Resident Evil 3 Review
A solid remake that doesn't really address the weaknesses of the original
There was a lot that could have gone wrong with the 2019 Resident Evil 2 remake. I covered a lot of these potential missteps in my review last year so there's no need to re-hash them, but what was so impressive to see it side-step many of those issues, keeping what was great about the original and re-imaging the aspects which felt dated or out of place. It scrapped the bad voice acting and tank-y controls, but kept the cheesy one-lines and survival-horror resource management. This is the benefit of remaking one of the greatest survival horror masterpieces, it gives you solid groundwork upon which you can build your game.
The task of remaking Resident Evil 3 is more challenging in that the one iconic thing about the game, the unkillable Nemesis, doesn't provide the same solid foundation of a great game. As the years have gone by, the game has paled in comparison to the first two of the original series. With the exception of the Nemesis, the adventure was retreading old ground, done better in its predecessors. So when you have less to work with, you'll have to take more liberties, and while Resident Evil 3 (2020) does pave its own way, it's a much shorter and cinematic experience. In some ways, this remake is making the same mistakes as the original game.
That's not to say the game is bad, but with the bar set so high by Resident Evil 2, it can't help but feel a little disappointing. The pure Resident Evil formula of survival horror and Nicole Tompkins' impressive turn as Jill Valentine help keep the game elevated to a point that it will be enjoyable for Resident Evil fans, but I don't think its appeal extends beyond that. Gone are the strange, claustrophobic corridors of the police station, replaced by the open streets of Raccoon City. The subtle pacing that slowly ramps up the tension and excitement has been replaced with an action-movie thrill ride. There's less horror, less nerve-frying fretting over which way to go and what rooms to search. While the core is stable, the layers atop just aren't as good.
The game follows Jill Valentine who finds herself in a Raccoon City that is being overrun by the T-virus. Haunted by dreams of the horrors she's seen and pursued by a Tyrant called Nemesis, she attempts to flee the city with the help of Umbrella Corporation's secret paramilitary force that they've deployed to ostensibly rescue citizens. You could kind of tell in the original Resident Evil 3 how little the plot was starting to matter as the specific motivations and logic of the characters were flimsy. Little has been done to fix that here; in fact it's probably worse. The game assumes you know who Jill Valentine is or you don't care. Which is a little odd because as the game starts rolling, she doesn't ever act generically enough to be a player stand-in character. It only holds together because Tompkins is voicing her best Terminator 2 Sarah Conner impression and making it work. Jill takes the kind of beating Lara Croft would be familiar with, constantly falling from high places, being knocked around like a rag doll, and having her body subjected to assault metaphors that are bound to make you uncomfortable. There is such a fine line with horror games making this kind of material work, and the slip-ups made in Resident Evil 3 aren't unforgivable, but they clearly stick out.
The core gameplay is the savior here. Shoot zombies, find resources, unlock new areas is the name of the game and it's still rewarding. The campaign is pretty brutal in the opening hour, scattering the resources quite thinly, but things get better after opening up the first few sections and if you're feeling too beaten down, you can switch difficulties for a more forgiving playthrough. The shooting still feels off - which is good as it's designed to make you stress out about every bullet. The total lack of in-game UI is something that deserves high praise as it elevates the atmosphere. It's important to point out that this gameplay core is the saving grace of the game. Even the dodge move, which allows you to escape the clutches of near-by zombies or a devastating strike from the Tyrant, is a good addition, making escape sequences more intense.
There are issues with the overarching game design. The first is the playtime; clocking in around six hours, Resident Evil 3 just doesn't allow itself any time to breathe. Many areas like the sewers, police station, and subway feel under-utilized as if there was supposed to be more time spent in those locations, but it was left on the cutting-room floor. Because the game doesn't give itself much time to marinate in the suspense, it loses its horror sensibilities and feels like it leans much heavier on the action. Nemesis presents the biggest issue because his presence is constantly harassing the player to go forward. The areas of the game are so small and cramped, you're pushed into close quarters with Nemesis. The encounters feel inevitable, making them less terrifying, because you knew it was going to happen. It's almost comical how predictable his presence becomes. Did you just unlock that door to the next section? Is Jill about to finally escape? Both in gameplay and story, Nemesis always arrives on cue, which makes his presence all the more dull.
