“This pandemic has spread faster than any disease in modern history.” That’s the very first line you’ll hear when you start up Resident Evil 3. It’s a bit on the nose given the current situation in the world, and while we aren’t exactly dealing with zombies or monstrous mutations (yet), I couldn’t help but grimly chuckle at the absurd reality of it all; a wry laugh as if to say “the timing of this one is impeccable, for better or worse.” It’s a thought that was constantly at the back of my mind while I played through Resident Evil 3. It’s not like the game is all new though. It’s been a long time coming. First envisioned as Resident Evil 3: Nemesis back in 1999, the 2020 game follows the likes of last year’s Resident Evil 2, not only remaking but fully reimagining the original game.
Familiar elements still carry through the decades. There’s Jill Valentine trying to escape Raccoon City, Carlos Oliveira caught up in a war he doesn’t understand, and of course, the fearsome Nemesis growling “STTTTAAAAARRRRRSSSS” as he pursues Jill relentlessly. Other allusions to the original game are much more subtle; an Easter egg or reference here and there that will make longtime fans happy while brand new players are none the wiser. There are some significant story shifts and reimagining of characters’ roles, not to mention modern technology allowing the development team to do a whole lot that just wasn’t possible back in 1999. All in all, anyone who played last year’s Resident Evil 2 will be familiar with the formula, whether fresh to the series or revisiting an old friend more than 20 years on.
Previous reports came up that Resident Evil 3 was developed alongside Resident Evil 2. They were originally supposed to be a package deal, and while the similarities between the two are obviously there, RE3 has plenty of differences from Leon and Claire’s adventure. Jill Valentine’s attempts to escape from Raccoon City are much more action-oriented than the survival horror of wandering the halls of the police department, solving bizarre puzzles while looming threats pursue the player relentlessly. In fact, Resident Evil 3 even pokes fun at some of 2’s crazy puzzle elements. At one point, Carlos Oliveira abruptly shouts “Look at this weird fucking door” in the Raccoon Police Department, giving a voice to the player’s own thoughts that the methods of locking stuff up are obtuse and strange, to say the least. The line was laughable but strangely self-aware. I mean, really, why does a police department lock random doors with gem-encrusted keys based on suits from a deck of cards?
That’s not to say that Resident Evil 3 doesn’t have its share of puzzle-solving survival horror, but it tends to be a bit more realistic—as much as one can embrace a realism within a mutant zombie apocalypse. I came to appreciate the brevity of the puzzles that weren’t quite as obtuse as some of those in Resident Evil 2. While much of the story runs parallel to RE2—both in the timeline and in thematic elements—Resident Evil 3 manages to find its own way to do things. There are definitely some rather rewarding crossover elements from last year’s game, returning to some previous locations and getting to see some cause and effect in action, but don’t worry. If you missed Resident Evil 2, RE3 manages to stand on its own. In fact, the story actually requires the knowledge of the first Resident Evil far more than it does 2, so much so that some of its narrative may present as a little confusing for anyone unfamiliar with the incident at Arklay and Spencer Mansion.
Free from the confines of the RPD (and the mansion before it), RE3 takes players on bigger tour of Raccoon City, yet still relatively confined in nature. If you’ve played the 1999 classic, then you know generally what to expect. The skybox may be a little bit more open, but there are still very obvious and direct pathways for the player to take, clever level design forcing the direction using wrecked vehicles and police barricades. That more focused experience allows Resident Evil 3 to take on survival horror elements that often get lost when horror tries to move into larger open environments.
Resident Evil 3 is at its best when it’s embracing the survival horror and begins to suffer when it turns into an action-packed zombie shooting gallery. When players take control of Carlos, they are immediately given an assault rifle that can handily mow down most zombie threats without blinking. There’s plenty of ammo lying around for it too, so much so that I almost never needed to switch over to his handgun. Still, RE3 manages to offer a few moments of quiet horror for Carlos, as well as a few dreadful (in a good way) moments where even his assault rifle doesn’t quite seem like enough. Resident Evil 3 is constantly in a balancing act between giving players mobility and power—moreso than RE2—and overwhelming them with the horrors of the undead and enormous monsters that seem unbeatable. It works for the most part, with actions like the perfect dodge finally giving players the power to roll out of zombies’ grasping rotten fingers. But things falter with Nemesis, whose scripted tenacity is turned up beyond horror into an irritation.
