Resident Evil 3 is a heavily flawed game I can’t stop playing

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Resident Evil 3 is a game that wants you to feel like an action hero. That’s something you ought to know right off the bat, especially if you were expecting the same edge-of-your-seat survival horror found in 2019’s Resident Evil 2. It’s a game that knows you’ve likely already mastered the combat of RE2, and rather than teaching the same mechanics all over again, decides you’re likely already good enough to go right from the start. To suit this tonal shift away from the rookie cop and college student you once controlled, you’re placed in the shoes of elite STARS operative Jill Valentine, survivor of the Spencer Mansion in RE1. Actively disempowering the player would be somewhat redundant, not only because it wouldn’t fit Jill as a character (that’s what we big brain boys in the biz like to call “””ludonarrative dissonance”””), it would also be kinda pointless to deliver the same experience that already exists beautifully in RE2. Personally, I’m completely in favour of the change, but the next stage is whether or not this alternate development team can pull it off.

So, do they? The answer to that is complicated by a number of factors, the most prevalent of which is the simple fact that this game is not finished. That isn’t to say the game is broken or bug-ridden – on the contrary, it plays very well and looks astonishingly gorgeous – but rather it feels like it’s missing chunks. The most obvious example I can point to is the absence of the famous Clock Tower segment from the original game but since I’ve not personally played that version of RE3, I’m not going to touch on that here. What I do believe needed much more time in the oven is, unfortunately, an issue that runs deep into the core of the experience. Resident Evil 3 appears to lack the careful consideration that went into every element of RE2. To give an example, the opening area presents a clear example of this. Downtown Raccoon City is absolutely stunning. Jill navigates the lived-in streets baked in neon light, moving from building to building, donut shop to pharmacy to subway station, all dripping with that same atmosphere of a place caught unawares by a sudden catastrophe. Everything feels so recently lived in, which lends a unique melancholic vibe that the abandoned police station of RE2 didn’t possess, which allows RE3 to stand out from its predecessor. It’s a cool area with little shortcuts that shave off time upon repeat playthroughs and the way it all ties together is pretty satisfying, but here’s where the issues arise.

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In isolation, Downtown RC is extremely well designed and memorable, but taken as a part of this whole game, it is let down by its briefness. You actually spend more time here than anywhere else in the game, since the linear progression of the story often sends you looping back here, but by the time I’d wrapped my head around the ins and outs of the area, it was more or less over. All of a sudden, you’re thrust into a sewer level with these cool-looking monsters lurking in the shadows that end up being a pushover once you acquire the grenade launcher. The section takes about 10-20 minutes depending on how familiar you are with the layout, and considering how strict the path out of this place ends up being, you never get a chance to engage with the scenario in any meaningful way. Then you’re in a burning skyscraper for a brief (but actually very fun) boss fight, and all of a sudden the game loses a lot of its unique qualities as you’re sent on a greatest hits tour through RE2‘s police station, before later exploring a generic and visually bland set of laboratory corridors, and all of a sudden the game is over.

These levels aren’t bad in any capacity – in fact, I enjoy them tremendously – but they feel carelessly slapped together, perhaps due to deadline constraints and/or an over-reliance on old assets from previous RE Engine Resi games. They lack the tremendous depth and variety of even the weaker sections of RE2. The sewer level in that game, for example, has many branching paths that go from putrid sewage water to moody maintanence rooms, even to pathways that loop all the way back to the police station again. These different mini-areas are carefully stacked on top of one another, allowing for a sense of verticality and environmental cohesion. RE3‘s solution to the problem of player engagement is simply to have areas come and go before you have a chance to tire of them. This is a tried-and-true approach to game design that is common to most linear action games, but what games like this require in order for this to work is something else to grab the player’s attention.

