It may appear modern on the surface, but don’t go into Resident Evil Zero HD Remaster thinking you’ll find the kind of slick survival horror experience you’d expect in 2016. This game feels dated — which won’t come as a surprise if you know the original launched on GameCube over a decade ago. The thing is: The game wasn’t groundbreaking even back then, since it mostly apes the design template of the original Resident Evil from 1996. In other words, this gorgeous new remaster feels about 20 years old.
That may not be a problem for longtime Resident Evil fans, or anyone who played the recent Resident Evil Remaster and wants more. But for everyone else, it’s a good reason to hesitate before buying the game.
Zero takes place immediately before the events of the original Resident Evil and shows how many of the problems plaguing the world in the seminal series came to be. It does that by putting you in the shoes of dual protagonists Rebecca Chambers and Billy Coen. Rebecca is a rookie member of the Raccoon City special forces, while Billy is a former marine and current death row inmate. Once their vehicles crash in the mountains near the city, and they realize they’re facing an onslaught of zombies and other disgusting monsters, it becomes clear they must form an uneasy alliance.
The story has its pulpy charms, but it’s mostly unmemorable. What sticks out most about the game is the atmosphere of dread that hangs over everything like a fog. Thanks to the terrific HD graphics and the minimal soundtrack, making your way from room to room is a tense experience, particularly when you’re running low on ammo and you come face to face with a pack of slow-moving zombies.
Unfortunately, moving from room to room is a major chore in this game. Each small section of the environment is divided by doorways, ladders, or staircases. And every time you go from one room to another — which happens often, thanks to all the environmental puzzles that have you scurrying back and forth — you face a loading screen. These loading screens seem charmingly retro at first, but by the time you’ve gone through 100 of them, they start to crush your soul. Five seconds here and five seconds there, and you’ll start to feel your life slowly slipping away thanks to all the loading screens.
The original GameCube version of this game had another soul-crushing problem: “tank controls” that made moving around feel almost impossibly clunky. Thankfully, Capcom has whipped up a more user-friendly control scheme for this remaster (though if you’re a traditionalist — or a masochist — you can select the original controls from the game’s menu). The new control scheme isn’t perfect, but if spend 20 minutes with the game you’ll acclimate to it just fine.
What you might not acclimate to is the seemingly unending supply of puzzles that thwart your progress at every turn. This is classic Resident Evil stuff, but because you have two characters to swap between, it can feel like an endless grind as you seek out keys and tools to get through each new room.
But the biggest pain point is your inventory. Despite that both Rebecca and Billy have their own inventories, the total space you have to carry weapons, ammo, healing items, ink ribbons, and puzzle keys feels ridiculously small. Before long, you’ll have to make annoying choices about what to take with you and what to leave behind. Survival horror purists might find this kind of thing engrossing, but it made me want to rip my hair out every time I had to backtrack through five loading screens to pick up a healing herb I’d left behind.
But back to that whole ink ribbon thing. Like in all the early Resident Evil games, this one makes you find typewriters and use ink ribbons to save the game. This may have been grudgingly acceptable in the ’90s, but it seems crazy now for a developer to withhold the ability to save your game, as if saving is something you should have to earn. As if players never have to give up the TV, or leave the house, or tend to crying children. Games that effectively punish you for turning off the console are a relic we should have moved past ages ago.
Does Resident Evil Zero HD Remaster have something to offer gamers in 2016? I think it does. But in the grand calculus of how to spend your time and money, I don’t think its pros outweigh its cons. Beyond the awful inventory, it was the repetitive and glacially paced puzzles that killed the fun for me. It’s not a terrible game, but it doesn’t do enough to stand out against the competition in 2016.