One of the biggest additions to the 2020 remake is the multiplayer mode, Resident Evil Resistance, that comes bundled with Resident Evil 3. I thought the age of the tacked-on multiplayer might have finally been behind us, but here we are. It's not bad, though it's certainly copying the homework of the 4v1 horror multiplayer genre which has become a popular staple with games like Dead by Daylight or Friday the 13th. That being said, the formula is also reminiscent of the squashed Fable Legends. In Resistance, four generic movie-trope heroes attempt to escape the map, while one villainous Mastermind player based on Resident Evil characters from previous games plants undead monsters and traps. The Survivor characters all have different skills and special abilities, putting them in tank, DPS, and support roles. But the gameplay is largely similar to regular Resident Evil - kill undead, avoid traps, find keys/objectives, and escape. For the Mastermind, there's a little more nuance. You almost operate like a level designer, trying to lay traps and place enemies in a way that will surprise and confuse your opponents. You can also assume the role of a zombie (which you likely don't want to do because they play terribly.) The Mastermind has a boss character that they can use after building up enough points - this boss has to be controlled directly. With placing zombies and utilizing a play-style that's so different from the traditional series formula, Mastermind is the more difficult role and I saw high-ranking players still failing against teams of relatively fresh Survivors.
The matches play out on maps that harken back to traditional Resident Evil locations. Underground laboratories, downtown streets, you know the drill. And while the Masterminds are fun fan service, the survivors are too generic. They aren't characters from previous games, so you have to learn about them, but they're so generic they're not much fun to get to know.
Resident Evil Resistance is fun as a free addition to a game many are buying as a single-player experience. To get the most out of the multiplayer, you'll have to play dozens and dozens of rounds to memorize the layout of the level and the ways it can change. Capcom tries to incentivize this kind of commitment by offering cosmetic rewards for the characters. A problem looming is that the in-game currency can unlock weapons and abilities that give you a better chance to win. And wouldn't you know it, you can pay real money to help speed that process along. So not only do experienced players have better knowledge of the maps and character dynamics, they have better abilities and equipment. Right now the community is there for the game. I had no trouble finding matches to play as Mastermind or Survivor. That said, it's clear that the community is still trying to find a meta that works. The only way to develop those kinds of staples is for the player numbers to grow and with continued development support; while nothing is certain, it's hard to imagine that Resistance is going to dethrone games of the same ilk that already have thriving play bases.
The remake does look great. The RE Engine is still going strong, and the details are well detailed, from Jill's scratched arm to Carlos' shaggy hair. There are some recycled assets, making things feel familiar instead of strange and scary. Obviously the police station looks familiar, but the sewers look very similar to Resident Evil 2 and elements of the hospital felt like deja vu. Still, the atmosphere works in spite of itself. The streets are so open and wide, they don't work for horror. The sound design is what saves the day. The shuffling feet of the undead and unsettling quiet is still effective and I did encounter a few jump scares that were pretty fun. Again, the heart of Resident Evil is there and well-preserved, but there's not much built around that.
The game runs smoothly. Aside from when you die, there are no loading screens or breaks in the action, making it an easy adventure to binge through in a couple of sittings. No crashes, no issues - techwise, this is an impressive game.
The heart of the franchise still beats in 2020's Resident Evil 3. You can hear it thumping in the background between the moans of the zombies and the crack of the gunfire. But throughout the game it becomes faint, trying desperately to pump blood through arteries clogged with pacing issues and uninspired Nemesis encounters. By the end, you get the sense that Resident Evil might not quite be dead, but that its best days are behind it. I don't mean the series in general is in trouble, but that the experiment of remaking the original trilogy may be at an impasse - and maybe it's time to start looking toward the future of Resident Evil, instead of reflecting on its past.