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ups: Good puzzles; interesting storyline; very creepy; great musical score.
downs: Still stuck with old control scheme; fixed camera angles still cause a problem.

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Resident Evil Zero Review (GC)
game: Resident Evil Zero
four star
posted by: Aaron Stanton
publisher: Capcom
developer: Capcom Production Studio 4 / Capcom Production Studio
date posted: 09:10 AM Mon Dec 16th, 2002
last revision: 12:11 AM Tue Oct 25th, 2005

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I want to put forth a theory. I don\'t like zombies. They fight dirty. They bite. They scratch. They taste bad when you bite back. I mean, I really don\'t like zombies, which makes it unfortunate that they seem to love me. It doesn\'t matter much what game I\'m playing; if there\'s a zombie, I can pretty much assure you that they\'ll be slowly limpin\' around, doing their shuffling thing, probably with their arms outstretched, all just hoping for a chance to gnaw on my neck. So I thought for a while, trying to come up with some common denominator between all the zombie games; what is it that makes me so tasty? So here\'s my thought. Healing potions. Red bottles, blue bottles, First Aid spray; whatever you call it, it\'s the stuff that you carry around on adventures and takes care everything from morning acne and lower back pain to gingivitis and detached limbs. Without fail, if you find some of this stuff in a game I can guarantee you\'re about to find another dead guy around the corner looking to you to satisfy his sweet tooth. So after a great deal of thought, I realized: This stuff isn\'t just healing potion, it\'s actually some form of zombie pheromone, like an aphrodisiac for the undead. The developers keep throwing in bottles to keep the zombies up and rearing to go, sort of liking prodding a bull before launching it at the clown with the red flag. Every time there\'s a lull in the game, a pause to breath, we gamers splash another dose of the stuff in the red bottle onto our necks and out comes another onslaught. Makes you think, doesn\'t it? So personally, if I ever find myself killing zombies in real life, I ain\'t touching the stuff in the red bottle.

On to the game.

No franchise has done more to evolve the zombie as a creepy adversary in video games than Resident Evil. Oh sure. Other games have zombies, but no franchise has worked so diligently over time to evolve the atmospheric feel of the zombie, the thing that makes you long for rabies shots after every time your character has a close encounter. Resident Evil Zero, in many ways, is a culmination of everything good about the series ? the creepy atmosphere, the interesting story, the satisfaction of solving a good puzzle ? all these things appear in spades. Without a doubt, Zero is the sharpest and prettiest Resident Evil to ever make an appearance. Just seeing it in action should be enough to make anyone who doesn\'t own a Gamecube slightly regretful. Zero is detailed and scary, with an excellent musical score, and puzzles that are well balanced. Unfortunately, it is also the culmination of the flawed game play mechanics that have plagued Resident Evil from the start, with the same lumbering controls and the same pre-rendered camera angles that constantly leave attacking monsters outside your screen. Where once Resident Evil pushed the gaming envelope with new ideas and forced others to catch up, now the series finds itself desperately in need of taking a hint from its competitors that have done it right. So here it goes. Hint, hint: Change the control scheme. Then you can keep scaring the crap out of us.

When you first launch the game, there are two things that you\'ll notice (aside from the odd way that the announcer says \"Zero\" when you press start). The atmosphere, and the visuals. The sense of returning to a good book to learn more about the beginning, of hearing about the start of your favorite story from the wise man one dark night, prevails throughout the entire opening. From the moment you take over your character, a young woman on the S.T.A.R.S. task force, and the rain starts to fall on the roof of the armored train, the dark atmosphere reaches to your bones. It\'s like a little voice in your head, whispering, \"You must find a save point. You\'re going to die.\" It\'s simply excellent.

The game places you in control of two characters this time around, one a young S.T.A.R.S. agent separated from her team, and the other an escaped convict sentenced for execution by a military court. The two find themselves forced together in order to survive, battling various evils, which are resident mainly in a mansion owned and operated by the Umbrella Corporation. Such is the story, which unfolds nicely as you progress through the game and lean more about the start of the T-virus. As the player you control both characters, switching between them at the convenient tap of a button. While you\'re in control of one, the computer takes care of the other, behaving based on a number of different adjustable settings, from levels of aggression to whether or not you want to operate as a team, or solo. In a very good move, Capcom uses the second analog stick on the Gamecube\'s control pad to override the computer controls of the character you\'re not currently occupying. This makes sure the two never get in each other\'s way.

The visual style is excellent and breathtaking at the same time. Resident Evil Zero still utilizes pre-rendered backgrounds, allowing the artists to include incredible amounts of detail. Animations are then added atop the still images, providing for pots and pans that rock gently to the motion of the train, shadows that appear dynamically cast over the floor, and realistic candlelight from a nearby wick. In Zero, the technique has been evolved to its pinnacle, and taken frame by frame produces a visual quality that is matched by none. The static nature of the camera also allows the game designers to control the views with the precision of a movie director, choosing odd angles and unnerving perspectives to show whatever gruesome scene they like to ultimate effect. The result is a truly intense experience, a style that perfectly fits with the dark nature of the game.

