The Nintendo Switch finally has some more big boy games coming, stopping the army of fans of other platforms from complaining about it being too family-oriented. Now, the grandaddy of all horror series, Resident Evil, has three games on the switch in their best sexy remastered outfit. This review will focus on Resident Evil Zero and will be a review that assumes you have never played the game. There will be no major spoilers and will firstly be an in-depth general review of the game before comparing how it feels on the Nintendo Switch to the PS4 version.
Resident Evil Zero, despite being released many years later, is actually set the day before the events of the first game. You play as Rebecca Chambers, a member of S.T.A.R.S (a special police force), who is investigating reports of some crimes of the cannibalistic variety. At this point, nothing is known about the deadly virus or outbreak of the undead, so you get to see the first living people’s reactions to the threat that has faced the people of Raccoon City and beyond, which is a very interesting part of the timeline. As well as Rebecca, you will also control the fate of Billy Coen, a convicted murderer who seized the opportunity of the apocalypse to make his escape. This may seem like an unlikely duo, but their chemistry grows over the course of the game – there’s strong character development in these games which I don’t think the writers are credited enough for.
The voice acting is a little dramatic and odd at times, with characters sometimes shouting at each other when you’re stood next to each other, but it doesn’t affect things too much. The cut scenes are much more believable and are very fun and usually action-packed moments that give off cheesy but entertaining action movie vibes. The main bulk of the plot progresses through cut scenes, they are engaging and far enough apart to not feel overwhelming – which I like a lot.
Whether you’re a fan of horror games or not, I think the Resident Evil series has a story you can enjoy and this game is no exception. There’s a lot of depth and backstory to every character and event in the overarching plot of the Resi universe and it’s very interesting. There are villains, super-powerful monsters, love interests, family relations and government secrets, it’s thrilling stuff that I feel could appeal to anyone (of a suitable age of course). With that being said, I think Resident Evil Zero is the best place to start if you’re looking to enter the universe. It sets up the story of the original game nicely and gives context to some questions you have when you finish that game, which before Zero released you had little answers to.
The combat in the Resident Evil games has always been a massive talking point. It’s very fiddly and sometimes can get you killed, which in a game of high tension and little room for error can be a massive nuisance. It’s very surprising how many shots you can actually miss when face to face with zombies and other virus-infected creatures, even in narrow corridors when it seems harder to miss. The awkward turning system whilst aiming, coupled with the very sensitive movement controls, mean that you either turn too far to get an accurate shot off, or you’re stuck against a wall so you have no option but to stand still and turn painfully slow, probably taking more hits. Don’t even get me started with the crows… Just run, if you had 5 guns you’d struggle to hit them.
The guns feel really nice though and have a very rewarding kickback animation with each shot. Even though you have access to more powerful weapons at later points, the shotgun feels the best. Getting multiple hits on zombies with one blast feels so gratifying; just be sure to save some of that ammo for the bosses, as even on normal difficulty, the zombies can be bullet sponges.
However, if you’re brave enough, Playing on ‘Normal’ is by far the best way to play the game. Having an easy setting is great because it allows more people to experience the story, but the full experience comes from having to manage every aspect of your playthrough. On easy, there’s too much of everything, so much so that you will be leaving enough herb plants that the building will begin to look like something out of I Am Legend. Instead, normal is the absolute minimum you should choose to play this game on. The inventory management is such a staple of what makes the games so effective and tense. You must make bold choices as to whether to keep that extra health on you, those two-slot guns or those ink ribbons to make a quick save before you get yourself into serious trouble and get sent back a while away.
The game is difficult but it’s meant to be, it wouldn’t feel as tense as it does if you never had any threat of dying or of making bad decisions. It’s like acting out your own little horror movie but instead of a slasher, there’s a diverse mix of mutated baddies coming to eat you. Sometimes it really is better to run and that’s what makes this, along with the other older games in the series, such fantastic leaders in the survival horror genre.
What makes this game differ from the previous games in the series is the ability to control two characters. You have a few options on how to progress through the game by utilising the strengths of both Rebecca and Billy. Rebecca is useful for mixing herbs and so is better at carrying the health for the pair. On the other hand, Billy is, perhaps a little stereotypically, the muscle. He can move large objects and interact with levers and handles that need that strength to use, allowing Rebecca to get to other places of interest before you inevitably find a route back to each other. Despite you nearly always having that partner with you, I don’t feel like it takes anything away from the scares. You still have to manage both characters’ health bars so you never feel like you’re safe. Yet, it is also true that when they get separated the tension does rack up considerably; it’s a relief when you meet back up, relative safety in numbers and all that.
