Resident Evil 3 Plays Differently During a Pandemic

Capcom never could have imagined the timing of their long-awaited remastering of the beloved “Resident Evil 3.” The game opens with news reports about a pandemic that has torn its away across the country, destroying everything in its path. In the opening scenes of this tense adventure, you stumble through streets of burned-out cars and other debris, avoiding the walking dead who share the space with you and don’t give a damn about social distancing. A lot of pop culture in March and April 2020 has played differently during the quarantine but “Resident Evil 3” may win the prize for “Most Unexpectedly Current.” Scrounging for supplies, avoiding any signs of life for fear it might hurt you, moving as quickly as possible to the next objective—they should just rename this game “Resident Corona.”

Having said that, “Resident Evil 3” was never one of my favorite games in the franchise. I’m a longtime fan of this beloved series and I always considered "RE3" a bit of a dip in quality between "Resident Evil 2," which was beautifully remastered last year, and "Resident Evil 4," which is often considered one of the best games of all time. Most of all, this remaster reclaims “Resident Evil 3” as a quality game in its own right, pulling it from the shadow of its predecessor and the masterpiece that followed it. It changes a great deal about the original game, including mechanics and even plot points, even if it can't quite fix everything that critics complained about 20 years ago.

“Resident Evil 3: Nemesis” was released in 1999 for the Playstation and serves as both a prequel and sequel to “Resident Evil 2,” which had been released only the year before. The first thing that anyone who played the original will notice in the remaster is the completely new control system and freedom of camera movement. Gone are the fixed angles more common in 1999, replaced by third-person shooter gameplay that feels nearly identical to the “Resident Evil 2” remake. It even opens with a first-person sequence that feels more like “Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.” These games haven’t just been ported or remastered, they’ve been overhauled to make them feel like they could have come out today. Only rarely will you notice anything about “Resident Evil 3” that feels like a dated game development decision that wouldn’t be made in 2020.

You play as Jill Valentine, who is attacked in the opening scene by a deadly creation known as the Nemesis. The opening sequence sets the general aesthetic of “Resident Evil 3,” which is one of panicked escape. Like the Tyrant in “RE2,” you will be regularly attacked by an unkillable machine, the Nemesis. The lurking threat creates an atmosphere of constant dread (again, very 2020). Behind every door may be a new enemy, and moments of calm could always be destroyed by the Nemesis or some other new monstrosity. What’s always elevated the best games in the “RE” franchise is their ability to genuinely unsettle due to limited ammunition and unpredictable encounters. They were trailblazers in terms of structure, which is something that I was reminded of while playing “RE3.” Then, and mostly now, games had a traditional structure of enter room, defeat enemies, move on—something built from the simplicity of arcade games. But “RE3” has a stunning freedom of movement and unexpected encounters. It reminds you how this series redefined survival horror.

Having said that, "RE2" and "RE4" simply feel more complete and refined than "Resident Evil 3," even if this one plays better now than I remembered it playing originally. It’s still shorter than it should be and some of the objectives feel unrefined. And the game was always a bit knocked for being more action-based and less survival-based, which still feels true, even if it's been improved. I will say that I worried about ammunition way less than when I was playing through the “RE2” remake a year ago, which limits your supply more. And there’s an argument to be made that the new updates to “RE3” actually make it less scary. After all, you couldn’t control the camera angles originally, which made everything naturally more intense. It’s also worth noting that the original version had branching narratives with choices that determined what ending you got. So a relatively-brief six-hour playtime had replay value. That’s gone here as you get all endings after only one short game.

As if Capcom was aware of the short playtime, “Resident Evil 3” comes with a multiplayer offering called “Resident Evil Resistance,” a strategic experience in which you play either the Survivor or the Mastermind. If you’re the former, your title pretty much says it all—complete a series of objectives without becoming food for the undead in a limited amount of time. If you’re the latter, you get to play around with the human souls, dropping zombies, traps, etc. to stop them from completing objectives. It’s a fun diversion that plays with themes and game concepts of the “RE” world in a new way, but it’s more like the Zombies mode in the “Call of Duty” games—something I like enough to dip into every now and then, but not what I love about this series.

In the end, the “Resident Evil” series is essential to understanding the intersection of games and film. There’s a reason we launched this content with coverage of “Biohazard.” Not only have the “RE” games been influenced by cinematic culture like that of George A. Romero and other zombie classics, but the inverse has happened, as films about the undead have become more action-driven in a way that feels inspired by the success of Capcom’s flagship series. If “Resident Evil 3” feels like a bit of a minor title in a major series, it’s still worth your time. And most of us have a lot more time in front of our TVs than we did just a couple months ago. Why not use it to kill some zombies?

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also the Editor of Magill's Cinema Annual, a writer for The New York Times, Vulture, The AV Club, and Rolling Stone, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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