Last year, Capcom set the bar for remakes of older games with Resident Evil 2, a brilliant reimagining of its 1998 PlayStation survival horror classic.
By mixing beautiful photorealistic visuals and sublime sound design with rock-solid modern third-person shooting controls and a grippingly tense atmosphere, RE2 went onto become the highest-rated game of 2019.
Now, the Japanese gaming giant is trying its hand at another remake centred around those same tenets — this time focused on 1999’s Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. Unlike 2019’s RE2, however, 2020’s RE3 faces the incredible pressure of following in the footsteps of a universally beloved remake.
Fortunately, despite seemingly impossibly high expectations, the Resident Evil 3 remake manages not only to live up to its predecessor in most ways, but actually surpass it in others.
Picking up a few months after the events of the original Resident Evil, RE3 once again follows S.T.A.R.S. member Jill Valentine, the elite police officer who stopped the T-virus zombie threat from spreading out of Spencer Mansion. Although she’s since been placed on leave, Jill continues to dig into the shady Umbrella Corporation that was at the centre of the mansion incident.
However, her investigation is quickly cut short when a vicious creature named Nemesis breaks into her apartment and begins to hunt her relentlessly. Only by begrudgingly teaming up with Umbrella agent Carlos Oliveira can Jill hope to survive Nemesis and a new wave of zombies and stop Umbrella.
Right from the start, RE3 feels refreshingly different from RE2, which saw rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy and college student Claire Redfield spend a harrowing night in the zombie-infested Raccoon Police Department. While setting much of that game in one area helped create a uniquely strong sense of pacing and atmosphere, RE3 opens up the franchise’s larger story in more interesting ways by exploring the goings-on throughout Raccoon City both before and after the events of RE2.
What’s more, RE3 does away with the separate campaigns of RE2, allowing you to experience both Jill and Carlos’ stories in a single playthrough. While some may miss that added replay value, I appreciated that this approach results in a more varied campaign that emphasized the relationship between its central leads. Indeed, one of my few gripes with the otherwise stellar RE2 was how Leon and Claire’s respective journeys follow disappointingly similar paths and don’t really intersect much at all.
In RE3, though, Capcom smartly doubles down on Jill and Carlos’ relationship by greatly expanding the latter’s role from the original game. Back then, Carlos only sporadically encountered Jill and, in one relatively brief hospital sequence, actually became playable. This time around, Carlos interacts with Jill constantly and is playable in multiple lengthy chapters. In addition to creating an endearing camaraderie between the two, this back-and-forth structure kept me intrigued throughout the seven-hour story.
Guess who’s back, back again
If that wasn’t enough to keep you on your toes, Nemesis is back and more horrifying and deadly than ever. To put this into perspective, Capcom has actually taken the AI of RE2‘s infamous Tyrant (AKA Mr. X), carried it over to Nemesis and made it even more advanced. What this means is that Nemesis is far more versatile than both his 1999 predecessor and even the reimagined version of RE2‘s trenchcoat-wearing monster.
In the original RE3, Nemesis was mostly limited to walking, running and punching, only occasionally popping up with a rocket launcher. Now, in addition to all of that, the demon can jump, slide down walls and even pull you towards him with tentacles. Even returning moves, like the RPG, take full advantage RE3‘s exquisite, expansive 3D environments, requiring you to move quickly and precisely to avoid incoming fire. Further, Capcom has wisely chosen to almost completely alter when and where Nemesis appears from the original game. This cat-and-mouse dynamic — on top of never knowing what Nemesis might bring with him next — ensures that RE3 consistently keeps you on edge.
All the while, Nemesis never feels overpowered thanks to RE3‘s signature dodge mechanic. Some criticized the original game’s evasive maneuver for being somewhat spotty, but in the remake, it’s been refined to respond exceptionally well. Pulling off a perfectly-timed roll as the big ugly brute takes a swing at you is absolutely thrilling, but it’s also impactful if you’re simply trying to conserve ammo and navigate through a group of zombies. (Carlos, meanwhile, is given his own variant on the move with a shoulder charge that, when executed properly, will finish with a punch that sends zombies tumbling to the ground.)
Unfortunately, while the dodge ability makes Nemesis feel balanced, the same can’t quite be said for some of the other games’ threats. Indeed, perhaps the only area in which RE3 does fall a bit short is how it handles challenge. All told, I went through much of the game on ‘Standard’ difficulty without dying much. This was especially true during late-game boss fights, which were surprisingly easy. By contrast, RE2 felt much more challenging on Standard, with difficulty appropriately ramping up over time to conclude with some tough final bosses. Beyond a general lack of dying, RE3 also features far fewer intricate puzzles than its predecessor. When used effectively, these offered a nice change of pace in RE2, so I was disappointed to see them mostly take a backseat here.
Compounding these difficulty issues is the fact that Carlos’ hospital section of the game felt much harder than anything I’d encountered elsewhere in the game. For the most part, I welcomed this challenge, especially as Carlos has a satisfying assault rifle, but it certainly felt unfair at times. Nowhere was this more apparent than in encounters with the bullet sponge Hunter Betas, the ferocious reptilian creatures from Carlos’ hospital outing in the original game. In one frustrating instance with multiple Hunter Betas where ammo became much scarcer than usual and I ran out entirely, I ended up spending a great deal of time repeatedly trying to lead the beasts to a door they couldn’t pass through so I could get a quick, barely damaging knife slash or two.
On the flip side, I did find that RE3 placed an even stronger emphasis on methodical inventory management than previous games. Often, I found myself having to make some difficult choices about what I could keep with me, occasionally discarding useful items to make room for something more valuable. This was exemplified through Jill’s handy grenade launcher, returning from the original game. With all of its different ammo types, such as fire and explosive rounds, I loved the struggle of deciding what gear I should bring with it.
The Master of Remaking
To have created a top-tier modern horror remake once already was a remarkable accomplishment. The fact that Capcom has managed to do this once again is all the more impressive. While the more action-packed direction inadvertently eliminates some challenge, Resident Evil 3 nonetheless maintains a compelling sense of dread through a frighteningly revamped Nemesis. Moreover, renewing focus on its dual leads helps ground the story with a compelling relationship while offering a more gameplay-diverse campaign.
For new and returning players alike, Resident Evil 3 is an absolute must-play.
Resident Evil 3 launches on April 3rd on PlayStation 4, Xbox One (reviewed) and PC. A free demo of the game is also available on all three platforms.
Note: Resident Evil 3 includes access to Resident Evil Resistance, a standalone, brand-new 1v4 multiplayer game, at no additional cost. I plan to try that out once the game has launched and do a separate piece based on my experience.
Image credit: Capcom