Resident Evil 3 has a tall task in living up to the hype after last year's masterful remake of a modern classic in Resident Evil 2.
A 2019 Game of the Year contender, Resident Evil 2 reviewed well and scored well with a 91 on Metacritic. It managed to transform a blocky, 20-year-old game, upgrading not just graphics but the entire experience to fit modern gaming.
Now, Capcom is taking Jill Valentine's journey and her duels with the monstrosity known as Nemesis all over Raccoon City, plus adding in a creative multiplayer mode.
Resident Evil 3 has high expectations to meet, but the foundation was put in place by a Game of the Year contender.
Graphics and Gameplay
Players who worked through the police station and Raccoon City last year in Resident Evil 2 know what to expect with this remake.
"Gory and Gorgeous" might be a good tagline. The game is a graphical powerhouse in a lot of ways. The environments have plenty of detail, characters animate well and the zombies ooze gore as shots or weapons impact them.
Jill Valentine and Carlos Oliveira are smart modern takes on the characters. They move realistically and athletically through the apocalypse with clothing and hair that reacts well to the action. Like their counterparts in Resident Evil 2, Jill and Carlos vent verbal frustration and surprise during encounters with the undead.
One of the crowning achievements of last year's title was the directional sound design. It worked to make things more immersive in a way most details can't—hearing exactly which side a zombie is coming from is not only helpful, but terrifying. The sound design is excellent again as gates creak, alarms sound and monsters snarl in pursuit.
Resident Evil 3, for the most part, plays just like last year's remake of Resident Evil 2, which is a great thing.
A continuation here was a must. Controls are fluid compared to the source material, interactions are intuitive and the user interface is comfortable, if nothing else. Inexperienced players might find it a little strange to use a button to raise a knife, then hit another to actually swing it, but it feels like home soon enough and flows well.
Generally speaking, player movements and combat is a little clunky. Trying to control the camera and getting stuck on objects isn't the most unlikely occurrence while fleeing. But everything about the experience feels intentional and polished.
Thankfully, those who found Resident Evil 2 a little too slow can rejoice—this remake stays true to the original and leans into a more action-packed approach.
It's all about dodging and strategic bullet placement. Navigating the undead isn't as simple this time around because there are often so many at a time thrown at a player. While players aren't often hurting for ammo on certain difficulties, getting out of harm's way by throwing out some zombie-crippling leg shots remains a must.
That dodging mechanic becomes more important the longer the game goes on, which gives a superb sense of progression. Those early levels are just training wheels. Thankfully, the environment can provide an assist against enemies via shootable objects that deal damage or stun.
Aiming doesn't feel as intuitive as it probably should, which seems to be by design. The reticles don't always seem indicative of where bullets actually end up. A narrowing reticle the longer a player stands still and aims is—like movement—a little on the clunky side but helps building tension.
Another quiet upgrade even from the 2019 release in the series is the elimination of knife durability—which means knife-only runs are on the table.
The uptick in action doesn't cut the tension. The tandem of visuals, directional sound design and terrifying pursuit of Nemesis amid the wreckage of a city and around other monstrosities gives a relentless-bordering-on-unbearable feel.
But the formula that made Resident Evil 2 so much fun remains. Gameplay areas unfold in a Metroidvania style across the map as previously inaccessible places become unlockable with new findings. That map is color-coded to help players. Puzzles are engaging and don't hinder the action—if anything, they're a welcome breather.
Inventory management keeps the high-strung theme going. Players have to make tough decisions on what to keep in a limited inventory. If a player isn't around a save room and storage box, items they decide to drop are gone forever. Before going out into what could be a tough segment, do those precious inventory slots go to items like health or ammo when weapons themselves and progression tools already take up so much space?
Overall, gameplay feels like home—if home were a haunted house. It's comfortable and mostly smooth. That it fits the narrative is a sort of chef's kiss atop the whole package.
Story, Resistance and More
The narrative is a classic. Our two heroes are stuck in Raccoon City during the outbreak and are trying to do heroic things to survive. Side characters have some fully-realized moments in expected spots.
The general twists and turns of the story won't shock fans, but the execution might. Boss battles have been revamped for modern times with all the flair that encompasses, and it's always a fun time to get back to the trusty old police station, seeing its preserved state before the events of Resident Evil 2 take place.
Also, take a moment to appreciate the '90s vibe of the game. The styles of the cars strewn across the wrecked city, character attire and various pieces of detailing like movie posters really paint a picture of the era despite the chaos that demands attention. Where Jill and Carlos aren't the most interesting characters (but you grow attached and care through the viciousness they experience), the city itself remains an expressive character in its own right.
While players may find the characters to be akin to cardboard boxes at times (they were originally created in much simpler gaming times, power-wise), there is a repertoire of weapons that do their own talking. The shotgun is a (pun intended) blast to use and Carlos shows up with a machine gun. A grenade launcher that can handle different types of ammunition depending on the situation is fun, too, though players won't find themselves swimming in ammo.
Ammunition economy is important. Through a sheer sense of planning ahead, players might find themselves trying to pop zombies in the head with a puny handgun (which can take four or more shots anyway) in order to save the big ammo for whatever else might be lurking around the next corner. It's a nice balancing act. While the game might have more action and aim for a faster pace, players missing shots or being irresponsible with firepower will find themselves in a bad place, which is usually when Nemesis shows up.
