I still remember the first time I saw the Nemesis and the chill that ran through my body. The monstrous Tyrant was in the middle of a spread in a copy of old UK magazine PlayStation Max. On turning the page, I got my first glimpse of his searing pupiless eyes and terrifyingly large gum-line, which was unexpected, and therefore, scared the absolute shit out of me. There was something about this hulking brute that just stuck with me, and yet, I wanted to know more. As a nine year old, getting an inadvertent first taste of Resident Evil, that image seared itself into mind, the Nemesis becoming a creature that would pop in my dreams, but never on my PS1. Nine year olds and survival horror aren't a good combination, after all.
That didn't stop me getting into the series when I was older though. From blasting away Las Plagas in Resident Evil 4 to creeping around the Baker's house in Resident Evil 7, I've grown to love the series, even if the sight of the Nemesis always managed to send a subtle shiver down my back. So, finally, after almost 20 years of waiting to take on the creature that haunted my childhood nightmares, I finally got my wish in the Resident Evil 3 remake.
Sadly, he's not as scary as he looks.
Maybe that's because the game he's the star of doesn't know how to effectively utilise him. We all know how terrifying a hulking stalker can be in a Resident Evil game. After all, last year's Resident Evil 2 Remake set the modern template with the Tyrant, Mr. X. He is a nigh-on unstoppable threat, whose heavy footsteps always signal proper, heart-rate raising danger. You know, the type where you can hear the plastic of your controller squeak as you grip that extra bit tighter.
Crucially though, Mr. X is an unpredictable threat. He makes unexpected entrances, stomping through environments in ways that force you to adapt or, more likely, run away from. Resident Evil 2 maintains it's tension because at any point, an inhuman tank of a creature is going to burst through a wall and charge right at you. For roughly 30 minutes of Resident Evil 3, Nemesis slips into that role. The rest of your time facing him is spent running through scripted set-pieces. You know that you'll be safe from him until the next one and that just isn't as scary, or more importantly, fun.
The thing is, those set-pieces aren't necessarily bad. In fact, the game opens with a great one, as Jill is hunted through a burning building by the Nemesis. Here, he's a monster cladded in black plastic from head to boot, his face obscured entirely. All we know is that he's a big lad, he really has it in for Jill, and those "caution" tags on the bin liners he's in are never not going to be funny. Still, this early escape sets up the Nemesis nicely as something that we'll want to avoid.
Instead of letting this threat linger and build up, it's not even 10 minutes before we meet him again. Jill's found her way up to a car park's rooftop, about to escape Racoon City as a helicopter touches down. Instead, Nemesis shows up to blow up Jill's means of escape, so she retaliates by hopping in a car and running into him, eventually driving him (and the car) off the roof. It's the first sign that the slow, simmering tension of Resident Evil 2 Remake has been replaced by a louder, brasher form of horror. It ends with Jill trying to escape the wreckage as Nemesis saunters over, his face finally revealed, gums and all. It takes a couple of rockets from nearby Carlos to temporarily stun him, all so Jill can escape and get the game going properly. It's breathless stuff, sure, but scary? Not really.
Meeting a monster
It's also in this first section that I realise my childhood fears of Nemesis might have been slightly misplaced. As a kid, the grotesque monster tapped into a fear of something that was unnervingly otherworldly. It wasn't that it was a zombie, even if I wasn't fond of looking at them either, but it was a zombie that could think for itself (I assumed, anyway). Nemesis is that, but he's also an exceedingly theatrical villain, prone to a grand entrance or wielding increasingly hilarious weapons.
One moment around the game's middle sees Nemesis chasing Jill Valentine with a flamethrower, and, I kid you not, he strides into view, turns his head away, lifts up the flamethrower, and then pulls the trigger on it. Am I not meant to laugh out loud at the sight of Jill's purser being so extravagant that it'll try a no-look kill? Even if this version of Nemesis is true to the original – I'm sorry I haven't played it before, I was nine – it doesn't remotely inspire the same terror when compared to the restrained efficiency of Mr. X.
But maybe that's the problem with playing a remake of something that, until this point, I had only experienced second hand. The over-the-top and implausibly adaptable monster I fight in Resident Evil 3 could never possibly compete with the horrors my brain conjured up. If great horror lies in the unknown, then Nemesis was almost certainly always going to disappoint me. The monster of my mind stepped out of the shadows and revealed itself to be a Terminator and Xenomorph hybrid who gets more ridiculous and less scary as the game trundles along.
Perhaps it's also because the things that scared me as a nine year old (monsters in games, being picked last for teams) aren't the things that scare me now (global warming, dying in my sleep). Maybe it's just the fact that Resident Evil 3 feels like a rushed follow-up, that tries to up the ante, but instead struggles to match the balance of tension and action which made its predecessor so enjoyable. Either way, playing Resident Evil 3 cured my fear of it's headlining act, whether it meant to or not.