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Games like Halo or A Plague Tale: Innocence are built in a very similar way, but while I can’t say I remembered much of RE3 in great detail outside of the opening area, I can distinctly recall a number of levels from A Plague Tale, despite the fact that they come and go at much the same pace. What works for that game in particular is its phenomenal art design. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to unsee the harrowing image of the corpse-riddled battlefield, or transitioning from the claustrophobic corridors of the opening spaceship in Halo to the freeing wide-open space of the battle-torn planet in the following stage. These games are famously linear experiences, but they work so well because they exemplify the finest qualities of each game. Even RE2 has its own fair share of scripted sequences, but they remain ingrained in my skull as moments that left.my jaw on the floor from how well they were executed. Resident Evil 3 doesn’t have that moment where you run into a room to escape a licker, re-emerge into the hallway thinking it’s gone, then turn the corner to find it hanging out on a wall, waiting patiently to nosh your face off. To put it more bluntly, RE3 lacks enough of those organic WOW moments that are definitively its own.

It’s a crying shame that this identity crisis exists, because the ideas RE3 introduces are genuinely quite compelling. It was only a matter of time before I brought up Nemesis, so here’s the bit where I bring up Nemesis. On paper, the idea of an aggressive and relentless hunter constantly on your ass, able to appear at any time to decisively ruin your day, is a mechanic that should be familiar to anyone who played RE2. Mr. X was this immensely threatening being, able to strike fear into the heart of any player with nothing but his booking footsteps drawing nearer. His appearance beautifully transforms your relationship with the police station you’ve been gradually familiarising yourself with for the past couple hours. He’s an unpredictable variable that forces you to plan ahead and find imaginative new ways to traverse the station, without ever becoming a simple annoyance.

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His appearance might genuinely be one of the few strokes of genius from this console generation, adding an element of dynamism into an otherwise fairly linear game, eliciting a sense of dread and eventual satisfaction in overcoming difficult odds that I will cherish forever. Nemesis performs more or less an identical role, but feels like a different beast entirely due to his utter relentlessness. While Mr. X would pursue the player at a fairly slow, lumbering pace to accommodate the cramped environments of the police station, Nemesis is utterly relentless.

The opening five minutes of the game communicate his absolute devotion to murdering your ass perfectly, throwing Jill into a series of tightly scripted pathways where you get your dick slammed every four nanoseconds. He’ll burst through walls and the ceiling at random points, almost as if he’s able to predict your movements exactly. He tears concrete off the walls and attempts to crush you with it, indicating his absurd strength. The set-piece-y nature of this encounter might sound kinda disappointing to some, but personally I really love its inclusion at this stage in the game. Forcing the player down a very specific path does a phenomenal job in making you feel utterly powerless, like there’s no escape to this nightmare you find yourself in. You manage to evade the monster’s grasp by a hair’s breadth, thus concluding an incredibly strong opening that throws you directly into the action. Now, you might think this is the part where I say Nemesis never lives up to his phenomenal introduction, becoming overwhelmingly less interesting as an antagonist. However, you’d be wrong because that never happens…for at least an hour but anyway here’s the part where he works.

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His reappearance towards the end of the Downtown Raccoon City segment serves a very similar purpose to the gameplay switch caused by Mr. X, but RE3 makes this encounter something of a chase sequence; a mad dash to scrounge up as many resources as you can before you leave, all while Nemesis relentlessly bites at your heels. He is viscerally terrifying like Mr. X never was. While X was fairly straightforward to deal with once you understood his simplistic behaviours (good old walkin’ and punchin’), Nemesis changes up his approach constantly. Sometimes he comes at you with a full-on sprint that forces you to dodge or be pummelled, while at other times he yoinks you towards him with his tentacle arm, causing a stunned state that you’ve gotta escape from if you want to survive. Sometimes he just disappears and later, just when you begin to ease your guard, drops from the heavens to deal a surprise knuckle sandwich, or just barrels round a corner to smash your teeth in. You feel powerless to his onslaught, outmatched both physically and strategically. He seems to know what you’ll do and exactly when you’ll do it and it is absolutely thrilling. Surviving this encounter feels like you’ve bested exceptional odds, even on lower difficulties, and I think it may have been the highlight of the game during my first run.

