The Resident Evil 3 remake comes out just over a year after the Resident Evil 2 remake, which is particularly satisfying timing when you consider the original Resident Evil 3: Nemesis came out just a year after Resident Evil 2, back in 1999. Resident Evil 3 launched just before the launch of the PlayStation 2 and a transition to the next-generation of consoles, and the Resident Evil 3 remake launches not long before the release of the PS5 and Xbox Series X – another satisfying parallel. But unfortunately there is an unwelcome parallel: the Resident Evil 3 remake, like the original upon which it is based, is inferior to its predecessor.
Don’t get me wrong, when the Resident Evil 3 remake is good, it’s fantastic. The remodelled Jill Valentine, if not inspired by Milla Jovovich then certainly developed with the Resident Evil movie star in mind, is a wonderful character. Her desperate attempt to escape Raccoon City with the relentless Nemesis monster on her back quickly turns into a save the city operation – she’s likeable, determined and I couldn’t help but root for her throughout.
I was surprised to find myself rooting for Umbrella mercenary Carlos Oliveira, too – once I got over his spectacularly vibrant bouffant hair. Carlos comes across as, well, a bit of a dick when he saves Jill – early doors – from the clutches of Nemesis. But as the story progresses so does his character. In reworking Resident Evil 3’s plot, Capcom has placed greater emphasis on Carlos, and you play as him in two extended portions of the game. Jill is of course the star of the show here, but Carlos benefits from the extra quality time – and his new hairdo, which I’m convinced has a life of its own.
And it’s worth pointing out just how fantastic Resident Evil 3 remake looks. There is an incredible level of detail throughout the game, which was built on the Resident Evil 2 remake tech. Capcom’s lighting technicians are wizards, and I love how incidental objects make subtle noises when you are close, just to freak you out. A creaking gate, the crunch of glass under foot, the wind blowing papers around the downtown streets of Raccoon City – nighttime never looked so good.
It’s a shame, then, that the Resident Evil 3 remake is so fleeting. I finished my playthrough in just five-and-a-half hours, and I think it’s worth unpacking why it felt even breezier than that. This is a more action-oriented game than the Resident Evil 2 remake, and while it does contain traditional horror sections, such as skulking through the creepy corridors of a hospital, you spend less time tiptoeing around corners and listening for thuds, and more time blasting beasts to smithereens. Zombies are less threatening because both Jill and Carlos have the dodges they had in the original Resident Evil 3, but if you time a dodge perfectly, you get a free counter-attack opportunity. Jill and Carlos both have access to serious firepower (Jill gets the shotgun pretty early and Carlos starts with an assault rifle), too. It’s not long before Jill gets an assault rifle of her own and then the death-dealing grenade launcher. So, this remake ends up quite the inventory management game as you fuss over making sure you’ve enough room for your weapons and their ammo (the grenade launcher has four types of ammo). The true fear is you run out of ammo, not run into a rock hard enemy.
Capcom has also made some curious decisions when it comes to the cutting room floor that make the plot pacey. You start in Jill’s incredibly-detailed apartment before Nemesis starts his assault and forces you out into the city streets. You spend the first hour or two in downtown Raccoon City, running this way and that as you try to get a train working. Downtown Raccoon City is more open than the confines of Resident Evil 2’s iconic police station, and while zombies are everywhere, there are plenty of environmental aids to use in your defense, such as exploding barrels and electric shock stuns. But while downtown is more open, its map is modestly sized. And while you can spend the backtracking time it takes to explore some of the shops and building interiors that were closed off in the original game, it’s not long before you’re on the train and, well, as you’d expect – and as you know if you played Resident Evil 3 on PSone – your escape does not go well at all.
The return to the police station is a cool moment for anyone who played the Resident Evil 2 remake, as, timeline wise, you arrive before Leon turns up. Without spoiling things, Capcom has significantly re-jigged how this area plays out, from start to finish. But there are some clever nods to the Resident Evil 2 remake here – an explanation of some environmental damage and even enemies you’ll remember from last year’s game. I got a kick out of retreading old ground – even if I’d seen most of it before.