Resident Evil 3 Review – The Nemesis in the Room
Sadly one of the worst and most frustrating parts of Resident Evil 3 is Nemesis himself. Nemesis takes away the looming dread that Tyrant/Mr. X instilled in Resident Evil 2 and replaces it with sheer annoyance. His dogged persistence is just arduous when he appears in very orchestrated segments simply to prevent the player from getting to their next goal. Gone is the constant threat while you tried to solve the RPD puzzles; Nemesis exists only to trip you up during very specific instances with his overpowered moveset. The vast majority of my deaths at Nemesis’ hands while making my way through Raccoon City felt cheap and unavoidable. I was never “scared” of Nemesis pursuing me, just aggravated.
Resident Evil 3 tends to loop back on itself less than RE2 did, and is arguably a shorter game because of it. The Raccoon City map is built like a bit less of a maze than the RPD was in Resident Evil 2. In many ways, 3 feels almost more linear in nature, which makes Nemesis more of a roadblock and less of that thing that could be just around the corner while solving puzzles. Gone are the heavy footsteps of Tyrant, growing louder and softer as he storms through the labyrinthine police department hunting for you. When Nemesis is there, you’ll know it. He’ll leap in front of you. He’ll grab you with tendrils. He’ll fire rockets at you. Fortunately, these segments are relatively few in number, which lets the quieter elements of subtle horror leave their mark when they happen.
Resident Evil 3 still holds the classic elements of Resident Evil, including inventory management as you juggle weapons, ammo, healing items, and things you need for puzzles. Sometimes the horror comes from the hard choice of wondering if you can afford to drop that green herb or leave the shotgun behind in the item box. Of course, that will all be old hat to experienced Resident Evil players, but the game still offers plenty of other challenges, like a hardcore difficulty and tough criteria for getting an S-rank by speeding through the game, which requires players to come in at less than two hours on normal (and even faster for hardcore). In this way, Resident Evil 3 offers a little something for everyone and plenty of reasons to come back again and again.
For my first playthrough on normal difficulty, Resident Evil 3 took me a little more than five hours to beat. That was exploring off the beaten path to obtain every collectible and extra that the game had to offer too. As is common with Resident Evil games, Resident Evil 3 offers an extensive amount of replayability. While it doesn’t feature the same kind of A/B parallel storylines of Resident Evil 2’s Leon and Claire (Jill and Carlos’ gameplay segments are both interwoven into a single playthrough), it has plenty of unlockables that can be earned by completing certain tasks and earning points. Infinite weapons make their return, though they are pricey (especially the rocket launcher), so you’ll need to complete quite a few tasks over numerous playthroughs to be able to redeem them.
Resident Evil 3 is the type of game that you’ll finish and immediately want to start back up again. After selecting a few unlocks with the points that I had, I jumped back in to earn more, aiming to maybe get some of those infinite weapons for Hardcore and speedrun playthroughs. The brief nature of the campaign means it can easily be completed in a weekend (or even in a single evening, on subsequent fasterplaythroughs) which lends itself well to the desire to play again and speedrunners looking to challenge themselves. We’ve seen runs as short as 53 minutes for Resident Evil 2, which makes me very curious where the top players will end up with this one.
More deftly balancing mobility and power with overwhelming horror, Resident Evil 3 still manages to find elements that cause tension and terror despite giving players more ways to fight back. Nemesis tends to be an annoyance more than a true element of horror, but his orchestrated roadblocks are few enough in number that it doesn’t drag down the overall experience. All said, Resident Evil 3 is a brilliant reimagining of the horror classic, with plenty of surprises in store even for the longtime fans. It’s a great partner piece to last year’s Resident Evil 2, helping to reclaim the origins of the series that were once trapped in static environments and blocky characters, lost to consoles past.
Resident Evil 3 review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on a launch PS4. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Author’s Notes: A few things I need to make mention of outside of the review. First, while I didn’t want to go into it directly in the review, I have to admit that Resident Evil 3 was quite mentally draining to play through considering the current state of the world facing a massive pandemic. It’s a good game, but be aware of your own emotional and mental state if deciding to play it while under lockdown.
Second, regarding Resident Evil Resistance. Resistance is the first-ever asymmetrical multiplayer Resident Evil experience, included with Resident Evil 3. However, despite being included, Resident Evil Resistance is its own entirely separate game, executed from a separate tile on the PS4 menu. Because of this, and our limited time with the mode prior to the review embargo, we’ve opted to offer our thoughts on it separately rather than packaging it in with our Resident Evil 3 review. The above text and below score are only considering the single-player Resident Evil 3 experience.