A couple weeks ago I set out to play through the entire Resident Evil saga in story order. Why? I don't know, probably because I like Resident Evil and never played some of the games or maybe because I'm crazy. Who knows such things.
I discovered the series with Resident Evil 2 and it was magical. The graphics, the music, the atmosphere, the gore. All of it struck a chord in me like few other games did before. But what about the controls, the terrible gameplay? Well the first time i picked up the controller to play it, I hadn't read the instructions, no one told me how to play, the game doesn't have tutorials, I just played and it instantly made sense how everything worked.
My interest for the series would maintain itself for years. Sure I didn't like Resident Evil: Code Veronica quite as much, nor did I have a GameCube to play Resident Evil Zero and the remake of the first game. Even when Resident Evil 4 took the series in a new direction I was still thrilled for a new game, especially after such a long break in between games having skipped over the GameCube ones.
And then my interest declined. Resident Evil 5 just didn't reached the same heights that its predecessor did and I was no longer convinced I liked the new, more action oriented direction the series took with the fourth installment and I certainly was no fan of the Co-op focused gameplay. But this is a story for another time. For now let's go back to where it all began. July 1998, Arklay Mountains, Racoon City.
What better way to start this year long endeavour than to go back to classic Resident Evil gameplay in one of the games I never played? Well one that was good would have been better. Ok it may be a bit unfair. It's never easy going back and discover a decade old game for the first time with no nostalgia attached to it and trying not to judge it by today's standards. I feel that it's when judging that game by the standards of its time and those set by its predecessors that Resident Evil Zero stumbles. But for now let's start with the goof stuff.
The bad story and dialogues, the ridiculous antagonist, the dumb puzzles, tank controls. Yep, that game has them all and it's for the best. This is a Resident Evil game in the truest sense.
“Rebecca! You're safe, let's get out of here.” says Enrico, “No, i can't!” to retort Rebecca. “Ok, be safe Rebecca.” And with that shrug the commanding officer of the squad was on his way out of the game. But better yet, let's have Marcus laugh maniacally as he tells you that he will have his revenge! Truly some award winning storytelling and i wouldn't have it any other way.
Dialogues and story are one thing but what about the puzzles? There's the obligatory “insert 3 tablets into X to get to Y” or how about you find some chemicals and mix them to create some makeshift battery acid? Yep it got that too. But all this is nothing compared to the game having you use a hookshot to get to the roof of a train car. I mean, ok the ladder is broken and out of reach, let's improvise and find a way up there. Hey a hookshot, I can use that! But that would be too logic for a Resident Evil game. When you get said hookshot you also find a manual detailing official instructions to the train personnel on how to use the hookshot to reach the roof of the train. I shit you not, this is standard operating procedures aboard that train!
That's the good stuff. Where the game stumbles and goes to shit for the whole duration of the adventure is in the atrocious inventory system. No more magic item box. You now drop your items on the ground and come back to retrieve them as needed. Why? For an increased sense of realism? Get that crap out of my Resident Evil! These games have always been plagued to a certain extent by a non-negligible amount of backtracking and that system amplify it ten folds. Add to it the limited size of each character's inventory and weapons such as the shotgun and grenade launcher taking two spaces each and you quickly understand that you're never going to use those weapons and that you'll constantly be making trips back and forth between the main areas as you transfer all your stuff as you progress to the next major section of the game. This is both tedious and limiting in a franchise that is already clunky in a lot of ways. It didn't need to be more than it already is.
In a way the game makes up for it by having a much more limited number of enemies to fight and never requires you to carry the big and fun weapons to take care of them but this is hardly a solution, this is a boring way around a problem. As a rule of thumb, if a game gives me a grenade launcher i want to use it. This is a real shame too because it is the only real problem i had but it is a problem that plagues the whole thing and heavily influences every other aspects of the game, all for the worst.
That left me in a tough spot. I really wanted to enjoy it and in short bursts I did. Unfortunately every time I made it to a new major area, or every time I was stuck not being able to pick up some much needed supplies or an essential puzzle item or the times I had to face one of the few more powerful enemies where a shotgun or napalm grenades would really have been handy I was reminded how fundamentaly broken the game is because of its inventory system.
And so for most of the playthrough i was trudging tediously through the game hoping to quickly reach the end and be done with it. And then... faith restored!
It may not seem like much but this copy paste of the factory in Resident Evil 2 really hit the spot. The second game is easily my favorite in the series and this is one of my favorite area of the game and revisiting this place, for as short as it was brought back some great memories and reminded me just how much fun the later games are.
I also want to put in a quick words about the visuals. This game looks stunning. Or rather looked stunning in 2002. Going back to pre-rendered backgrounds and breathing new life in them with dynamic lightings and shadows, moving vegetation and realistic looking water, the game made me pause quite a few times to try and imagine just how amazing a Resident Evil game could look on the current or next generation platforms if they were to go back to that visual style.
As you can tell I did not exactly enjoy my time with the game and I feel like I don't have all that much to say about it. Perhaps it's because there is less to it. It is certainly lighter on story and characters and if it wasn't for all the backtracking it would probably be the shortest entry in the series. It certainly feels that way. So I didn't like it but I didn't hate it either. I don't regret playing it. It was good to go back to good old tank controls and soothing music when you enter a save room. Besides, this is just a prologue that leads to great things.
REmake is next and is another one I haven't played. I did play the original PlayStation game mulitple time but have yet to see this particular version and all the additional content it came with.
I will see you next time, in a new mansion and boy, what a mansion!