Game reviews: Resident Evil Zero and Oxenfree

Survival horror game remakes go from the sublime (Oxenfree) to the predictable (Resident Evil Zero)

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 January, 2016, 2:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 January, 2016, 2:00am

Oxenfree

Night School Studio

Two trends are currently dominating video games: a ridiculous amount of remakes (see the second review) and a sometimes innovative, often uninspired spate of survival horror (ditto). It’s the latter we’re concerned with here, and the genre’s proliferation makes sense: small-time developers, working in a context that embraces low budgets and features near endless creative possibilities.

Just look at Oxenfree, a fairly minor game available for the PC, Mac, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and far removed from any of its recent ilk. On the surface, it’s your everyday horror set-up – a group of high school kids explore a potentially haunted island – but it’s in the way it plays out and its inventive use of conversation that the game truly separates itself.

Oxenfree is simple, almost gracefully so, with players taking on a young girl surrounded by her friends. Sure, there are puzzles, and yes, you’ll meet some scary ghosts. But the way you follow the story comes down to your own relationship decisions. Who you like, who you want to spend time with, and how you vocalise those feelings through chats – much like in real life.

Your friends are constantly conversing and the novelty here is the speed at which it all plays out. You’re given mere milliseconds to choose a response, and if you don’t chime in, the conversation moves on and you’re ignored. Oxenfree’s dialogue flow is incredible, and banter is quickly eased in through superb writing and impressive voice acting.

Traditional horror elements set in through the use of a crackly radio, easily equipped at the press of a button. Your character can tune into a number of varied stations, some humdrum like a standard piano recital, others absolutely hair-raising such as a seemingly innocuous instruction manual being read aloud. Without spoiling anything, the radio also acts as a fascinating device that eventually allows you to relive certain portions of the game over and over again.

There’s a lot going on in Oxenfree, a lot more than its seemingly humble surface initially shows. It’s not so much horror, as the horror of being a teenager, battling it out in the real-world setting of friendships, conversations and worries. Oxenfree is the kind of game that gives us faith in the gaming world: small and steeped in genre conventions, but filled with possibilities that go far beyond traditional set-ups

Resident Evil Zero

Capcom

Last year’s Resident Evil remake was a brilliant coup for Capcom amid a vastly oversaturated reboot world – an update that snuck its way onto screens with little fanfare, but shocked unaware fans by nostalgically sending us back into the bowels of the revolutionary survival horror game.

Maybe it’s our undue hype that’s let us down here, but the Resident Evil Zero HD remaster just doesn’t quite give us the same solid chills. Available for the PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, it’s cut from the same Nintendo Gamecube cloth as last year’s “sequel”, but Zero unfortunately suffers from being a little too close to its original source.

When released in 2002, the game was seen as a satisfying throwback for a series gradually straying far into bizarre territory. Now, in a world where survival horror games are a dime a dozen and need something special to stand out, the seams truly show. They are most obvious in Zero’s terribly weak story – in classic prequel fashion, the plot is plagued by an over-reliance on the original follow-up, thoroughly explaining situations and building needless context to the point where the eight-hour campaign creates few surprises.

It eventually leads onto the gameplay, a predictable set of survival horror tropes where every zombie character appears exactly where you expect them and every mutant boss feels strangely familiar.

But where we can’t fault Capcom, is in its hi-def attempts: the game looks incredible, featuring vastly improved textures, sleek character models and heightened ambient lightning. While that impressive sense of visual fear is occasionally let down by the game’s sadly upscaled cut scenes, it at least gives us the appearance of a worthy remaster, if not exactly the full experience.

Other major additions include an updated control scheme that thankfully offers the option of classic tank-style or an easier modern scheme, as well as the choice between 4:3 or a zoomed-in 16:9 view.

Resident Evil Zero is a bit of a washout, but possibly only in the context of last year’s brilliant original upgrade. If you missed it and have rose-tinted memories of this version, by all means, join in on Zero’s zombie fun.