta say that the plethora of costumes available in the HD remaster right off the bat is a great touch. Most Resident Evil games will have unlockable costume sets that only become available for subsequent playthroughs, but I don’t tend to replay games all that regularly so I never really get to use them. However, right from the outset you get a bunch of choices to customize Rebecca and Billy and can swap them on the fly. It’s a small touch but I personally loved the option!
- Wesker Mode – THIS is how you convince someone to replay a game that they just beat. The HD remaster of Resident Evil 0 adds the ability to have Billy swapped out for Albert freaking Wesker, complete with his own unique moveset and abilities which fundamentally shakes up the gameplay. It’s such a cool idea and I don’t understand why more games don’t have cool bonus modes like this to reward players for completion.
- Partner AI – Your partner’s AI can be reeeeeeally stupid at times, often being more of a liability than an asset. You get a few toggles you can set to make them passive or aggressive, or to stay put or follow you, but even if you put them on attack mode they will often stand around doing nothing half the time. Worse, they will usually have to be micro-managed to avoid taking any damage and in certain areas of the game you’re best off leaving your partner behind so you can weave through enemies alone so your partner won’t waste your resources, which you’re only going to know through either pre-existing knowledge or trial-and-error.
- The Load Times – Here’s a caveat: I played this game on Switch so maybe this is just down to the platform I played on, but oh my God the load times kill me in this game. Every time you go through a door it can easily take ten seconds or more before you get back in control, which adds up big time over the course of a playthrough. Hell, it’s not unusual for me to spend more time waiting for an area to load than actually playing in an area before getting to the next loading screen. This is especially baffling when the player switch is so seamless and quick, despite you potentially being on the other side of the game world at the time… is it not loading in the same resources either way? Why does that take only a second whereas entering some rooms takes upwards of fifteen seconds…? Hell, the Resident Evil remake didn’t take nearly this long either and its definitely comparable technology. In any case, this is a major frustration which makes Resident Evil 0 a slog to playthrough in the moment-to-moment gameplay.
- No Item Box – While being able to drop items where ever you want is handy, the way it is implemented turns it into more of an exercise in frustration than the Godsend that it sounds like. This is mainly because the game decides to show off this feature by doing away with the traditional item box, which leads to two big issues:
- First of all, while it sounds more realistic and immersive, managing your big stockpile of items is not intuitive when they’re in a big pile on the floor. There are a couple rooms in the game which were clearly designed as your “item drop” areas and you’ll find yourself annoyed as you try to maneuver just right to be able to pick up the one item you want to get, and not the item beside it. Remember, this is a fixed-camera game and you’re trying to reach the exact point you want to get to in 3D space, it’s not as easy as it sounds and I often found myself grabbing the wrong items. Making matters worse, all areas have a cap on the number of items you can drop there and you will eventually run out of space, forcing you to find another safe area to be your backup item drop room, meaning you now have to remember where you put which items.
- The second, bigger issue is that eventually you are going to have to move all those items. There are three points in this game where you are going to have to move all your shit around, which is a long, annoying process of dropping all your items, heading back to get more, dropping those off and then backtracking again to get whatever stuff you weren’t able to bring the first time. It’s not fun and all that they would have needed to do to solve it is give you an item box that you can put your stuff into in addition to being able to drop stuff on the floor if needed.
- The Worst Enemies in the Franchise – Resident Evil 0 has some of the most frustrating enemies in the whole series to have to face, to the point where it makes the thought of replaying the game less enticing. The leech zombies are everywhere in this game and I hate them. They are vulnerable to fire, but if you don’t have a couple molotov cocktails or a grenade launcher then you will literally waste all your pistol and shotgun ammo trying to kill them if you don’t just take the damage and run past. Again, like I said earlier, if you already know how to deal with them or learn through trial-and-error then you can mitigate the frustration, but if you go in blind then it’s just straight-up unfair. The leech zombies aren’t even the worst enemies, that would probably be the Eliminator monkeys since you can’t just run past them. These little bastards can stunlock you, deal huge amounts of damage, attack in groups and take several shotgun rounds to take down. Oh, and I’d be remiss to not mention the Lurkers, which can show up if you cross one particular bridge. If you happened to not bring your partner with you at the time, you die instantly and without warning… how fun!
