Resident Evil 2 Remake loomed large over the video game industry last year. Winning the hearts and delectable brains of many fans and critics, Capcom’s 2019 reimagining of the beloved zombie survival horror classic earned rave reviews alongside adoration from the gaming community and did so for good reason: the game was really damn great and was better than most modern Resident Evil games (though I really enjoyed Resident Evil 7: Biohazard). In Resident Evil 2 Remake, Capcom modernized the controls and overhauled the dated visuals in order to recreate an old school gaming experience that still felt relevant today. The most notable of these changes, aside from the visual upgrade, involve the camera being over the shoulder, the ability to strafe, and just an overall fluidity in the controls that the original doesn’t possess. Combine all these gameplay elements with a tense narrative and a haunting atmosphere, the reason behind Resident Evil 2 Remake’s critical acclaim becomes clear: it’s just an incredible experience from front to back.
However, Resident Evil 2 Remake’s high quality is a problem for Capcom’s newly released Resident Evil 3. As a remake of 1999’s Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, Resident Evil 3 strives to replicate last year’s success with Resident Evil 2 Remake but has the unfortunate distinction of being a follow-up to its terrific predecessor. Resident Evil 2 Remake was so good that any following entry would immediately suffer from little brother syndrome, an overwhelming amount of just or unjust criticism for a title reaching for its own identity while dwelling in the overwhelming shadow of a more beloved prior installment.
Resident Evil 3 suffers from this unfortunate categorization. Despite being a good game on its own merits, Resident Evil 3 does not surpass or even equal Resident Evil 2 Remake’s slice of gaming nirvana. Where Resident Evil 2 Remake fired on all Jill Sandwiches (Get the reference!), Resident Evil 3 is a notably lesser title. For reasons ranging from game length, pacing, and its tendency to be more action oriented, Resident Evil 3, while a solid experience, just doesn’t compare well to Resident Evil 2 Remake. It’s sad but true.
However before we dive into Resident Evil 3’s various triumphs and shortcomings, let’s first describe the plot. In the game, you play as two characters. The first is Jill Valentine who is an elite operative of the Raccoon City Police department, and the second is the dashing Umbrella soldier Carlos Oliveira. The plot is drop kicked into motion when Raccoon City becomes overwhelmed by a viral zombie outbreak, and Jill is ambushed by the Nemesis: a super zombie that breaks through Jill’s apartment wall like the Kool-Aid man and proceeds to relentlessly hunt her down throughout the game as if it were a zombified terminator. In order to escape the city and keep away from the seemingly indestructible Nemesis, Jill must work with Carlos even though he is employed by the Umbrella corporation, the company that is the root cause of the viral outbreak. Jill is reluctant but has no choice but to accept his aid. Afterall, the Nemesis toys with her in the same way a cat plays with a mouse, and Jill needs all the help she can get in order to survive the night.
The root of Resident Evil 3’s design problems reflect this action oriented plot. Unlike Resident Evil 2 Remake, Resident Evil 3 is an action horror title rather than a full on survival horror scarefest. While aiming for a more actiony aesthetic doesn’t need to be a problem, it’s an issue in Resident Evil 3 due to the game’s controls. Resident Evil 3 mostly copies Resident Evil 2 Remake’s controls wholesale, but where that control scheme works well in a slow methodical horror setting, they don’t operate as smoothly in a game with a more energetic pace. During Resident Evil 3’s more frantic moments, you can only run at a slow jog, and the over the shoulder camera obscures some of the action that you need to see. Where these features complemented the scary moments in Resident Evil 2 Remake, they detract from Resident Evil 3’s blockbuster action set pieces, sometimes causing the player to be the focus of a zombie conga-line. Newer features like an unwieldy difficult-to-time dodge mechanic only add to a disconnect between what the player desires to do vs what the limiting controls merely allow the player to do in these more action packed moments. While, and don’t mistake me, Resident Evil 3 is still good, the game’s controls just aren’t as well suited to action when compared to pure survival horror.
