Amityville IP: ‘The Horror of Amityville’ begins our journey through the entire ‘Amityville’ saga
Being upstaged is never fun. This was unfortunately the case for Resident Evil Zero when it was released the same year as the famous resident Evil remake. Having to follow the success of the latter, especially considering that RE0 had been in development for far longer than the remake, it seemed like the prequel faced an insurmountable task. The game was still selling well, but 20 years later, it seems Resident Evil Zero was left out by Capcom and its fans. But is it fair?
Resident Evil Zero takes place just before the start of resident Evil, where the Ecliptic Express, a train owned by Umbrella, is attacked by a swarm of leeches. Two hours later, the STARS Bravo team is dispatched by helicopter to investigate a series of cannibalistic murders in the Arklay Mountains outside of Raccoon City. However, en route to the Arklay Mountains, Bravo Team’s helicopter crashes, with Officer Rebecca Chambers separating herself from the rest of the team. She eventually stumbles upon the Express, which is now eerily quiet. Stepping onto the train, Rebecca soon finds herself locked inside, with the Express beginning to move. Further investigation reveals that the train is full of zombies. Rebecca eventually meets convicted murderer Billy Coen, who recently escaped from the prison transport that was taking him to be executed. The duo must now work together to stop the train, figure out what’s going on, and get out alive.
A little like Remake, Zero used pre-rendered backgrounds, with layered effects to create a much more immersive atmosphere. Of course, after the release of Code: Veronica, Capcom switched to real-time 3D environments, making this technique immediately dated. That being said, the atmosphere in Zero still remained spooky, with well-detailed locations. And as with RemakeCapcom pulled off some nifty tricks in Zero, like the dynamic shadows and weird reflections of things like puddles and windows. Everything is linked by Seiko Kobuchi soundtrackwhich created a sense of foreboding in the game when it is present, and immediately escalates the tension when the soundtrack falls silent.
On the gameplay side, Capcom tried to change things up with Zero, starting with setting up the partner system. Given that Rebecca and Billy were in it together, the idea of swapping between the two characters during gameplay seemed logical, and was the realization of a similar idea Capcom had dreamed up during Resident Evil 2development that was never implemented. Rebecca and Billy each have their own unique abilities, requiring you to rely on the system to progress.
You can also have your partner AI controlled to fight enemies alongside you, or split the duo up entirely to explore different sections of the train at the same time. You would still need to call your partner back to resolve some of ZeroPuzzles, which introduced more risk to the tactic if you had to overtake enemies at a certain point, leaving your partner to run into those same enemies.
As a new twist in gameplay, the series’ iconic storage boxes have been dropped. In their place was the ability for you to drop and leave items on the floor to retrieve later. You also now had two inventories to manage. And while the idea of using a character as a mule for your weapons and ammo sounds nice, the reality is that Zero doesn’t quite let you do that (more on that later).
And yes, if you weren’t careful, you could metaphorically put yourself in a corner with your saves being stuck with insufficient firepower to get through an area. That’s why the game gave you an option when reloading a save to start from the beginning of the game. There is some margin for error, but you eventually learned to play the game “the right way “, effectively using the partnership system with the game’s new item mechanics.
Regarding its Survival Horror aspects, Zero was definitely in line with the pre-Resident Evil 4 games in terms of genre tropes: the constant unease as you ventured into an area, coupled with a lack of ammo and the eventual decision to fight or dodge enemies with what little you had, and so on. However, you might start to see that the series’ move away from pure survival horror started here, not with RE4. Zero it’s still clearly in the classic RE camp, but the little things (the partnership system, inventory management) sowed the seeds for what was to come later.
However, these new seeds were also the start of problems with Resident Evil Zero. The lack of this storage box meant you had to keep track of where you left key items if you dropped them, some of which may have been left in the same area you passed a group of. enemies because you didn’t have enough ammo to kill them. Even worse, Resident Evil Zero ensured that you couldn’t use one of your characters as a mule for weapons and ammo by forcing yourself into situations where Rebecca and Billy had to split up or fight alone, forcing you to juggle between the two inventories.
More glaring was the decision to go back to the original game’s idea of having something like a shotgun taking up two inventory slots. When you have to drop said shotgun to make room for something like a keycard, it’s a bad decision to stick with a “classic” idea in the face of modernity. Another puzzling decision was for Zero to stick with the tank controls from the original games. Keep in mind that, again, Remake had been released earlier in the year and implemented a new control scheme option which moved the series forward. All this after players experienced a revelation in freedom of movement in games like the devil may cry. Bind Zero to the past tense in this way just added more awkwardness which felt extremely out of place.
If it weren’t for the battle between modern and classic that has deteriorated Resident Evil Zero, his story certainly added to that. Being a prequel, the story was basically locked in a predictable outcome for resident Evil, because we all know what happened to Bravo Team and Rebecca. As a result, any sense of danger or excitement evaporated. Additionally, the story did not add anything significant to the lore of the series. What’s the point of knowing that leeches were used to create the T-Virus, especially when they’re never mentioned again after this game? Why Rebecca doesn’t even mention the events of this game in resident Evil? What’s the point of putting Rebecca through all of this when we all know that in the first game she made it out alive to play Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”? Sure, newcomer Billy has a bit of a mystery to him, but his addition to the story is really inconsequential. The fact that he hasn’t appeared or been mentioned in any games since Zero is the proof.
At the end of the day, Zero just didn’t bring enough new to the series, especially compared to Remake. The partner system provided unique gameplay moments and was eventually refined in resident evil 5, but here it’s hampered by clumsy inventory management and the omission of gameplay mechanics that were present from the very first game. The story was crippled by restrictions as a prequel and really only did very little to improve the established canon. Compared to the superb Remake, Zero feels missing even today. As a standalone game, it’s still competent, and it’s certainly not a bad game. But when taken in context, you can see why the majority of fans (and Capcom) left it behind. .