Resident Evil 3 Review: Earning the Big "3"

Resident Evil 3 Review: Earning the Big "3"

Nemesis is back and gnarlier than ever. And now, he's easier to deal with.

Growing up, I remember two very frustrating games that I was probably too young to be playing anyways. One was Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. The other was Resident Evil 3: Nemesis.

Resident Evil 3: Nemesis originally released in 1999 on PlayStation, though I didn't play it until many years later, thanks to a PS1 memory card stuck into my PS2. Originally conceived as a spin-off by Capcom, it pivoted to being a true sequel, its status as a numbered entry in the series a byproduct of, apparently, keeping the then-PlayStation exclusive titles consistent. Set in Raccoon City before and during the events of Resident Evil 2, it stars original Resident Evil co-lead Jill Valentine in her attempt to escape Raccoon City. That's difficult enough in the middle of a zombie infestation, but she also has a monster hot on her tail—a monster engineered to eliminate all remaining members of the STARS police unit she was a part of. It will stop at nothing to kill Jill, and boy it is frustrating.

Nemesis, one of the most iconic threats in Resident Evil history, is tough. He's a bullet sponge with no deterrent; he's always in your way. You can get him to drop supplies by sinking damage into him, but such instances are rare. Nemesis is the blockade in what might have otherwise been a thrilling adventure. I never finished the original game, ultimately rage quitting and catching up on the story via a wiki.

He's always waiting. | Caty McCarthy/USG, Capcom

Now in 2020, Capcom returns to the least adored of the original Resident Evil trio with a brand-new remake. Like last year's Resident Evil 2, it feels only cursorily similar to its original. Some plot beats are the same, but largely it takes liberties. Otherwise it's a modern-feeling game with some classic flourishes—an indestructible knife, combinable items like herbs, an inventory system that feels like playing Tetris. There are a number of larger areas to explore at length, but none that quite rival the scale of Resident Evil 2's three big locales. It's more linear than Resident Evil 2, which is both its greatest strength and ultimate weakness.

Mostly, it makes a case for why Resident Evil 3 deserves the big "3" in the first place, and in that it largely succeeds. With familiar foes and a lot more hints of what's to come in the future of the Resident Evil series, Resident Evil 3 at last feels like the numbered sequel it should have been all along. Like in Resident Evil 3 proper, Jill has a dodge now, which makes the combat itself more agile, even if the toolset and framework is basically the exact same. It effectively bridges the gap from tight survival-horror to the horror-action the series fully pivoted to starting with Resident Evil 4.

Being more of a briskly paced action game doesn't mean Resident Evil 3 is devoid of horror, though. Nemesis chases are much more scripted than Resident Evil 2's Tyrant encounters, but they're always terrifying. An early maze section where giant spiders inject you with parasites if they're able to grab you from the ceiling is especially tense and gruesome. [Editor's Note: Oh god.] Resident Evil 3 may be more inclined to throw more zombies at you, with the expectation that with a handy dodge and more conveniently placed environmental hazards you can handle the increased mayhem, but it never fully abandons the terror you expect from Resident Evil.

It is wholly a better game than its original namesake. Nemesis, while still formidable, doesn't feel as cheap as he once did. If anything, he's a good-natured A.I. troll. Just when I think I've outrun him, he'll leap ahead. Just when I think I've side-stepped him, he'll whip out a tentacle to trip Jill, or let out a scream so loud that it stuns her momentarily. A lot of the time, the big lip-less dude (seriously, he has no lips) is just messing around with you. Sure, he can kill you, but he's also just showing off; posturing about his power and size, like a mutant version of Animal Crossing's resident chicken bodybuilder, Goose.

Here's an early example. I'm negotiating a cramped alleyway with two zombies when Nemesis leaps ahead of me, leaving me outnumbered. I manage to dodge the zombies as they lunge at me—zombies sure seem to like lunging a lot more here than they did in Resident Evil 2—but I think due to my slightly low health, Nemesis is able to grab me. He chokes Jill in the air; and here's me, just accepting my fate. I'm gonna die. But then he abruptly lets go. I dodge-step away, and in my gravely injured stumble-sprint, manage to make it to my destination. Like I said: I'm pretty sure he's just trolling.

Jill isn't alone in facing Nemesis. Carlos, originally a secondary protagonist, also plays a much more substantial role this time around. His sections aren't like playing as Ada Wong during Leon's A route in Resident Evil 2; they're more expansive than that. (I'd say it's about a 70-30 split in terms of Jill and Carlos' individual playtime.) He's much more of an offense-driven character than Jill, similar to how Claire's arsenal changed up the combat language of playing Resident Evil 2 in its second playthrough (or vice versa). Carlos' penchant for brute face is especially useful considering he has some of the toughest sections of the entire game.

Carlos solidifies Resident Evil 3's feeling of being an action movie. Where Claire and Leon were dweebs shambling through an apocalypse, Jill and Carlos are capable badasses. Zombies seem to go down a lot easier than they did in Resident Evil 2. When Jill hits a perfect dodge, she can auto-aim her gun and land a perfect headshot. When Carlos lands a dodge, he literally punches whatever foe is in his path, whether it's a regular zombie or a ridiculously huge "Hunter"—a monster that can kill in one hit if you're not careful. The way he wheels his fist back and lands a punch is always hilarious, so in sections where Carlos is the hero, I purposely try to dodge more often than usual just for the image of him clocking another zombie.

