In the trying time of Covid-19, it might be a little on the nose to play a video game in which a devastating contagion that has laid waste to a city community. Indeed, the opening speil of Resident Evil 3, complete with a live-action news spoof describing a deadly virus that has spread like wildfire, might strike a little too close to home.
Nevertheless, Capcom’s remake unusually timely zombie romp still manages to provide some punchy escapism. After all, there is something cathartic about taking a grenade launcher to zombies flouting social distancing rules by trying to bite the gristle from your neck.
It has to be said, though, that following the exceptional Resident Evil 2 remake -unquestionably one of 2019’s finest games- the retread of its less heralded sequel feels like a a step back. Shorter, tamer and more linear than its predecessor, Resident Evil 3 is something of a side-dish to Resi 2’s horror banquet. Though there are still plenty of itchy, tasty morsels to enjoy.
Set during the zombifying outbreak in Racoon City, you take control of supercop Jill Valentine (STARS member and co-star of the first Resident Evil) forcefully evicted from her apartment by the grotesque, hulking bioweapon Nemesis smashing through her wall. You must then escape the beast through the wreckage of Racoon City, dodging the undead and figuring out what dastardly deeds shady biocorp Umbrella are up to.
The first thing you notice is that Resident Evil 3 is a looker. Capcom’s RE Engine has been squeezing the last bits of juice from the current generation of consoles for a few years now, with the latest game another step up. The character models are terrifically detailed; from Jill herself to the gurning, decaying zombies shambling through the city. They are creepily convincing, turning to pursue you in stilted lurches and flesh sloughing off when popped with a bullet.
The town they infest is equally impressive. Streets in the midst of destruction. Police cars surrounded by flame while their sirens still flicker. The neon signs of a crab joint still alight and casting purple hues on the bloody streets below. The local pharmacy has its shelves toppled and ransacked.
It is tremendous to look at and immediately engrossing. Though the game’s antagonist has a habit of pulling you out of the illusion more than dragging you further in. Particularly in the early stages of the game, Nemesis is a nuisance. The beast is singular in its pursuit of Jill and crashes into play often. It is a constant threat, yet nowhere near as intimidating as Resi 2’s Mr. X, a similar looming presence who was terrifying because of his more infrequent appearances. Here, dodging the Nemesis becomes an irritation more than a test of nerve, flitting between points in the city looking for keys or clues while doubling back to avoid a big tentacley whip knocking you off your feet.
Partly this is structural too, Resident Evil 3’s areas are tightly contained, carved into individual sections rather than Resi 2’s ornate police department’s sprawl. I realise I am slipping into a pet peeve of mine in too readily comparing games like-for-like. But the successes of its predecessor highlight what doesn’t land in Resident Evil 3; a clever sense of place and unease replaced with more linear thrills. A fair chunk of Resi 3 is outside, but the game feels more constrained than the intimate setting of the RPD. The latter is a terrifying puzzle to unlock, rather than a nightmare to plough through.
Even so, Resident Evil 3 offers plenty of schlocky straightforward fun. Jill takes you through the more claustrophobic terror, trading Nemesis pursuits with puzzle-solving and item scrounging as ammo runs low. Still not much more anxiety-inducing actions in games than being back into a corner while unloading a rapidly depleting pistol cartridge into a zombie that just… wont … die. Different monsters can require a slightly different approach or weapon, particularly the monstrosities that roam the sewers.
Straight up skirmishes with the Nemesis, meanwhile, are classic video game boss battle fare. But they become highlights because of the cathartic chance to stop running and put a few acid rounds into his ugly mush.
If Jill edges more towards combat as the game progresses, your time as walking hairball Carlos -a contrite Umbrella footsoldier- tilts toward full action. Rocking an assault rifle and supplied with plentiful ammo, the Carlos bits are the slightly weaker portion of the game (those tight corridors aren’t the best setting for full action) but do serve as a decent palate-cleanser. One last stand against zombies flooding into a hospital lobby stands out.
All of which is to say there is a perfectly enjoyable time to be had with Resident Evil 3 across its (notably brief) seven hours. But it is not likely to be an experience that will stick in the mind for too long. And with apologies for reverting back to the Resi 2 comparisons, when that game was finished I immediately wanted to dive back in for its alternate run. There is no such desire with Resi 3; no matter how many shiny weapons there are on offer for a repeat play.
(A good job, then, that buying Resident Evil 3 gives you access to the intriguing if technically wobbly multiplayer experiment Resident Evil Resistance.)
It is a particularly affluent time for big budget remakes of turn of the century classics, yet games like Final Fantasy 7 still find their relevance to the world today. Resident Evil 3 does this too, but not in the way we, or Capcom for that matter, would expect or have wanted. Part of how much you reap from Resident Evil 3 will be down to your nostalgia for the series, part of it will be if shooting the embodiment of a virus in the face with a rail-gun is just what you need right now.