- The Leech Controller is Super Lame – So, the main villain of Resident Evil 0 looks like… this. I don’t find myself hating him because of his actions or for being threatening, I want him dead because he’s such a stupid looking villain. That’s it, I just hate this character. When I get through the series I want to do a character tier list and this loser is going to be in the bottom tier, no question.
- Just a Really Frustrating Experience – I would argue that Resident Evil 0 is probably the hardest game in the franchise. Even playing on normal mode, the game is designed to keep you on the absolute bare minimum of health and ammo, while also throwing you into situations where you have to fight, have to take damage, or get put up against enemies like the leech zombies which you can’t possibly deal with without losing all your resources. Sure, maybe you’ll figure out a way to deal with these problems through trial and error, but you’re going to want to throw your controller across the room because of it. I died maybe a couple times playing through Resident Evil remake on normal and was able to stockpile a lot of resources, whereas I must have died more than a dozen times in Resident Evil 0, and each death just pissed me off. Resident Evil remake feels like it’s more interested in being fun than difficult, but Resident Evil 0 is definitely trying to be difficult.
- The first half of the game especially is so frustratingly designed, putting you in very narrow corridors where dodging enemies is not a realistic expectation, while also not giving you nearly enough ammunition to kill all the enemies the game throws at you. Even then, it’s not unusual for the game to respawn enemies in areas where you’ve already cleared them out (the train is especially bad for this). This can lead to unwinnable situations where you’ve already used all your ammo or health and can’t deal with one of the big enemies that show up in the early game.
- You can also get screwed over out of the blue when the game decides to throw a boss fight at you, as these are mostly one-character-only battles. What’s that, you were using Billy as Rebecca’s inventory monkey and all he has is a pistol? Too bad, he’s gotta fight this giant centipede now, good luck!
- Special mention has to go towards one of the big “fuck you’s” the developers put in this game. See, these bastards knew that their no item box system meant that you were going to have to drop items and backtrack to get more, so they spawn a group of fucking Eliminators in this path after you’ve dropped all your items to free up inventory space. Thankfully I happened to have a shotgun with me, but holy shit that is a clear as day example of the developers knowing their shitty design decisions and then just trying to fuck over the player. It’s either pre-existing knowledge, pure luck, or frustration.
- Speaking of backtracking, there are chemicals that you have to find and add to Rebecca’s mixing set throughout the game. I just added these by habit during the game, but you need specific chemicals for two or three puzzles at various points in the game, so it was pure dumb luck that I happened to have the right ones when needed. If I didn’t I wouldn’t even begin to know where to go for what chemical, or even know that I needed a specific one. Again… pre-existing knowledge, pure luck, or frustration.
- The Story – Oh hey, another Resident Evil game, another underwhelming story. Resident Evil 0 has some unique issues though that make it particularly frustrating. First of all, its status as a prequel creates issues, the most glaring being that Rebecca’s characterization in this game and in Resident Evil remake is completely off. Here she’s a capable badass, but in Resident Evil, which occurs literally a day later, she’s a scared little girl who can’t do anything without Chris’ help. The presence of Albert Wesker and William Birkin also irks me, since they don’t really do anything and it spoils their roles in Resident Evil 1 and 2, meaning that new players shouldn’t experience the games in chronological order. It also just isn’t a very good prequel. The idea of finding out what happened to S.T.A.R.S. Bravo Team sounds cool, but the premise is almost immediately dropped as the team splits up in the woods and gets lost on their own side quests. We encounter Enrico about three quarters of the way through and then, after blowing up another Umbrella lab, Rebecca decides to wander into the mansion at the end of the game, but that’s not really a great connective story now is it? Honestly, Resident Evil 0 would have been better without trying to tie it directly into the original game.
Overall, I did enjoy Resident Evil 0 and I appreciate its attempts to shake-up the series’ formula which was growing stale at the time. However, there are so many intentionally-frustrating design decisions that the idea of replaying it anytime soon is totally soured for me. I’d recommend checking it out, but unless you’re a masochist then glancing at a walkthrough to know what to expect would probably be wise if you want to avoid some rage-inducing moments.