Resident Evil 3, consequently, operates best when its environments are larger. With an increased number of zombies stumbling toward you at almost all times, and an additional reliance on situational awareness—there are explosive red barrels as well as electrical boxes that can stop enemies in their tracks—things can get clunky in the more confined environments. Attempting to dodge through a cluster of zombies in a hallway, for instance, can spell disaster. With your knife now being indestructible, unlike the durability factor of Resident Evil 2, you can no longer rely on it as a ready defense against getting bitten. As a result, I found myself using health items far more often.

Carlos makes a familiar pit stop. | Caty McCarthy/USG, Capcom

Still, Resident Evil 3 lifts a lot from last year's Resident Evil 2 remake. The main difference is that Resident Evil 3 is a much more nimble, linear game. Compared to the exploration-heavy nature of its immediate predecessor, Resident Evil 3 always feels like it's moving forward, with very little backtracking. The choice-driven style of the original 1999 game is gone. Thus, there's a lot less replayability, which contrasts heavily with Resident Evil 2's wealth of additional routes (and its challenging and rewarding Fourth Survivor mode). Capcom hopes Resident Evil 3's asymmetrical multiplayer experience Resident Evil Resistance will fill the gap in that regard.

Welcome to the Resistance

Resistance is a whole different game, even requiring a separate launcher from Resident Evil 3 (though the two are bundled together as one at purchase). Part-PvE, part-PvP, in Resistance you play as a band of four survivors with individualized perks and special abilities, and solve puzzles in cramped little levels. There's also the Mastermind, another player who is trying to stop the four from reaching their destination. Think of a human-controlled version of Left 4 Dead's dastardly A.I.

The Mastermind hops between cameras and summon zombies and traps on the battlefield to impede the party. Meanwhile, the survivors, of which there are six characters at launch, each have their own passive, active, and "Fever Skill" (basically, an Ultimate) abilities. For instance, the mall punk January has a Fever Skill where she can use an EMP to impair all the cameras—effectively blinding the Mastermind. The winning goal for the team of four is to reach the end of a three-level phase.

In theory, it sounds like this could be a solid mode, even if it is yet another co-op game against a zombie infestation. However, its foundation is more what I'd call "shaky." I've managed to play a match as each of the survivors to test out their skills, in addition to a couple matches as Mastermind. As Mastermind, you're able to embody zombies (or bigger foes, like G-Virus Birkin), but playing as them feels limited and frankly terrible—even if it is still effective. I've found it's always a cakewalk to overwhelm the survivors. Meanwhile, in all my matches as a survivor, my team was plainly just not very coordinated. We would usually die around the second level of the round. Sometimes my teammates wouldn't even prioritize finding puzzle pieces, which was... odd.

Resistance doesn't have the polish of Resident Evil 3's campaign. Combat is more janky. In particular, it feels very strange to go from using R1 to dodge all through Resident Evil 3, but in Resistance, there is no dodge. R1 is bound to an active ability that recharges, like Martin Sandwich's explosive landmine, instead. The amount of times I would accidentally do an ability because I was impulse-dodging is too many to count.

At the very least, there is a lot of room for progression, from customizable ability sets per survivor to unlockable Masterminds with unique monsters under their control, of which you start with just one: Annette Birkin (and her mutated husband). | Capcom

I also experienced a lag issue, such as a very slight delay from me pulling the trigger and a bullet actually hitting a zombie, despite having a steady internet connection. Zombies glitch, often not disappearing even after they've been shot to death, or clipping into the floor. With every match as a survivor, there's been a notice in big text in the center of the screen that the Mastermind's internet connection is "unstable." I'm not sure if it's actually the player, or the servers themselves.

So Resistance is in a rough state, which spells bad news for the "replayability" factor that is being touted with Resident Evil 3. Still, here I am anyway, on my second run through Resident Evil 3. I'm using the time to explore more than I did on my initial run, since there were some secrets and locked goods I accidentally missed due to my accidentally progressing the story and thus, moving onward from the locale. Most will be satisfied after the credits roll the first time, and I wouldn't say it necessitates a second (or third, or fourth) run like last year's Resident Evil 2 remake, but there's still some lootin' and exploring to be found in the dark, bloody corners of some levels. Just not a lot.

Despite my disappointment at the more linear aim of Resident Evil 3, it's uplifted by Jill and Carlos. Like Leon and Claire before them, they're two characters I just like. Their corny dialogue is endearing, much as it was with Claire and Leon in Resident Evil 2. The circumstances and plot conveniences are often laugh-out-loud dumb, but it's part of the fun. The action, when it's not a pain in crowded narrow spaces, is tense in a good way. Zombies may go down easier, but they still have bite. Perhaps that's what Resident Evil 3 needed all along to rewrite and justify its own deserved place in Resident Evil history: extra B-movie flair from action to tone.

Resident Evil 3 finally repositions its place as not just a true sequel to Resident Evil 2, but as a bridge to Resident Evil 4, both in action and plot. While it streamlines the formula of Resident Evil 2 into something more linear, it's still the best way to dodge through Raccoon City with Jill and Carlos, even with Nemesis always on your tail and the occasional clunkiness here and there. With a breezy runtime, Resident Evil 3 is well worth revisiting. Just maybe not Resident Evil Resistance.


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Caty McCarthy

Senior Editor

Caty McCarthy is a former freelance writer whose work has appeared in Kill Screen, VICE, The AV Club, Kotaku, Polygon, and IGN. When she's not blathering into a podcast mic, reading a book, or playing a billion video games at once, she's probably watching Terrace House or something. She is currently USgamer's Senior Editor.

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