But the camera angles also create problems. To start with, there are an appalling number of pauses, mostly in the first scenes, for loading. Especially on the train, where you move quickly from one car to the next, these brief animations for opening and closing doors (which I can only imagine are there to disguise load times), and going up and down steps, are everywhere. This becomes distinctly less noticeable as you move on in the game into bigger rooms, when it takes more time to satisfy yourself that you\'re not missing anything valuable, but I guarantee it will be noticed. My only conclusion is that this style of presentation must demand quite a bit of the console\'s time and thought power.

A more significant drawback has to do with what you can see. When a static camera is facing your character head on, you simply can\'t see what your character is looking at without inching your way forward into the next scene, where the camera angle shifts to reveal more of your surroundings. That really sucks if there\'s a zombie a half-foot outside your viewing range, and in order to see him you have to walk forward into his arms. It\'s like a close up shot in a movie. Yes, it\'s great to see that much detail of your character\'s face, but it really sucks if you\'re trying to blow the head off of a wandering monster that you can no longer see to aim at. No matter how good the game looks, it shouldn\'t sacrifice game dynamic, and sadly, this style sometimes does. There are very few players that won\'t, at some point, find themselves guessing about whether or not they\'re hitting the monster at the end of the hall that they\'re trying to hit, simply because they had to back up in order to get a clear shot. This could have been made much less tedious if there had been some form of auto-aim function. While the gun initially points at your target when you first raise the gun, the monster is very capable of meandering a little to the left or right so that you\'re shooting over his head, or aiming at the fellow behind him. You also can\'t walk while training a gun at an enemy, which means if you want to retreat, you have to lower the gun, walk backwards, and re-aim. If you happen to cross a camera angle line, so that you can no longer see the monster, you\'re basically screwed. In truth, it just seems cumbersome after the targeting system found in Eternal Darkness, which made the process in many respects painless.

It\'s the camera angles that drive the antiquated control scheme, as well. Since the cameras shift abruptly from one angle to the next, the controls need to be intuitive for the player, since what was left in the previous screen might easily now be in the lower right corner in the new. As a consequence, Resident Evil Zero still has a \"push left or right to rotate, up to go forward\" style of controls. Not only does it take practice to become accustomed to, it also means that turning around, aiming, and pretty much any other action in the game are tremendously slowed down. I can\'t help but think that this is one of Capcom\'s ways of making a shuffling, slow moving zombie a formidable opponent, since you have to be lumbering, slow moving prey in order for him to ever even catch you. I can\'t say for sure, but I\'d be willing to guess that both your characters, no matter how kick-butt they may be on the killing floor, were always chosen last during a game of basketball. They are not the quickest moving pair you\'ve ever seen when it comes to turning left and right. These are issues that have been mentioned in almost every review of a modern Resident Evil game to hit the market. Why they remain unchanged and unaddressed is beyond me.

Yet, Zero provides a bit of extra good at the same time as not correcting issues of the past. By placing you in control of both characters, you have access to an entire breed of new puzzles. Throughout the game you\'ll find yourself desperately running to save partners, hold open doors and grate covers, and generally working in conjunction to accomplish goals. This blend of teamwork and puzzle solving flows surprisingly well, and is a very clear credit to the game. The designers also decided to get rid of item boxes this time around, which is a nice change. Now you can drop any item at any location without fear of it disappearing. An added \"locate item\" feature on the map make it easy to find the little tidbits that you\'ve left scattered around in your wake. This saves a tremendous amount of back tracking, since you no longer have to worry about storing things properly whenever you run out of inventory space and want to trade one valuable item for another. Save ribbons, which allow you to store your progress to a memory card, are about in high volume, thank goodness, though you will always be short on ammunition.

When it comes down to it, the loss of the Resident Evil series to the Gamecube is still one that other console owners should be mourning. It is one of the scariest games available, across the platform line, great for those with an eye for late night gaming bouts and a surround sound system. Yet, even so, it\'s impossible to ignore the fact that the complaints listed here are the exact same as those listed in the reviews of the Resident Evil games of the past. While Zero evolves almost every other aspect of the series, it leaves the basic game dynamics unchanged and showing a bit of age. Without a doubt worth your time if you\'re a fan of the series, I can\'t help but shake my head and wish it hadn\'t been just a little bit better.

And think about what I said in regards to the healing potions. Pheromones. Drives them wild. Don\'t say I didn\'t warn you.

Aaron Stanton (12/16/2002)

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