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Resident Evil is an extremely popular survival horror franchise by Capcom. From the release of the first game in 1996, the series is still doing exceptionally well both commercially, and critically, and Resident Evil Zero is no exception.
A third-person puzzle\action zombie shooter, the game is a prequel to the original Resident Evil title, explaining how certain elite rescue team S.T.A.R.S members came to be in the now iconic mansion at the beginning of the first game, and further exploring earlier roles of such popular characters as Rebecca Chambers, William Birkin, and everyone's favourite; Albert Wesker.
The game's graphics are truly outstanding, especially for a port of a Gamecube game, and would not look out of place if they were released today. The game's beautiful rendering, believable lighting effects and realistic character models make for a superb cinematic experience, greatly enhanced by the tremendously eerie musical score, to make for a terrifying horror experience.
The player controls Rebecca Chambers (Resident Evil I) and an escaped court-martialed soldier named Billy Coen. The two have seperate inventories and frequently work together to solve puzzles, which is engaging and definitely gets you thinking logically. You can switch between the two at almost any point, and have the other controlled by the surprisingly good computer AI, or you can leave one in a certain place and have them make two-pronged assaults on rooms or just tactical rendezvous. The interface works really well and is pretty intuitive, forcing the player to make choices about who to use for which task (Billy is particularly strong and can move and manipulate heavy objects, whereas Rebecca is lighter on her feet and can mix various herbs and chemicals.) This doesn't actually do away with the idea of isolation which made the series so cool, since when you're without your parnter, it really hits home that you have to be careful.
Following the release of Resident Evil III: Nemesis, the franchise seemed to be losing its way, straying from its roots as a puzzle-emphasized game into a meagre repetitive zombie shooter, but Resident Evil Zero is a brilliant throwback to the puzzlier early titles, culminating in a highly cerebral game that is broken up by intensely tactical and very challenging visceral combat, with myriad enemy types, skins and weaponry.
Like all the earlier games, the player has to read files scattered about the complex to uncover vital information about the game's original and entertaining plot points. As a prequel, Resident Evil Zero is very expositional and really throws some interesting new ideas and explanations out there that die-hard fans of the series will no doubt thoroughly enjoy.
Great-looking CG FMV sequences appear frequently throughout to carry the story along. Believable voice-acting and likeable, identifiable characters definitely shine and impress, and this game is more-or-less the first in which Albert Wesker really comes into his own as an Anti-hero.
The only noteworthy flaws with the game are threefold. The inventory screen is as irksome as ever. Rather than the traditional "safe" to store items in, the player just puts key items and ammo down on the floor, because both characters have extremely limited inventory, so you frequently have to backtrack through levels to pick up ammo, which is very important due to one of my favourite features in the game - Limited resources. Every bullet counts, especially on the harder modes, which can lead to some very intense combat. Either way though, the inventory system is simply not ideal, and there's definitely a lot more running around back and forth to pick things up and drop them than there should be.
The controls are also a bit tricky. The new Wii Remote usability absolutely stinks, and you're best off buying a Venom Classic\Gamecube controller for a few quid to play Zero with, but even then, it's not quite perfect. Very occasionally you'll find yourself going "Bah! I didn't want to go that way!" and having to turn around, which can be a bit frustrating but doesn't really detract from the very high quality of the game.
Also, the port of this game to the Wii is an utter waste of time, since apart from being able to use the Wii Remote (even though doing so would result in you just getting killed over and over again) nothing has changed from the original 2002 Gamecube version, apart from the fact they've written "Resident Evil Archives" on the top of the box. I'm serious. That's literally everything they've done. If you can get the Gamecube version at a better price. Go for it, remembering of course that Wii is completely back-compatible with the Gamecube, and will handle it identically.
Bonus features are sparse at best, a fairly dull item-collection minigame and a few new character outfits are pretty much all there is to it, but meta-gaming was never really the emphasis here, even though the classic scoring system for game completion is still here, which was always a staple of Resident Evil. The game has surprisingly high longevity too, and you'll get a good twenty or so hours of gameplay out of this, since it's so addictive and immersive, and that's if you only ever play it the once.
This is real old school Resident Evil, ammo-management, spooky atmosphere, puzzle-solving and being jumped in the dark by all manner of horrible things. This is before Resident Evil decided to run with the boring, contrived, all over-the-shoulder, kill-everything-in-sight idea. Resident Evil Zero is visceral, atmospheric, interesting and brilliantly conceived. Despite marginal interface flaws, this is an absolute must for any survival-horror fans, and undoubtedly one of the best games, if not the best game in the entire series.