Resident Evil 3 Review
I’m beginning to wonder if the lines between fantasy and reality are starting to blur. “This pandemic has spread faster than any disease in modern history." The very first line of the remake of Resident Evil 3 is so on the nose that there’s a chance Umbrella Corps could not only exist, but might have planted infected bats in a Wuhan street market just to see what would happen.
Nothing good, is the answer. By all accounts, Umbrella Corps is the epitome of an evil scientific playpen; a place where millions and millions of dollars are spent on expensive underground bunkers, shiny equipment and novel chemistry, only to end up with a mutated giant mass that looks like Tetsuo’s final form in Akira. There appears to be little in the way of benevolence, or indeed, proper health and safety regulations within the company, so it’s no surprise that Raccoon City is under siege from zombies after the events of Resident Evil 2. All that money still can’t buy a five-star hygiene rating.
Resident Evil 3: Nemesis was considered to be a decent follow-up to the second game back in 1999, and Capcom seemed to have worked out a winning formula after last year’s previous remake, so it makes sense that they’d want to ride the nostalgia wagon all the way to Cashville. And what better way to avoid thinking about a pandemic than playing a game about a pandemic. Right?
Both prequel and sequel in terms of its timeline (to say more would spoil minor plot twists), it’s down to one-woman powerhouse, S.T.A.R.S agent and original game protagonist Jill Valentine to take control of the situation. This isn’t something she willingly signed up for, however. A huge and incredibly persistent monster has tracked her down to her apartment, leading Jill to discover a whole heap of bad stuff about Umbrella Corps — the kind of intel she has clearly been trying and failing to work out on her own, judging by her homemade crime pinboard. Why is it after her? How does it know where she lives? Don’t struggle too hard with these questions. Just be glad that in these more enlightened times Capcom made the right decision to update her wardrobe, although of course not everyone is pleased.
As Jill, your job is to stay one step ahead of the monstrosity stalking you — one might call it your “Nemesis” — and get out of the city. In between, you’ll be issuing bullet-shaped cease and desist notices to the meandering corpses, and retreading much of the same ground covered in the previous remake. It’s clear from the outset that Capcom really wanted to make use of its former assets. And why wouldn’t it? Resident Evil 2 looked lovely, in a gory, horrific way. The monster designs were terrifying. The lighting offered just the right amount of claustrophobic gloom mixed with blindingly bright torchlight to really make the pale, distorted faces of the zombies that much worse. The sound design was impeccable and the cutscenes were dazzling.
All of that is true here. The biggest problem is that RE3 doesn’t really do anything new. Almost everything on show, while polished and mostly enjoyable, has been seen before. While the Raccoon City Police Department made for a nuanced and tight Metroidvania affair filled with progressively unlockable doors and weapons, Jill feels artificially hemmed in even though she spends most of the first half of the game outside. Linear streets are lined with car wreckage to funnel you — and zombies — into tight corridors to try and force conflict. The puzzle elements have been dialled down in favour of getting an item in one location and returning to another location to use it. The map on the menu system tells you where you need to go and what you need to do, and from there it’s a case of blasting your way from one objective to another and back again.
Even the combat is relatively unchanged. Enemies shamble toward you, lurching irritatingly out of headshot range at the last second. A few bullets to the brain takes them down, until a couple of them rise up for a second time when you least expect it, like a horror villain cliché. This time though, your knife is a usable and permanent weapon which means you can slice up any fallen corpse a few times to make sure it actually is dead, completely negating any potential resurrection. And so it goes, for seventy percent of the combat; a few bullets, a few stabs, rinse and repeat. There are two main differences here though: an abundance of ammunition and the ability to dodge.
Dodging is probably the most useful ability you’ll have in the game. With a tap of a shoulder button you can sidestep most of the slower enemies. Time it just as they lurch at you and you’ll execute a Perfect Dodge, indicated by a white flash, which then leaves the zombie momentarily exposed. You can either use this window to blast it to pieces, or run on toward your destination. Early on, I assumed that bullets would be at a premium as they were in the previous game, so spent most of my time dodging out of the way. After a couple of hours it became clear that RE3 is far more generous in its item dispersal. Bullets — or the gunpowder needed to craft them — can be found on almost every third screen, grenades come tumbling out of lockers, and there are enough green and red herbs lying around to launch a CBD start-up. I finished the game with a storage chest filled with guns and healing items — something I never thought I’d see in a numbered Resident Evil game.
It means that gunfights, while fun, simply don’t provide the same level of tension as before. It’s hard to feel worried about three zombies staggering towards you if you know that you can empty a clip, miss with half the bullets, and still be able to pick up plenty more a few minutes later. This is very much an action-oriented affair, replete with more weapons and add-ons than you’ll be able to store in your tiny inventory. When the game shifts focus to frazzle-haired meat slab Carlos Oliveira after a few hours, his assault rifle becomes the gun of choice since rounds can be found almost anywhere. The shotgun, burst handgun, MAG and grenade launcher all feel satisfyingly different — the explosive and fiery nature of the launcher’s switchable ammo is particularly great for bigger foes — yet the actual challenge isn’t really there. Even the upgrades for weapons feel unnecessary in the face of an arsenal that is dripping ammo from every orifice. Maybe I played the previous game a little too conservatively, resulting in a playthrough here that felt bounteous in comparison. Or perhaps it’s the knowledge of what to expect that made RE3 seem far easier, mainly because the formula remains steadfastly the same. Of course, you can choose to play on Hardcore difficulty or the even tougher Nightmare and Inferno modes which are new to this instalment. Yet there is precious little else to warrant doing so — there isn’t a different playthrough like Resident Evil 2 offered, just more belligerent mutants and different item locations. Nightmare mode mixes things up a bit and pushes it more towards survival horror and away from action, while Inferno removes auto-save entirely — it’s a shame that each of the harder modes is only unlocked by completing the one before it, however.
Regardless, the end result is an aural and visual delight. Enemies take rounds with satisfying, squelchy effects, losing the use of limbs depending on where you aim (the head… always the head) and the cutscenes are ballistic and hilarious as the Nemesis becomes ever more ridiculous in its pursuit of Jill. All of the tension from the relentless march of RE2’s Mr. X has been replaced by a creature that is at once hideous, powerful and oddly camp. Given how terrifying the initial encounter is, you’re led to believe that this is an unforgiving killing machine who will pursue you at all cost. Yet there are large portions of the game where you’re left to your own devices, the Nemesis only popping up every so often to remind you that, yes, it’s still around, like a wannabe LA actor looking for an agent. The fact that it grabs Jill’s head on multiple occasions but neglects to kill her is one thing; that Jill can be bounced off walls and through scaffolding like an Avenger with barely a few bruises to show for it is another. The plot, such as it is, throws evil Russians and colourful vaccines into the mix for good measure, while almost every NPC you talk to may as well be wearing a red shirt.
RE3 errs on the side of schlock rather than horror, then, and certainly prefers bombast over nuance. Jill feels like Claire Redfield reimagined in a bro-culture boardroom, with Carlos in the typical male saviour role and the main villain relegated to set piece boss fights and a few explosive cutscenes. Yet the biggest disappointment is the game’s brevity: you’ll be lucky to eke out more than eight hours from a playthrough unless you’re really keen to track down every weapon upgrade and open every storage crate. Sure, those few hours are hokey fun, but I’m not really sure that’s what the developers were aiming for after the far more serious — and far scarier — second game.
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