Their partnership is also convenient because you can exchange items between the characters if they are stood in close proximity, which you will need to utilise as part of your item management. I think part of the reason they chose to do this is that in the previous games there were too many times that you had to leave stuff behind because you have such a small inventory. There’s still a massive aspect of item management but it’s less a pain and more like a fun and challenging layer. The item management does have another massive distinction from the earlier games, which is both a blessing and a curse. In this game, you can actually drop items and leave them lying wherever you want them. This is much better because you don’t lose the items that you drop, so you can make decisions on the fly that aren’t as impactful or regrettable as leaving that combined herb just to pick up a quest item like in the other games. No, this time they stay right there, waiting like a good boy for their owner to come back.
There is a very big downside to this though, which feels like the developers tried to balance this pro and make it feel much less powerful. That’s because in this game there is no teleporting storage box in the save rooms. A common characteristic of the series is that each save room has a storage box that you can keep all the items you find in, so you can return and change what you need. This means that they’re all grouped up in one safe place. In Zero, the items could be scattered a great distance apart depending on where you have to leave them, making backtracking common and quite annoying. I would definitely recommend leaving items in places where they are most likely to be used. For example, definitely leave those pesky ink ribbons next to the typewriters so they’re there for a quick save for when you need to.
As well as this, there are choices on how to control both of the protagonists around the environment. You can choose to have total freedom with the secondary character’s movement with the stick on the right-joy con, or you can set them into a solo or follow mode, where they will either remain right where you plonk them or stick to your ass like glue. Following this, you can have them attack on sight, or wait for you to start attacking before they fire. I think this freedom is great because it offers so many ways to play the game differently, making each playthrough feel that little bit more unique to each player. Sometimes Billy might just get in your way, or you might feel like having all the firepower while your partner is just a healing buddy, it’s completely up to you and I think it’s a very good addition for the game. It must have been a success amongst other players too, as most of the future Resident Evil games kept these features in.
As is customary with not only Resident Evil but also Survival horror in general, there are some puzzles you have to contend with to progress through the various locations you find yourself in. A lot of them are quite simple and are not tricky to work out, however they are fun and clever in design. Sometimes it’s a case of just checking every corner and finding keys to go back to previously locked rooms to then complete a mini-objective. Not always though, and some require some brain power. There are statues that you will need to place in the right position, timed maths puzzles (which by the way you can fail and I did because ‘screw you maths’ and I didn’t understand what I had to do until it was too late) and much more. The puzzles never feel like a chore though, which is important. There’s enough variation in the design of the puzzles to never feel like you’re repeating yourself and I think it’s just about the right degree of challenging; it’s usually just a case of reading every file to look for clues.
As well as for answers to puzzles, it’s worth reading files and other pieces of in-game contextual items of interest anyway because while you’re traversing through the maze-like claustrophobic settings, this is where you will discover most of what is going on. Sure, the story makes sense without reading every single piece of shiny paper glimmering in the corners but they add so much more to the world-building. You will learn so much about the motives, backgrounds and current situations of the people that you hear about and meet by reading the little notes that are left behind. It’s remarkable how effective it is because every piece is just as interesting as the last and makes you want to check every zombie-infested room in the game for any tidbits of extra information you can get.
The notes are just a piece of how well the game is put together in terms of setting. The locations vary from secret labs and trains, to big spooky mansions with hidden passages which all have that very powerful gothic horror vibe to them. I particularly like the mansion setting for the reference to the first game, it feels eerily familiar but it looks different enough to still feel like it is threatening you. The locations are a very important part of what makes the horror so special in the early Resident Evil games because of the terrific lighting and those horribly-placed static camera angles. You are always edging forward trying to get a peek of what’s around the corner but that sneaky camera won’t let you until BAM, too late, a zombie is all on your neck and suddenly “you’ve got red on you”.
How the Switch compares:
Resident Evil Zero is fully playable in handheld, tabletop or TV mode and switches between them seamlessly. I tried all three modes out for many hours and found little to no difference in the quality of my experience in each mode. The game plays just as smoothly in handheld and tabletop form as it does on the big TV screen, which is certainly impressive and gives the switch an advantage over the other platforms in terms of having that freedom on how to enjoy playing with no real compromise.
