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Resident Evil 3 Remake review: Are we ready for pandemic nostalgia?

A few months ago, Resident Evil 3 Remake sounded like a slam-dunk idea for a good video game. Take everything that made last year’s Resident Evil 2 Remake a gorgeous, haunting surprise, then sprinkle a dash of RE3‘s exclusive, terrifying “Nemesis” character into the formula.

Of course, nobody could have predicted how on the nose RE3‘s plot, derived from the 1998 PlayStation 1 original, would feel at the dawn of spring 2020. As in: prior games’ viral zombie outbreaks, which were mostly contained inside of classic environments like mansions and police stations, explode into the streets. A city panics. A government responds.

Hmm.

We know, this is a decades-old series about zombies and cheesy plots, and dialogue classics like “the master of unlocking” mean we should always take the RE series’ “moral quandaries” with a grain of cultural salt. But it’s part of the critical question at this point: are you the kind of coronavirus shut-in who’s eager for pandemic-related content? (Netflix says you’re not alone.) Or would you rather put more “escape” into your escapism?

I’ll get into this, along with the more timeless question of how good (and how short) Capcom’s latest horror-remake game has turned out.

A good remake has been followed by a tighter remake

A quick refresh: Resident Evil games revolve around slow, creepy walks through constrained environs, where players must solve mild puzzles and contend with a range of undead horrors. (The series’ cinematic horror aspirations mean this usually happens in third-person view with limited ammo, as opposed to a Doom-like gun-stravaganza.) It has been that way since 1996, and while “next-gen” versions expanded and redefined various series tenets, the core terror has remained the same—and the last two games were good enough to prove Capcom isn’t out of good Resident Evil ideas just yet. That had us optimistic about this one.

In particular, last year’s RE2 Remake straddled a tricky line between fresh and familiar in mostly successful fashion. Every core system from the original game (graphics, sound, controls) received a top-to-bottom remake, all befitting current-gen consoles and running like a dream on modern, high-end PCs. Yet the act of playing the game felt plenty familiar, in terms of forcing players through tight corridors through mostly familiar enemies and jump scares (with the original PlayStation game’s environments recycled or remixed).

My biggest RE2 Remake complaints revolved around two things: you had to manage a minuscule inventory system, and you had to retread quite a bit of ground for some ho-hum “get the key from room C, run all the way back to room B” stretches.

Imagine, then, that every RE2 Remake highlight has returned. This year’s RE3 Remake is a visual stunner, in terms of cranking every imaginable real-time effect from the prior game one notch higher. It’s an audio delight, as it paints a terrifying, memorable 3D soundscape around players’ ears. Its modernized control system has returned with a cool new maneuver: a quick-dodge step that, when timed perfectly, gives players a slow-mo opportunity to either escape a monster’s clutches or aim a perfect round of buckshot into their undead faces.

Even better, my two core complaints from last time around have been firmly addressed, and somewhat in tandem with each other.

The original RE3 broke the series out of its classic mansions and moved its action into streets, sewers, and other buildings. But in 1998, that change was mere window dressing. Every scene saw 3D characters run over and around pre-rendered backdrops (similar to the PS1’s Final Fantasy games), so in that case, Capcom was swapping one pre-rendered series of environments for another. The actual gameplay didn’t feel very different, and the required back-tracking and key-collecting stuff still felt stodgy.

Whereas in RE3 Remake, this classic emphasis on open environments means a lot more forward momentum and a lot less back-tracking. A few times in the game, your main character (either Jill or Carlos, as you alternate between each depending on the game’s chapter) will be stuck in a region that requires some puzzle-solving and key-gathering to get through a critical barrier and run to the next crazy region. But once you leave an old zone, it’s gone. No back-tracking, no excess padding.

What’s more, each zone dumps more monsters, more danger, and more reasons to use your guns than in RE2 Remake, including some harrowing run-and-shoot sessions. An early, panicked portion makes clear that the game alternates between overstocking on supplies and burning through them all just to live. This means the game’s limited inventory system puts pressure on players to make big sacrifices: what should you store at a given time? Maybe put the shotgun away to make more room in your inventory for requirements like keys? What’s the bare minimum combo of health and weapon supplies that I might need when the tension ramps up, which I won’t get to restock until I get through the next Nemesis chase?

The resulting urgency pairs well with the most giddily grotesque visuals this series has ever seen. At its best, RE3 Remake hits some memorable, fist-pump-hell-yeah levels of horror intensity.

Brevity, and a dalliance with current events

The biggest casualty to this approach, sadly, is the game’s length.