Resident Evil 3’s excellent survival horror sections further highlight this gameplay disparity. When the game desires to build a creepy atmosphere and terrify the player (i.e. the Resident Evil franchise’s bread and guts), Resident Evil 3 really clicks. The same foundational gameplay elements that worked in Resident Evil 2 Remake still work well here. The aforementioned over the shoulder camera induces a sense of claustrophobia; enemies remain tougher than a bowl of wheaties to where even base zombies, who view the player as an all you can eat buffet, can withstand multiple headshot wounds without dying; waves of epheuroia hit me whenever I found a safe room; there’s barely any need to use the run mechanic as briskly jogging through unchecked areas is a recipe for disaster; I exhaled sighs of relief whenever finding new weapons, backpack storage upgrades, and health consumables as I barely treaded water in this zombie apocalypse; I even knifed bodies on the floor to make sure they were dead rather than undead.
The horror within Resident Evil 3 remains the best part of the experience. In fact, Resident Evil 3’s terrifying components are so good that I wondered why the game designers would dilute this horrifying tone with imperfect action until remembering that Resident Evil 3 was a remake. The original Resident Evil 3: Nemesis contained more action than its predecessor. To quote some folks who’ve played the game, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis was the first Resident Evil title to feature a dodge roll, a 180 degree turn, and an auto aim feature, and as a result of these more actiony components, Capcom’s hands may have been tied on the new Resident Evil 3. To accurately recapture the feeling of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, Capcom would need to spurn numerous gameplay elements that worked in Resident Evil 2 Remake. I doubt it was an enviable position for Capcom to be in.
The Nemesis was the most notable of these integral gameplay compromises, but before describing Resident Evil 3’s Nemesis, the previous game’s antagonist deserves some explaining. In Resident Evil 2 Remake, the player was being hunted by Mr. X: an indestructible super zombie who tirelessly hunts the player. Despite looking like an off brand Inspector Gadget, Mr. X was terrifying and capable of killing the player faster than you can say “Go go gadget face smash.” Aside from a few scripted sequences, conflicts between Mr. X and the player were unscripted, adding a sense of danger and fear that permeated Resident Evil 2 Remake’s sublime survival horror experience.
Resident Evil 3’s Nemesis doesn’t leave the same impact. While the Nemesis is a decent antagonist, he pales in comparison to Mr. X. Where Mr. X’s unscripted nature violated the player’s sense of security, all Nemesis encounters are scripted, meaning that the Nemesis was less of an all encompassing threat compared to Mr. X. With Mr. X, there was an element of random surprise, and while the Nemesis is cool enough, the characteristics that made Mr. X such a unique baddie are missing here.
Resident Evil 3’s pacing is another component sacrificed in favor of action. In Resident Evil 2 Remake, items like bolt cutters, lock picks, and access to the shotgun were spaced out evenly over time, and finally gaining new tools to access resources and weapons previously barred to you was a thrill in and of itself. In Resident Evil 3, these upgrades are rushed to the player. In fact, bolt cutters, lock picks, and the shotgun are gained within the first hour of playing the game, robbing the player of any form of gratification for receiving these items. While I understand that Resident Evil 3 desires the player to have these items earlier in order to focus on the action, this doesn’t change the game’s problem with pace.
Resident Evil 3 additionally contains a few quality of life problems. The game is criminally short and can be beaten in 8 hours; the framerate stutters at times; and there is a bit of ludonarrative dissonance where Jill slows down to talk on the radio even though the Nemesis is hauling ass right behind her. All these issues only hamper the game further, and make Resident Evil 3’s core design problems more prominent.
With that said, I want it known that Resident Evil 3 is a good game. I know that I’ve been criticizing the title mercilessly, but its gameplay and action are solid. The game just has the unfortunate duty of being a sequel to one of last year’s most critically acclaimed titles. Resident Evil 2 Remake was so good that it unfortunately illuminates all the details that make Resident Evil 3 be a lesser experience. Sad to say, Resident Evil 3 must survive on its own merits while shambling in the shadow of its more accomplished older brother.