The only aspect I think it loses compared to the TV mode is that the atmosphere becomes almost non-existent when playing on the go. Unless you’re sat in bed with the lights off with headphones in your handheld Switch, the game will feel a bit more like an exploration and puzzle game with a few creepy looking enemies. What makes Resident Evil special is those horrible groans, those loud and protruding sound effects like water dripping in the bathrooms, or the inevitable smash of the glass as yet another zombie mutt attacks you and gives you a mini heart attack. These sounds are combined effectively with the wonderfully eerie piano-led soundtrack and make for an intense trudge through some settings that feel maze-like and oppressive. If you play that on a small screen, without headphones, you definitely lose a lot of what the game tries to achieve. It’s overall a much less immersive experience from playing on the larger screen because you have the whole world surrounding you to make you feel safe, rather than having that screen smack bang in the centre of your vision and taking all of your concentration.
On the plus side though, the rumble within the joy-cons is a fun and effective addition for this game. The vibration adds a significant layer to the feel of the game, as it is used for multiple components and it works superbly. Each bullet that you fire from your gun gives a satisfying kickback rumble in the joy-cons, definitely upping that immersion and giving a stand-out feature when compared to other versions of the game. Sure, other platforms have vibration too but the joy-cons use it in such a way that you feel the setting and the action, while other platforms have vibration that is more like something to let you know the shoot button works. It’s not only used for shooting though, for example, when you’re traversing the top of the train in the violent wind and rain, the rumble feels shaky like you’re struggling to maintain that balance rather than just vibrating because it’s a train. It’s a bit like VR, trying to explain it is hard but once you try it you’ll understand.
In terms of actually playing, the buttons are configured exactly as they are on other platforms but you are given a choice at the start on whether you want the ‘original’ or ‘alternate’ controls. The ‘original’ controls bring you straight back to the PS2 era, so if you don’t like Circle as “yes” or interact, as it was originally designed, or if you were simply born during the noughties, I’d highly suggest using the more modern and approachable ‘alternate’ controls. They are much more familiar to current gamers and will be easy to pick up. One little trouble I had with the modern controls is that on the Switch I often rest my index finger on the bumpers. As there’s very little pressure needed to actually press the button, sometimes while I was trying to search through the environment (yes, I mean grinding against walls and tables spamming the A button until some writing appeared), I found myself accidentally wasting precious bullets because it is a combination of holding the right bumper to aim and pressing A to shoot. So, be careful where your fingers rest because you can’t afford to be firing away precious ammo as I did. It’s great that the option exists for the older controls though because it definitely brings that nostalgia back to the more classic gamers who wish to experience the game as close to the original release as possible. A remaster like this could be completely pompous and try to modernise every aspect but that would certainly take away some of its charm, so I commend Capcom for showing the originals some love.
In terms of sheer performance, I was pleasantly surprised by just how little difference in graphical quality there is from the PS4’s remastered version. Cut scenes are just as pretty and polished and the game runs just as smoothly in terms of gameplay. There were a couple of instances where the environment would have objects moving in the background and there was some sort of motion blur that seemed to attempt to cover up some lower frames per second. An example is there is a section where curtains and plants are blowing from the wind outside because of a smashed window (I know, surprise surprise in a Resi game) but it doesn’t look quite right. It feels more like a flip book with pages missing in the middle rather than a nice smooth movement from those objects. Having some objects moving in a weird motion when stuck onto a pre-rendered background can look a little clumsy but it doesn’t take anything away from how good the game looks.
Other than those pretty insignificant frame rates, I only have one other minor complaint. It’s nothing too serious but the only thing that arguably affected the gameplay was that loading times were a little longer compared to the PS4 or Xbox One versions (maybe 5 or 6 seconds longer per door you enter) which isn’t drastic but definitely noticeable. As Resident Evil is about item management and requires a lot of backtracking, having to travel to and fro with longer load times definitely starts to become annoying, so I would suggest checking your map thoroughly so you don’t take any longer routes than necessary.
It hadn’t been that long since I last played Resident Evil Zero on PS4, a few months at most. That being said, I couldn’t put the game down again on the Switch because I was just as gripped as I was the first time I played it. The game truly has something for everyone and serves as a perfect introduction to the greatest and most successful horror game series of all time. Resident Evil Zero plays like a nightmare that you want to fall back asleep into; it’s not pleasant but I never want it to end. It’s a fitting and tasteful remaster and the Switch port holds its own against the more powerful platforms while being able to provide an alternate way of playing. There are still those niggling controls that tamper with how your experience plays out but it’s not bad enough to take away from the game.
The story is fantastic, the tension never lets up and you get to shotgun zombies and cocky mutants in the face on the go. There’s even a mode to unlock where you play as Albert Wesker, “you’re merely postponing the inevitable” by reading this, go play it now!