Most gamers know how "Resident Evil" started: A squad of STARS officers crash-landed near a mysterious mansion and discovered a zombie outbreak at that facility. The rest is video game history, with Umbrella's virus infecting all of Raccoon City before the U.S. government obliterated everything in the area.
Many may forget, however, that there was a "Resident Evil" incident before the crash-landing. Back in 2002, Capcom released a prequel of sorts, "Resident Evil Zero," which gave players a glimpse into the origin of the zombie epidemic while introducing a campaign involving two heroes. That two-person concept eventually made its way into "Resident Evil 5" and later versions.
Now Capcom has rereleased this overlooked part of the zombie saga, with new extras and visual improvements. Dubbed "Resident Evil Zero HD," it is essentially a time capsule from gaming history. "Zero HD" shows off beautiful but static scenery and visuals that remain two steps below today's top tier. And some of the frustrating original gameplay mechanics remain in the rerelease.
The campaign starts off with Rebecca Chambers, a rookie STARS officer, investigating a broken-down train -- the Ecliptic Express. She soon discovers it's full of zombies, and before long an escaped convict named Billy Coen shows up. Facing a horde of the undead, these two decide to work together to escape from the train -- and also a secret Umbrella training facility, laboratory, factory, dam and water treatment plant.
The escape demands plenty of teamwork. Billy has the stamina to push around wooden crates and endure injuries, while Rebecca, the STARS medic, can create healing salves from herbs found at the complex and can squeeze into tight spaces.
Players have the option of switching off the controls for Rebecca and Billy. They also can have one follow the other, or go solo while the other waits. There are even moments when the two get separated.
The teamwork mechanic is a double-edged sword, however. It works well in small doses, but too often the developers overcomplicate the puzzles Rebecca and Billy face. That problem is made worse by a system that limits how many items Rebecca and Billy can carry with them. Instead of battling zombies and other monsters, players spend too much time fumbling with an item screen, trying to figure out what weapons and other items these two can carry with them. That's a huge pain.
Originally, this feature added a strategic element, since players had to monitor how much ammo they fired so as not to run out. But Capcom gives players enough bullets that rationing is no longer necessary. Instead, Rebecca and Billy must discard some items and trade others to make it through the puzzles facing them, and advance.
Another drawback of the early "Resident Evil" games was the camera angles. The series came out before machines could fully render polygonal worlds. To work around that limitation, developers depicted polygonal characters against rendered backdrops. Though forward-thinking at the time, this solution looks dated now, and it leads to some frustrating control problems. The constantly changing camera angles mean players can run straight into monsters they're trying to avoid, or they can get completely lost.
For franchise veterans, Capcom has added some value with the Wesker Mode, which allows a player to substitute the franchise's villain for Billy after winning a round. The villain's enhanced powers makes the next round enjoyable.
But even with the upgrades, too many flaws still mar "Resident Evil Zero HD." And the old-school charm of this lesser chapter from the long-running zombie saga can't fully compensate.
'Resident Evil Zero HD'
Platform: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC