NEW YORK — Resident Evil has never exactly been high art, but back in the day, the series definitely had a more restrained and creepy feel. That’s still the case with Resident Evil 0’s HD remaster, which retains a lot of its scary, over-the-top charm, but now boasts improved graphics and much better controls.
I had a brief 10-minute hands-on with the Resident Evil 0 HD remaster at New York Comic-Con. The game is due out in January, and will retail for $20 as a digital download, or $40 on-disc along with the Resident Evil remaster from earlier this year. (Resident Evil 0 acts as a prequel, but came out six years after the original.) Horror aficionados can pick it up on the Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PS4 and PC, although the PC release will only be on Steam.
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Those who played the original game thirteen years ago already know how the story shakes out. Rebecca Chambers, a member of the S.T.A.R.S. Bravo special forces team, sets out to investigate a disturbance aboard a train, and soon becomes embroiled in a tale of persistent zombies, unethical corporations and over-the-top villains. She teams up with escaped convict Billy Coen as the two of them investigate the seemingly supernatural happenings.
The demo began with Rebecca facing off against three zombies on a train. The first thing I noticed was the game’s new control scheme. Back in 2002, Resident Evil 0 had turret-style controls, meaning that you had to first face your character in a direction, the press up on the control stick to navigate. This option still exists for old-school masochists, but now, Rebecca and Billy will move any way you press the analog stick, just like in modern games.
My first task was to dispatch of three zombies in a train car, which was not nearly as easy as it sounds. Zombies in the Resident Evil series are tough, persistent creatures, and it took multiple shots to even make them stagger, much less die (again). If they hit Rebecca, they latched onto her and did tons of damage, while avoiding them in a crowded train car was consistently challenging. Making zombies — usually just video game cannon fodder these days — actually threatening, the game feels tense right from the get-go.
I also had time to experience two more Resident Evil staples: exploration and puzzle-solving. Past the initial car, I could rummage through passenger rooms in the train, where I found ammo, healing items and documents that helped provide story background. I also had to track down a key which was necessary to unlock a door back in the car where I started. (Later puzzles are, obviously, much more difficult.)
Aside from the controls, the game’s graphics are the biggest improvement since its 2002 iteration. Resident Evil 0 came out on the Gamecube initially, and while it was gorgeous for its time, it was still running at sub-480p resolution. Now, the game runs at full 1080p with a consistent 30 frames per second frame rate. (PC users may have the ability to dial the frame rate higher.)
There’s not too much else to say about the demo, which ended when Billy and Rebecca elected to join forces, allowing them to switch off with a partner mechanic. The rest of the campaign will last eight to ten hours, and series fans may be pleased to hear that completing the game grants a new bonus. This time around, you can play in Wesker mode, taking control of the franchise’s best-known villain in order to decimate zombies with lasers, super speed and the like.
Resident Evil 0 is campy, for sure, but its gameplay has held up well over the last decade or so, and it looks better than ever. Series fans will definitely want to check it out, while newcomers may find a prequel story the best place to jump into Resident Evil’s ongoing, increasingly convoluted narrative.