Capcom has opted to not only bolster the number of in-game environments but also streamline how quickly you might dash through some of them. As I hinted earlier, 1998’s RE3 was the first game in the series to crank up combat as a series tentpole, as opposed to encouraging players to put their guns away and run, run, run away from various enemies. (Though that’s still an option in various sections of RE3 Remake.) A variety of super-powered zombies and beasts emerge this time around, and this remake is happy to delight in these moments as replacements for the old “find five items to unlock a door” chains of yore.

RE2 Remake was wise to remix its original content on behalf of its storytelling. Its classic story of Claire and Leon unfolded in a cool new way, complete with a remixed intro sequence that stretched from a gas station to a rush through a city until settling on the police station of old. RE3 Remake does something similar with its opening sequence, which is undoubtedly an improvement over the original RE3‘s confusing introduction. It creates a sense of place and introduces the Nemesis monster in far more dramatic fashion. But it also misses the mark of RE2 Remake‘s interesting stakes—of Leon and Claire briefly bonding before a forced, terrifying separation. RE3 Remake‘s star, Jill Valentine, emerges as a solitary figure of panic, and by the time she collides with Carlos, the results feel hokey (though, again, not as bad as the 1998 original).

What we are left with is a game that concludes at the 6.5-hour mark with little incentive to retread—I’ll leave a spoiler-tagged explanation in the comments below—and certainly less than RE2 Remake‘s hearty “second quest” options. (My save file counted 5.5 hours, which was padded with roughly an hour of saving-and-reloading through tough spots.)

Too soon, man. Too soon.
Enlarge / Too soon, man. Too soon.

Let’s briefly get back to the game’s brush with 2020’s real-life events so that you can make your own judgment call. RE3 Remake opens with a wholly redone, non-playable introduction, full of real-life newsreel footage of panic in the streets. It’s narrated with the fictional world’s news of the day: as a viral pandemic spreads in Raccoon City, the government hems and haws over quarantine orders, and the populace panics with unclear orders. Players must then control Jill Valentine, alone in her apartment, through a nightmare sequence in which she watches herself break out into visible viral symptoms. I have to level with you, readers: if you’ve struggled with recent headlines, you might want to prep a cup of soothing tea before taking this first 10 minutes on.

Thankfully, this angle melts away once Jill meets the monstrous, seemingly invincible Nemesis creature. At that point, most of the game looks more like a classic zombie film than an uncomfortable, ripped-from-headlines passage. The issue comes because the game is quite short, so the exceptions—a poster about staying vigilant in the face of fever symptoms, or a diary entry about a hospital running out of room for patients—stand out that much more. Slight as they are, they’re a noticeable percentage of RE3 Remake‘s scant runtime.

Timeless enough, but not much time

I’m not docking points from the game for this brief-yet-icky correlation with my own life hiding in my apartment for the foreseeable future. Resident Evil has been mining this “viral outbreak” motif for decades now, complete with plots that juggle corrupt governments, secretive private researchers, and tragic consequences. I may always remember this game’s awkward timing in terms of launching in April 2020, but not so much that its content can’t be enjoyed in relatively timeless fashion.

My bigger beef is that RE3 Remake fumbles the plot possibilities enabled by zombie video games. The game’s most intense action sequences do right by the original, but we’re given very little opportunity to watch the game’s main characters bond during and between firefights and thus take advantage of the storytelling possibilities enabled by multi-hour video games. If you want a memorable action video game, RE3 Remake will deliver—albeit briefly. If you want that action coupled with cheesy, relatable humanity, on the other hand, RE2 Remake is a better bet, if not a dive into your favorite binge-worthy zombie TV series.

The good:

  • If it was good in Resident Evil 2 Remake, it’s better here: Jaw-dropping visuals, haunting sound design, responsive action.
  • The worst time-padding issues from RE2 Remake have been resolved in satisfying, action-driving fashion.
  • A few killer boss battles highlight the incredible design and horror of the Nemesis creature.
  • Capcom’s zombie AI has never been more terrifying, and their bodies have never gibbed in more satisfying fashion.

The bad:

  • Sorry, Capcom, but your timing isn’t great. Some brand-new plot elements are too on the nose to ignore, even if they’re easy enough to brush off.
  • The story isn’t as painfully cheesy as the 1998 version, but Capcom drops the plot ball too much in this brief remake.

The ugly:

  • Boy, does this game end too soon.
  • Playing on Xbox One X? Wait for a patch.

Verdict: It’s good, but it’s not $60 good. Rent.

Listing image by Capcom

ARS T

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