Soapbox features allow our individual writers and contributors to express their opinions on hot topics and random things they’ve been chewing on. Today, as RE0 turns 20, Ollie remembers one of the series’ best openers…
Resident Evil Zero gets a pretty bad rap.
When it launched on the GameCube on November 12, 2002 – exactly 20 years ago – it was sandwiched between the excellent Resident Evil remake and the upcoming behemoth Resident Evil 4. Fans and critics alike were understandably getting pretty fed up with the franchise’s apparent reluctance to break. away from its reliance on pre-rendered backgrounds and aging tank controls, and for many Zero felt like the final straw.
Not only that, but the game made some pretty misguided decisions when it came to gameplay. Zero introduced the ability to switch between the two protagonists, Rebecca Chambers and Billy Coen, with the former able to mix herbs and the latter equipped with more physical strength. Additionally, the item crises were banished, introducing the ability to drop items wherever you want. While both of these approaches were interesting, they both ended up causing unnecessary annoyances in practice and it’s no surprise that neither stayed in the franchise for long.
Those issues aside, however, Resident Evil Zero’s opening segment involving a sleek, double-decker luxury train called the Ecliptic Express remains one of the series’ most engaging and memorable sequences to this day. I absolutely Love The. An hour or two long — before moving on to the actual “meat” of the game (“yum yum” – Generic Zombie) — the opening sequence is classic RE gameplay mixed with the more breakneck pace of Resident Evil 4; it is simply not a moment wasted.
A quick recap if you’re struggling to remember the intro. You end up on the train after a short cutscene that sets up the general premise: you, as Rebecca Chambers, are tasked with tracking down a wanted criminal accused of murdering 23 people. But it’s clear, we know that Billy Coen — with his sleek hair and massive arm tattoo — is not the only danger that lies in wait. The train is positively teeming with zombies, grotesque leeches and of course a giant scorpion. Because why would not a giant scorpion be aboard a luxury train?
The beauty of trains, of course, is that there is very little room to manoeuvre; something that hurts your back in real life during rush hour, but makes for some pretty exciting scenarios in horror. Take Train to Busan, for example — if you haven’t seen that movie yet, do yourself a favor and get it. When it comes to Resident Evil, one of the biggest tips shared by players since the series began is to “conserve your ammo”. Preserve. Your. Ammunition. The choice to simply avoid fights and save your precious bullets for more aggressive enemies later has always been a staple of the franchise, but Zero’s train section pretty much takes this approach and stomps it into the ground, throwing zombies at you from both ends of the carriages and forcing you to take them down. You can perhaps avoid them if you’re lucky, but it’s a huge gamble.
Towards the end of the sequence, the train starts to speed out of control and it’s up to Rebecca and Billy to apply the emergency brakes before it crashes and ends the game. These “race against time” sections are normally saved for the end of Resident Evil games, but the introduction here, near the beginning, is such a welcome change of pace and really wraps up the entire opening section perfectly. What’s more, if you somehow did manage to avoid the zombies on your way, you’ve now got a whole bunch of them in your way as the timer counts down. It’s stressful to say the least – just as it should be.
On top of this, the whole train sequence is a real feast for the eyes. It’s one of the most beautiful environments in any Resident Evil game, with the movement of the train and accompanying rain making for some truly beautiful lighting effects. It gets even better when you climb onto the roof too: the torrent of rain and wind through the air makes you feel like you’re really on top of a speeding train; it’s really quite remarkable for a GameCube game. It’s a natural progression of what Capcom achieved with the Resident Evil remake, and I’m really so thankful that the company chose not to release the game on the N64 as originally intended.
Perhaps more than anything, I really appreciate how unique this opening section is. Trains in video games are normally used to channel players to a goal or as a new way to get from point A to point B, and even if they appear in a horror game – like Resident Evil 6, for example – their inclusion is usually brief . , which acts as a transition room, liminal space as you move from one central location to the next.
But in Resident Evil Zero, the Ecliptic Express is the real star of the show, and it’s simply the perfect way to open what turned out to be a massively underrated title in Capcom’s franchise.
More trains, please!
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