The scariest thing about revisiting Resident Evil Zero, now remastered in HD, is the inventory management system. Not the zombies and other gruesomely mutated creatures, which include scorpions, centipedes, and bats, and even the giant tarantulas, which are absolutely terrifying now that they’ve been more (literally) hair-raisingly rendered. No, the true horror stems from the game’s one nod to realism, which is that S.T.A.R.S. medic Rebecca Chambers and escaped prisoner Billy Cohen can only carry so many items at once, and if they suddenly find themselves in need of a key item, they’ll have to backtrack to wherever it was that they dropped it.
Within the bonus “Leech Hunter” mini-game, this decision makes sense, as players have to strategically strip their inventory of vital weapons and first-aid sprays in order to carry more leeches out of the mansion. But it’s a cripplingly inefficient system to leave in the game, especially since Capcom has cleaned up other systems, like replacing the “tank” controls of yore in favor of free three-dimensional movement against the pre-rendered backgrounds—even though one’s ability to aim is still limited to one axis.
Issues like this leave players with very little reason to return to the game beyond educational nostalgia, or a chance to see how far the series has come since its “origins.” More recent titles like Resident Evil: Revelations 2 have done a far better job of recapturing both the original atmosphere and, in the case of Zero, the lauded-at-the-time partner-swapping mechanic. But beyond the fact that this HD remaster offers players a brief zombies-on-a-train scenario, everything else plays exactly by the books.
There’s a mansion filled with doors that can only be unlocked with color-coded keys, and beneath that infested house, there’s a laboratory that harbors dark secrets. There are no clever twists, no noteworthy riddles (unless you count an irritating block-pushing one that can only be reset by leaving and re-entering the room), and every enemy encounter, including those against bosses, is resolved in the same bullet-sponging fashion.
Instead of improving upon the basic mechanics, such as the way fixed camera angles often make it impossible to see (or dodge) lumbering monsters, the remaster indulges in fan service. Players can now dress up Rebecca in a whole slew of inappropriate costumes (Nurse, Cheerleader) that serve only to reinforce the game’s sexism (such as Rebecca’s inability to move any heavy objects, or the fact that Billy has to keep saving her). As a nod to long-time players, there’s also an unlockable Wesker Mode, which swaps the modern-day, Uroborus-powered Wesker for Billy’s character (the story remains the same). It’s not a fun way to replay an already shallow game, and the inclusion of unnatural abilities like a Death Stare that causes enemy heads to explode only makes the realistic inventory space more frustrating.
Compared to the original Resident Evil, Zero is a decent, albeit outdated, survival-horror game. That said, there are plenty of “decent” classic titles and, like movies, you can’t just slap a Criterion Collection-like stamp on any product and make it new or necessary. Without any truly unique qualities to speak of (positive ones, at least), especially within the already glutted Resident Evil series, it’s impossible to recommend revisiting Zero to anyone but the most obsessed and completionist of fans.