Resident Evil: Zero Hour (S.D. Perry)
Resident Evil: Zero Hour (based on the game of the same name) is technically a prequel to the events of Resident Evil 1, and its associated novel, The Umbrella Conspiracy. The book doesn't quite work as a prequel, however, as blatant contradictions in continuity don't mesh with the events of the groundbreaking game, and as a result, the story is more of an alternate reality than a prequel. That being said, the book is a competent novelization of the game, bringing the atmosphere and pacing of a Resident Evil game into text. This also means that some of the weaknesses from the games - silly puzzles, an overcomplicated plot, and weak dialogue - are translated into book form, and overall Zero Hour is a disappointing read.
The book starts with our protagonist, Rebecca Chambers, investigating a derelict train in the forests around Raccoon City. She encounters the predictable, zombies, and the slightly less predictable, an escaped prisoner named Billy who was on his way to execution just hours before. Billy serves as the male lead for the story, and works together with Rebecca to escape the nightmare that both become trapped in. Unfortunately, what could have been an extremely interesting source of tension between the two (and the reader) is scrapped early on in Billy's first point of view sequence. The character mentally laments his fate and makes it fairly clear that he isn't A.) a psychopathic killer or B.) guilty of anything he has been convicted of. Though Rebecca doesn't know this, the reader does, and the resulting conflict between the two feels extremely hollow as there is little doubt as to the outcome. Just leaving out Billy's thoughts about his sentencing would have drastically improved the relationship by adding a layer of complexity sorely missing from either character.
Rebecca and Billy are heavily focused upon throughout the book- there are no secondary characters of importance and only a handful of short antagonist scenes. Unfortunately, neither character develops much over the course of the story. Both are generic "survivor" archetypes and the dynamic between the two is completely flat. Their interactions consist of some lame jokes, Billy's cliché back story, and some forced sexual tension. They aren't actively unlikable, but they do absolutely nothing to earn the support of the reader.
The story begins to really take off when the train they have been investigating begins moving. A fairly tense couple of scenes ensues, culminating in a crash at the Umbrella training facility. From there, the duo explore the decrepit mansion, uncovering clues about the experiments and leaders of Umbrella corporation. They are also intent on escaping their creepy surroundings, but of course to do this they must escape a wide array of gruesome monsters and biological experiments. These creatures are fairly interesting, and described very well by the author, who manages to vividly incorporate sight, sound, and smell in her descriptions of the beasts. She does the same with the decaying setting of the old mansion, and manages to create a foreboding and sinister atmosphere.
Despite the prevalent gore and violence, the book never really achieves suspense or horror. The antagonists could be blamed for much of this. There are three principal antagonists throughout this book. The first two, William Birkin and Albert Wesker, are purely expository characters. They clearly work counter to what our heroes want, but they never interfere in the story progression and mostly watch from afar. These two are included more to flesh out background details about Umbrella and future games in the series than to serve as opposition. Their scenes are somewhat unnecessary, and only devout fans of the series will appreciate what these two bring to the book.. The main antagonist is ostensibly James Marcus, creator of the original T-Virus. In true Resident Evil fashion, this antagonist is revealed to be much more than human, and transforms into a big scary monster, then chases our heroes around at the end of the book. As a boss fight, the character works really well, but as a villain he is a bit too hands off, particularly at the beginning of the story. In fact, our heroes encounter Marcus out of more coincidence than anything. Despite his shortcomings, the final encounter is classic Resident Evil, and captures the feel of the game very well.
The author tries to incorporate two other crucial elements from the game, to decidedly mixed results. The first is to include the "survival" portion of the game. To do this, the author constantly reminds the reader of the limited quantity of bullets that our characters have, and has them maneuver around zombies instead of killing them. This is a great touch that doesn't interfere with the flow of the story, manages to introduce the slightest bit of tension, and helps to connect the novel to the game. On the other hand, the terribly boring puzzles from the games are used quite often here, especially in the first half of the book. There is really no way to write these puzzles in an interesting way as they are generally something like "find something, find where it is supposed to be placed, advance to the next area" and this book does little to expand upon that structure. Our heroes conveniently find random items that later help them through one of the book's many confounds, and by about the fourth such occurrence, the formula becomes extremely tiresome. This element of the games could have been safely scrapped for the novelization.
Zero Hour is a less than great novelization. To be fair, there isn't much to work with as Billy and Rebecca weren't written as particularly interesting characters, and Resident Evil villains are judged by the difficulty of their boss fight and not necessarily the complexity of their character. The author manages to improve the original framework by throwing in the bullet conservation and evasion tactics familiar to all Resident Evil fans, and by creating a suitably creepy atmosphere, complete with sinister monsters and an old mansion that has seen better days, but at the end of the day Zero Hour is still a book with flat characters, a simplistic storyline, and boring villains. I recommend this only to completionists, as the other books in the series are significantly better, and you do not need to read this to enjoy them.