Resident Evil Zero is something of a forgotten gem in the venerable horror franchise’s illustrious crown. Prior to the paradigm-shifting behemoth that was Resident Evil 4, Zero has the distinction of being the last mainline ‘classic’ entry in the series, at a point where the average punter was getting a little fed up of tank controls and pre-rendered backgrounds. However, Zero deviates from its contemporaries with some surprisingly fresh gameplay additions, and is probably one of the most difficult entries the series has seen to date. As such, this prequel sits in its own niche, lacking the accessibility of RE2 and REmake, while perhaps being the rawest example of old-school survival horror you can find. In that sense, it’s probably the most esoteric Resi yet.
Originally released in 2002 on GameCube, Zero takes place 24 hours before the events of the original survival horror classic, with S.T.A.R.S. Bravo Team member, Rebecca Chambers, investigating Raccoon Forest with her team following the outbreak of a series of cannibalistic murders. The unit splits up to investigate the area, with Chambers snooping around a seemingly abandoned train in the middle of the woods. It’s here where she meets and subsequently teams up with Billy Coen, a former marine convicted of first degree murder.
Zero is classic Resi but puts its own spin on the proceedings. For starters, you can now switch between two playable characters instantaneously by hitting Triangle; you have the option of going solo or exploring together, which opens up a little more strategy on the combat front. Teaming up to dispatch the rotting remnants of Umbrella’s unscrupulous work force not only saves ammo, but feels suitably gratifying to boot. Your partner is controlled by the AI, which does a decent job at keeping foes at bay (you can set them to attack on sight or remain docile), although their self-preservation skills are pretty much non-existent; they won’t perform any evasive maneuvers, but rather just stand their capping foes until the threat is gone or they end up brown bread. As such, they can sometimes prove an annoyance in the middle of battle, but at least have your back if you need some extra firepower.
Rebecca and Billy also have their own strengths and weaknesses. The young S.T.A.R.S medic is able to combine healing herbs and chemicals, while Billy can utilise his strength to shove heavy objects and can absorb more punishment from enemies. While both can hold their own in most situations, Zero encourages you to explore different roles for each character, and I found it pretty satisfying having Billy rocking the heavy firepower, while Rebecca acted as medic/backup, resulting in a reliable combination that I rarely deviated from. Fortunately, managing your characters is pretty intuitive, with a simple tap of the touchpad giving your partner command to split up or regroup, while the inventory commands are easy enough to follow as you exchange items between each other, even in the midst of a battle.