Of course, you’re expecting a ‘but’ so here it comes. Nemesis is really cool and well-designed in the early game BUT this kind of dynamic experience never happens again past this point. Once you hit the sewer level, Nemesis is relegated to set-pieces and boss battles, which is unbelievably lame since Capcom have already proven they can do this kind of enemy right, not only through X in RE2, but literally within this very game. The way he evolves throughout the story is exciting and the boss fights are (mostly) incredible fun and a big step up from the previous game, but I just wish we could’ve seen these later versions of Nemesis in similarly interconnected areas, where the challenge comes from negotiating his arrival rather than simply surviving whatever the developers want you to survive.

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He becomes less of a threatening looming presence who could strike at any time, and more akin to a roadblock in need of overcoming to progress the story. This dropped potential can only come down to one thing in my eyes, and that’s the aforementioned issue with rushed development. Downtown RC is a glimpse of what this development team is capable of with this character, but the rest of his appearances were more likely a consequence of tight deadlines. Despite my endless complaining, I still really enjoyed what was done with Nemesis as a separate experience. Seeing him mutate over time to utterly ridiculous levels by the end was both hilarious in its absurdity and immensely compelling, as I couldn’t wait to see what abomination I would have to face next. He works for what kind of game RE3 is trying to be, but it’s unfortunate that he loses much of the qualities that make him uniquely scary along the way.

Looking at the big scary boy on the posters, you might assume Nemesis to be the main baddie of this story, and if you believe that then you’ve clearly never played a Resident Evil game. Rather, Nemmie is a symptom of a greater evil, and the true antagonist of the RE franchise (and remember the read this in a spooky voice): unchecked capitalism! As was the standard for narratives set in the 90s, the villain of this tale is an unstoppable megacorporation, this time by the name of Umbrella Pharmaceuticals. This company created Nemesis specifically to kill off the members of STARS (Special Tactics And Rescue Service) who uncovered their dirty secrets in the first game. Jill is a part of that squad, so naturally she’s on Nemesis’s shit list. Not only that, they are also responsible for the virus that has turned everyone into zombies. Needless to say, they have a lot of thoughts and prayers to dispense this week. Umbrella are always the ones behind the evils of the Resident Evil world, and their motivation is always the same: profit, at all costs.

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THIS IS THE SPOILER SECTION SO SKIP OVER IT IF YOU CARE ABOUT THAT THANKS

This commitment to greed comes to a clear head with the vaporisation of Raccoon City at the end of the game. Despite having just finally defeated Nemesis in a particularly baller-ass boss fight that solidifies Jill Valentine as video games’s best girl, and besting Nicholai, the game’s manifestation of self-serving individualism, the ending manages to take the typical satisfaction of beating the big bad and rips it away by killing presumably millions of people in an instant. The destruction of Raccoon City drags you back to that original feeling of powerlessness experienced in the game’s opening sequence. You survived, sure, but ultimately, you didn’t win. In the initial shock, it appears as if Umbrella have had the last laugh.

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However, they didn’t account for one key variable: Jill fucking Valentine. Armed with the knowledge of Umbrella’s misdeeds in the Spencer Mansion, as well as living through these past couple days, she escapes the wrecked city having overcome her fear of turning and meeting an unfortunate end. She accepts that while these are very real dangers worth avoiding, her friendship with Carlos proves that this is a world worth saving. As the scene fades to black, she vows to dedicate her life to stopping Umbrella once and for all, ending the game on a surprisingly motivating note that hits surprisingly hard considering how ridiculous Resident Evil narratives tend to be. It’s not Shakespeare but it is effective because the game commits to its themes and tone.


And that – THAT – is why I adore Resident Evil 3. Despite its many faults and missed opportunities, it somehow manages to stick the landing with grace, as every element melds together to form a surprisingly strong whole with a heart of gold. Say all you want about the game’s peaks and troughs but you have to at least admire that the dev team at least committed to making this game distinct from what came before. RE3 may not have the mirror shine of a Call of Duty, but where the game lacks polish, it makes up for with a wonderfully corny, endearingly dated personality. This game is a bit of a mess, but it’s a mess with spirit, and while I would have preferred a less linear game, if that had ended up tampering with what this game is at its core, then I like it just the way it is. If you remain skeptical even now, especially with that hefty price tag, I understand. However, I hope I’ve made it clear that, considering all the issues I’ve brought up, this game is at least worth your time, and I would highly recommend it.

EXCELLENT

8/10

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