Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they’ve been chewing over. 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 GameCube on 12th November 2002 — exactly 20 years ago — it was sandwiched right between the excellent remake of Resident Evil and the upcoming behemoth Resident Evil 4. Fans and critics alike were understandably getting quite fatigued at the franchise’s apparent unwillingness to break away from its reliance on pre-rendered backgrounds and ageing tank controls, and for many, Zero felt like the last straw.
Not only that, but the game took some pretty misguided decisions when it came to its gameplay. Zero introduced the ability to switch between the two main protagonists, Rebecca Chambers and Billy Coen, with the former able to mix herbs and the latter endowed with more physical strength. In addition, item chests were banished, introducing the ability to drop items anywhere you like. While both of these approaches were interesting, they both wound up causing unnecessary annoyances in practice and it’s no surprise that neither featured in the franchise for the long haul.
Those issues aside, though, Resident Evil Zero’s opening segment involving a fancy, two-storied luxury train called the Ecliptic Express is still one of the series’ most engaging and memorable sequences to this very day. I absolutely love it. An hour or two in length — before you move onto the actual “meat” of the game (“yum yum” – Generic Zombie) — the opening sequence is classic RE gameplay mixed with the more breakneck pacing of Resident Evil 4; there’s simply not a moment wasted.
A quick recap if you’re struggling to recall the intro. You wind up in the train after a brief cutscene that sets up the general premise: you, as Rebecca Chambers, are tasked with locating a wanted felon who’s charged with murdering 23 people. But of course, we know that Billy Coen — with his slicked-back hair and massive arm tattoo — isn’t the only danger lying in wait. The train is positively heaving with zombies, grotesque leech creatures, and of course, a gigantic scorpion. Because why wouldn’t a gigantic scorpion be aboard a luxury train?
The great thing about trains, of course, is that there’s very little room to manoeuvre; something that’s a pain in the backside in real life during rush hour, but makes for some pretty exciting scenarios in horror. Take Train to Busan, for instance — if you’ve not seen that movie yet, do yourself a favour and get it done. When it comes to Resident Evil, one of the biggest tips that players have been sharing since the series began is to ‘conserve your ammo’. Conserve. Your. Ammo. The choice to simply avoid fights and save your precious bullets for more aggressive enemies later on 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 maybe avoid them if you’re lucky, but it’s a huge gamble.
Towards the end of the sequence, the train begins 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 its introduction here, near the beginning, is such a welcome change of pace and really caps off the whole opening section perfectly. What’s more, if somehow you did manage to avoid the zombies on your way, you’ve now got a whole bunch of them getting in your path while the timer counts down. It’s stressful, to say the least — just as it should be.
On top of this, the entirety of the train sequence is a real feast for the eyes. It’s one of the most gorgeous environments in any Resident Evil game, with the movement of the train and the accompanying rainfall making for some truly beautiful lighting effects. It gets even better when you climb up onto the roof, too: the barrage of rainfall and the 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 evolution of what Capcom achieved with the Resident Evil remake, and I’m genuinely so thankful that the company opted not to release the game on the N64 as originally intended.
Perhaps more than anything, I really appreciate just how unique this opening section is. Trains in video games are normally used to funnel players to an objective or as a novel means of getting from point A to point B, and even if they appear in a horror game — like Resident Evil 6, for instance — their inclusion is usually brief, serving as a transitional, liminal space as you make your way from one core 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 severely underrated title in Capcom’s franchise.
More trains, please!