My favourite area from Resident Evil 3 is the clocktower, its creepy gothic architecture and fun puzzles a wonderful change of pace following the carnage of downtown. The remake relegates this section to a boss fight, played out in the area outside the clocktower. I found this particularly disappointing, as it means the remake sort of hurtles forward into the next section of the game, which, as someone familiar with the events of the original, meant I knew I was coming up on the endgame. Raccoon Park and its Grave Digger boss aren’t in the remake at all, another popular Resident Evil 3 location that failed to make the cut.
Perhaps the bigger issue is the lack of puzzles. There are only a few to solve, and none involve much work. I love the silly puzzle-solving in the original Resident Evil games, and the Resident Evil 2 remake had plenty of that, too. What happened here? I’m not sure, but more puzzles would have added variety to the gameplay. Resident Evil 3 remake is a relatively straightforward adventure, and while you can spend time backtracking to find weapon attachments, extra resources and Easter eggs, progression is linear.
Which brings me neatly onto Nemesis – Resident Evil 3’s big bad. I won’t spoil how or when he turns up, or his various forms (there are a few, and some of them are fantastically outlandish), but for me he’s not as effective, or as memorable a villain as Resident Evil 2 remake’s Mr X. He works best in downtown Raccoon City, where he stalks Jill in (relatively) humanoid form while wearing his creepy bin bag-style clothes. But his jump scares feel scripted. Sure, there is some sense of him dynamically stalking you once he bursts onto the scene – usually through a wall. But where Mr. X imposed a sense of dread that encompassed the entire police department – so much so that venturing out from a safe room gave me the fear – Nemesis is about inducing surprise panic.
There are moments where this can work tremendously well. In one playthrough, on a harder difficulty, I escaped the clutches of Nemesis by the skin of my teeth (the less said about Nemesis’ new teeth, the better). One more hit and I’d die, and with Nemesis leaping to attack, I made it under a shutter with a millisecond to spare. Safe, sweating, exhilarating! But these moments are by design, rather than emergent. And in any case, after Nemesis starts sprouting tentacles, he ditches his surprise stalker status and settles into a traditional boss fight role. It’s a different feel, and I don’t think it’s better.
All this – the pacing, the progression, the action and Nemesis’ design, contributes to the feeling the Resident Evil 3 remake is over too soon. I know, the original Resident Evil 3 wasn’t exactly a long game. And Resident Evil 2’s campaign can be completed in a handful of hours, too. But Resident Evil 2 remake’s campaign can be played over with two separate characters, which changes things. Resident Evil 3 remake is one set story, divided up into Jill and Carlos playtime.
So, why play it again once you’ve finished the game? There are a few reasons. There are incredibly hard difficulty sections for Resident Evil masochists. The knife is invulnerable, so knife-only runs are viable. When you finish the game you unlock the shop, which lets you buy a new costume for Jill and other game-affecting “leg-ups” for a virtual currency you obtain by completing in-game challenges. But apart from that, there’s nothing much else to do.
I feel like I’m coming down a little too hard on the Resident Evil 3 remake. After all, my expectations were set with the incredible Resident Evil 2 remake in mind. Jill is a triumphant character, and there are moments of genuine brilliance here. The hospital level, whose tone rekindles memories of Resident Evil 2’s police department, is fantastically unnerving. But for every super cool area in the Resident Evil 3 remake, there are two areas that fail to inspire. Downtown Raccoon City is, unfortunately, not the expansive, multi-layered stalk-fest I’d hoped it would be. There are no alternate endings to chase, no story-altering choices to make, no new game plus mode. The source material is – and I think this is the perceived wisdom – simply not as good as the original Resident Evil 2. But I can’t shake the feeling the Resident Evil 3 remake was rushed – as its original was. Now that’s an unfortunate parallel.