When everything hits its mark, Resident Evil 3 (opens in new tab) is almost every bit as good as last year’s Resident Evil 2 Remake. A tense, jumpy retelling of the PS1 classic in a modern gaming language, it tries a few new ideas but works best when it sticks closely to the previous game’s template of undead crowd control and criss-crossing hub areas to unravel. Like the original game it’s a slightly more gun heavy take on the series’ zombie surviving, and one that rewards aggression more than caution to create a faster, more trigger happy adventure that’s still Resident Evil at heart. It lacks some of the depth and variety of last year’s Resident Evil 2 Remake, with less puzzles and more action, but it’s still a rewarding slice of horror.
Release date: April 3, 2020
Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Curiously, the Nemesis - the cover star and arguably the point of the whole thing - is far less of a pursuing menace than Mr X this time. I mention it now because if you were expecting the original’s set up - where he repeatedly appears to hound you - you’re going to be disappointed. Aside from the opening city section, where he chases you for a small segment, he’s largely relegated to more set piece orientated moments and tightly defined boss fight encounters.
But the opening city streets, where Nemesis first menaces you are an exciting start with a different feel after Resident Evil 2’s more subdued corridor based apocalypse. Wandering around outside during a zombie apocalypse in progress is a far more interesting location to digest as you scan the burning skyline or wonder what happened to leave all the piled up roadblocks and trashed cars. It’s also the best mix of the old and new ideas here - mainly the new dodge move and the increase in enemies. The more open areas really capitalise on the main character Jill’s ability to sidestep zombies to manage threats. In later, more corridor-y, areas dodging can be a bit hit and miss with less space to move in.
This city street section is the only place where the Nemesis really appears as you might expect - a constant, lumbering, trench coated danger. Once he arrives you are constantly on the run, or at least trying to be as he leaps in front of you or lashes out with long range tentacles. When I played the game at preview stage I wasn’t entirely sold on the mechanics because having an unkillable enemy that’s always in your face can only hold your interest for so long. But as it turns out there’s far less to worry about in the full game. Partly because when you first encounter the creature there are plenty of grenades and explosive barrels to knock him down for the minute or two’s respite you need to tick off your apocalypse to-do list. However, what is surprising is that after this opening encounter, the Nemesis never really appears in this way again and, instead, the focus shifts to more compartmentalised, structured encounters.
Having plenty of weapons and ammo to deal with the Nemesis’ initial (and, really, only) face to face encounter is part of getting your head around the fact that this is a much more shooter-focused Resident Evil experience, keeping with the more action focused shift in the original game. There’s plenty of ammo this time but it might take a while to realise that you can pretty much go weapons free on any threat you find. Old habits meant I initially played with the old Resident Evil 2 mindset of making every shot count and avoiding rather than fighting enemies for a while, but that actually makes things more tricky. There are generally more zombies in any given area so it’s best to blast everything that moves to avoid getting overwhelmed.
When it works it’s a satisfying role reversal that feels like you’re taking control of the zombie apocalypse rather than surviving it. That said it mainly clicks in the larger areas where you have more room to aim, reposition and manage threat spacing. With less space you can easily end up firing wildly from a corner or wall you’ve inadvertently backed yourself into. The second playable character, Carlos, also swaps the dodge for a shoulder barge that takes you towards enemies and can sometimes make things worse.
Tighter spaces can also expose frustrations with the Hunter enemies who use insta-kill attacks suddenly and without warning. These are true insta-kills too that can spell death even if you’re at full health. The blind frog-like Hunter Gammas can swallow you whole, while the Hunter Beta can tear your throat out with zero warning. On the one hand it makes them a genuinely terrifying encounter in a game with some already strong jump scares, but it can be irritating to die instantly. Usually in tighter spaces where you don’t always have the room to keep the distance you need to survive too.
In fact, despite extra enemies, more ammo and a few new ideas (most of which I’m either not allowed to talk about or don’t want to spoil) Resident Evil 3 works best when it sticks to what made Resident Evil 2 so good - settling into a hub-like area to unravel it; tracking from one objective to the next to progress further is just as good here as in the last game. The mid-point hospital level is an extremely enjoyable high for the game and on par with Resident Evil 2’s RCPD building as a chunky location you spend considerable time in, slowly peeling back its layers.
Character wise however this actually edges out Resident Evil 2 a touch. I liked both Jill and Carlos a lot more than Leon and Claire, while the villain Nikolai is a gloriously sneery heel. Overall the writing more lovingly embraces a cheesy action movie feel that works beautifully against the zombie monster setting. At one point a character calls someone a “ballsy montherfucker” in a moment that’s 100% 80s Arnie camp machismo and I am totally here for it.
Leaving the story briefly, there’s also a multiplayer option this time. Resident Evil Resistance is obviously a new angle and it’s a perfectly functional experience that’s pretty good fun. I say that having played in lobbies with people I actually know. Its escape room premise - four players battle zombies to locate keys and survive while a fifth bad guy player summons monsters and traps - works well with communication. I’ve yet to spend much time with online randoms, but as talking and working together is so key to winning as a team that it all depends on who you're with.
The single player however is decent enough that the multiplayer is just a bonus. That said the main campaign does feel brief and light - I clocked a 9 hour completion time that included plenty of backtracking to find the few upgrades and extras scattered around. As I mentioned, there’s fewer puzzles, or multistage lock systems to unreveal, favoring instead a more direct progression of door opening. It lacks the breadth of the last remake in that sense but with the focus more on action it suits a faster pace and the balance still creates satisfying, albeit lighter, reimagining for the series.