Nemesis doesn't feel as terrifying as Mr. X in Resident Evil 2. There are some obvious breaks in the action away from this game's main foil. And while he's scary visually and can hop out of some unexpected places, some of the encounters feel more like a guided experience than one requiring improv and skill.
This isn't to downplay Nemesis, whose name was in the original game's title. He's dangerous, but he's also stuck in some of the trappings of his original design. At one point early on he picks up a rocket launcher, but Jill can easily outmaneuver the targeting laser, and it spits out little rockets, not game-ending affairs.
Maybe that's nitpicking, and whether Mr. X or Nemesis is more terrifying might come down to individual player experience. But Resident Evil 3 feels like the element of randomness is slightly reduced.
Some gameplay systems can counteract the tension. The checkpoint system is forgiving, which is an important technical point to mention, but it lessens the tension of repeated attempts at something. Call it a gaming give and take.
That's hardly the only accessibility option baked into the gory entree. Difficulty options give players, well, options. Those who might want a streamlined experience to just get through the story are more than welcome to it. Those who want to struggle...assuredly can.
There are also some assists baked into the in-game experience. If it notices a player struggling at a certain point after several deaths, it will ask about assists, which offer things such as health regeneration. Maybe most players will scoff and keep grinding the encounter, but it's nice to see such an idea included.
Resistance, the standalone multiplayer, brings some fun ideas to the forefront that smartly fit into the universe.
It vibes like the old Saw horror movies: One player serves as the master against four others and uses an array of traps and zombies to stunt their progress. Doing so results in a win. The four survivors have to work together to escape.
It's fun to strategize how to take down four players in a room and a blast to become one of the zombies or bosses while doling out damage.
On the survivor side, things can get a little hectic. The controls and movement are more of a singleplayer-campaign thing and don't fit multiplayer all that well. Add four players to a map, plus whatever traps, and things can get clunky.
But clunky has its charm as always, and there's some unexpected depth here. One survivor, for example, has the ability to lay down health regeneration for everyone. As the war against the clock continues, there is a vast treasure trove of items to buy and strategize with as games progress.
It's always hard to project if a multiplayer offering has enough to keep a strong player population for a long time. But there is some fun potential here given the groundwork already laid, and it should be interesting to see what sort of updates and character additions are added post-release.
Think of Resident Evil 3 as Nemesis barrelling down a hallway at the player—it's nearly unstoppable when it comes to speedrunning.
Last year's Resident Evil 2 took on a classic and created an epic modern speedrunning experience in the process, and it's a similar story here. The release from 1999 is still a speedrunning kingpin with world-record runs in the 40-minute mark set in recent months as of this writing.
Perhaps the only setback compared to Resident Evil 2 is fewer campaigns and a more run-and-gun nature. Times should be low, but it doesn't mean there will be a ton of variability in types of runs—but knife-only runs are on the table, so it all seems to balance out, right?
It wouldn't be much of a surprise to see this modern take on the classic see runners check in with similar numbers as those still rolling in on the classic edition. And it helps that details like the dodge make this possible.
And dodging is the biggest tip. Dodge often and well against all types of enemies, and the need to even interact with health items and otherwise goes away. Enemy manipulation by firing shots at walls and such is still possible, but the biggest detail to a run now is a properly-timed dodge to keep the momentum going.
Killing some enemies will still be a must given the action-oriented nature of the game compared to the previous entry in the series. But by going pacifist for most of the journey, runners should have plenty of weapons and ammo stockpiled to blow through even the biggest of bads. When forced to fight, weak points and timing for boss battles is another "duh" item to mention.
Besides combat navigation, world navigation and order of importance will come down to simple memorization. It's same story for puzzle solutions and key codes to open things like lockers. But even then, learning which items are essential and which aren't worth wasting time over will come down to preference.
Inventory management is already a breeze thanks to the streamlined system. The game even alerts when something won't even be needed again and is safe to discard, so there's no excuse for clutter.
Top times in this game won't come easy by any means. Skill plus a factor of luck—just like with the old runs—will weigh heavy over any attempt, which also happens to make for great viewing material on streaming platforms.
Nobody does remakes like Capcom with Resident Evil.
Resident Evil 3 isn't as lengthy a standalone release compared to Resident Evil 2 because there aren't multiple campaigns and the game is more action-oriented. It compensates with Resistance, but that doesn't really balance the scale.
Even so, this is another case study in how to put out a superb remake. There's a nice give-and-take of old and new here. Veterans will strangely feel comfortable and out of place at the same time. Newcomers will get to experience one of the best zombie-based offerings of the current generation.
That sure sounds like another Game of the Year contender, right? Mark it down. Resident Evil 3 is a joy to play for its cohesive, tense design in all facets, its main characters (people and city alike) and the unraveling of a Metroidvania-styled threat wrapped around a horror package.
That this is yet another case study of remakes done right is the exclamation point on another can't-miss package. We'll leave fans to debate if this is better than Resident Evil 2 from 2019, but together they stand atop the Resident Evil series and the go-to examples of what all gaming remakes will find themselves compared to in the future.