Resident Evil 3 review: Better the game you know than the one you don't

Capcom, please do Code Veronica next

Credit: Capcom

The Pitch

People used to throw around the idiom that history repeats itself but, in recent years, that idea has fallen out of favour for a snappier saying. 

History doesn't repeat itself but it often rhymes. 

In 1999, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis released on Playstation to widespread critical acclaim. At the time, the game was praised for its realistic-feeling environments, relentless boss design and for bringing back the heroine of the first game: Jill Valentine.  

Even today, the third Resident Evil is considered one of the best installments in the series and, following on from 2019’s ambitious remake of Resident Evil 2, a game that’s more than ripe for resurrection. 

Of course, 1999 wasn’t just the year that Resident Evil 3 originally launched. It was also the year the world braced itself for a particularly nasty outbreak of influenza. Though the 1999-2000 flu season claimed 22,000 lives and is still regarded as one of the worst ever, things never quite escalated into the kind of pandemic proportions we’ve seen with this year’s coronavirus. 

Credit: Capcom

With the threat of a real-world pandemic hanging over Capcom’s remake of Resident Evil 3,  now can feel like a pretty grotesque time to be revisiting a pulpy horror game that depicts an out of control pandemic and governments more interested in favoring corporate interests over human lives. 

In the words of the TikTok generation: this shit be hitting different.

Girl In The Big City

In line with the original, the new Resident Evil 3 takes place more-or-less in tandem with Resident Evil 2. Playing as Jill, your goal is simple. Get out before you get got. To that end, the reimagined Resident Evil 3 sees you fight your way through the streets of a city in the midst of collapse.

The T-Virus is well and truly out of control. The streets of Raccoon City are crawling with zombies and morally-ambiguous paramilitary soldiers dispatched by the Umbrella Corporation. Most auspicious of all, Jill “The Master Of Unlocking” Valentine is being personally hunted by an eight-foot tall monster with big Gregor Clegane energy and a frightening work-ethic, AKA the titular Nemesis.  

Rather than take place in one central location, Jill’s scramble for survival takes her through several different sections of the city. If you played the original, most of these locations will probably seem a little familiar - with the second act’s clocktower sequence being the most notable omission here. 

Likewise, if you’re at-all familiar with modern Resident Evil games, the core gameplay here is exactly what you expect. There are a few moments that work to play off your expectations but, for the most part, Resident Evil 3 plays things pretty safe. 

Credit: Capcom

You shoot zombies, detect clues, collect herbs, craft ammo, solve puzzles and fight boss battles. The sidestep mechanic from the original Resident Evil 3 even makes a return, letting dexterous players dodge potential damage and, in some situations, stun enemies. 

What’s more, as opposed to the static 2D backdrops of the original, the new Resident Evil 3 is loaded with cinematic flair and polish. Character models are immaculately detailed, cutscenes are well directed and the game opens with a particularly neat first-person sequence that echoes the perspective shift of Resident Evil 7

Another thing that really stands out here is the game’s use of neon lighting, particularly in the earlier sections of the game. It adds a real vibe to the experience that you don’t necessarily get from the interior-centric locations in both Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2.

Credit: Capcom

Even if the urban sprawl of Raccoon City isn’t quite as immersive or evocative as the bayous of Resident Evil 7, it still manages to look incredible. As eerie a sentiment as it might sound, the apocalyptic collapse of society has rarely looked as good as it does here. 

While Resident Evil 4 often gets the credit as the installment that firmly pivots the series’ formula towards all-out action, this revised version of Resident Evil 3 feels like it could give that game something of a run for its money. 

A sharp contrast with the banal brutality of Mr. X, Capcom have opted to make every moment with Nemesis as loud as possible. In some ways, this loudness is very much the point. Both in the original game and here, Nemesis is meant to be an explosive escalation of what enemies in a Resident Evil game can look like.

Credit: Capcom

For those unfamiliar, Nemesis is essentially a super zombie that can use weapons like rocket launchers and guns. However, for better or worse (mostly the latter), encounters involving Nemesis are usually just scripted sequences where you’re sprinting through linear levels trying to stay ahead of the boss. When they’re happening for the first time, these are a great change of pace. On repeat attempts, they don’t hold up nearly as well. 

More concerningly, they don’t really lend themselves towards creating the same kind of unexpected tension found in the Resident Evil 2 remake. Perhaps that’s something of a nitpick but, when so many other games offer this kind of set piece moments like the Nemesis encounters in Resident Evil 3 while so few games offer the kind of quiet, primal terror that Mr. X inspires, it’s hard not to bemoan the difference. 

Credit: Capcom

The other caveat here is that where Resident Evil 2 featured two playable protagonists, each bringing different skills and levels to the table, Resident Evil 3 offers up only one route through Raccoon City. You might not play 100% of the game as Jill but there’s no B-side to the experience here.

You’ll get a few good hours out of this shiny new take on Resident Evil 3, but I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly long romp - especially given the price-tag involved. What’s more, you could easily make the case that there’s actually less replayability here than the original Nemesis offered, since the branching flow of the original game has been cut this time around. 

The caveat here is that, in place of a proper second playthrough, there’s a new multiplayer experience called Resident Evil: Resistance. This 4v1 asymmetrical multiplayer mode wasn’t playable until a few days ahead of launch - so we haven’t been able to spend much time with it as of yet. For that reason, we plan to tackle Resistance in a separate review. Stay tuned. 

The Bottom Line

The original Resident Evil 3 was a great game and Capcom’s remake is a smart but safe remix of the expected. It takes your memories of the past and brings them to life in the most polished way possible. It doesn’t quite reinvent a classic in the way that Capcom’s last remake did but it does capture more than enough of the magic to work. 

In other words, it’s the house blend not the chef’s special. It’s a steady go-to that’s sure to satisfy the nostalgia of die-hard fans and a great introduction to the franchise for newcomers. Yet, despite these technical and design accomplishments, there’s something undeniably weird about escaping into the deteriorating cityscapes of Resident Evil 3 for a few hours. 

Credit: Capcom

Nemesis broke from the Resident Evil formula by spending more time outdoors than indoors. In a world where people are spending more time self-isolating, that nature of that dynamic changes. Inevitably, Scrounging for ammo in the gutters of a city in the unrelenting grip of a deadly pandemic plays a little different this time around. 

As with the original Resident Evil 3, Capcom’s latest remake arrives at a time when the series’ pulpy premise risks being overtaken by the perils of reality.  But at the end of a day, there’s a comfort in the commodification of the past that Capcom have managed to manufacture here. 

Day to day, I don’t know whether I expect to see the numbers around coronavirus go up or down. I don’t know what my job, my friends, my family or the country I’ve lived in for decades will look like at the end of this thing. Nevertheless, I know what my expectations for a remake of Resident Evil 3 are and right now, in these chaotic times, Capcom’s ability to deliver that might just be enough for me. 

Resident Evil 3 launches this week on PC, Xbox One and Playstation 4.

Credit: Capcom

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Fergus Halliday
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