Two things happened recently: I revealed how appealing I find rain in games, and the Later Levels Gameblast stream featured the HD Resident Evil Remake. The former reminded me how much I enjoyed the rainy section of Capcom’s Resident Evil 3 and the latter, whilst maybe not the best choice for sleep deprived brains, made me long for that classic brand of obtuse puzzle solving survival horror. With the gentle swirling of these two ideas in my mind I decided to revisit Resident Evil 3; it had been some years since I guided Jill Valentine’s “Last Escape” and I remember it being a good rounding out of the original trilogy before things went all “Resident Evil 4“.
… veteran readers of the blog will see this next bit coming, but it’s impossible for me to talk about Resident Evil without mentioning the second game, my personal undisputed favourite of the series. For those curiously looking at their calendars trying to work out how it took me so long to get to this point, I can reveal that before I replayed number three I decided to once again complete the second game… you know… for context…
By this point the Resident Evil (A.K.A. Biohazard) formula was well established; tank controlled 3rd person zombie survival with the emphasis on slow progression and obscure puzzle solving all set in a world of pre-rendered backgrounds. Iconic elements had been fully defined, such as the door opening animations, creaking item box, herb based medicinal treatment, and a world so full of cranks and overly complicated locking mechanisms that it’s a wonder any Raccoon City resident ever got any work done let alone make it to their desk. The player once again takes control of Jill Valentine, one of the protagonists of the first game and survivor of the debacle at the Spencer Estate. The game opens with Jill, sitting in her apartment, realising the horror that’s unfolding and committing to make her “Last Escape” (the subtitle of the Japanese release that was replaced with “Nemesis” for us westerners) from Raccoon City.
… then something odd happens (more odd than the zombie infestation I mean), the game begins looking at the doors of Jill’s apartment building, there is an explosion, and Jill is thrown out of the front doors in a roll. This is never explained. I guess we’re supposed to think that there was a gas explosion or something just as she’s leaving, but it’s a weirdly dramatic opening…
RE2 provided the player with variety in NPC characters, their motivations, and a dark tale that explores their interwoven experience (albeit in a pretty simplistic fashion) but by contrast RE3’s plot can’t be counted amongst its strengths. Jill’s escape from the city is stymied when she discovers that a creature, known as Nemesis, has been sent to eliminate the S.T.A.R.S. members in the city; a mission she observes first hand with the demise of teammate Brad Vickers. The Nemesis continues to pursue Jill throughout the game and has since become of the most iconic antagonists from those early titles. Of course no Resident Evil game would be complete without the Umbrella Corporation getting involved … well, more involved than they already are having released a deadly virus upon the city. This time everyone’s favourite shady pharmaceutical company has sent a team of mercenaries in to “help” the civilian population which of course turns out to be a front for collecting live data about the infected; a fact that only the “supervisors” of this team are privileged to know. Jill runs in to a few surviving mercenaries including the smooth talking Carlos playing the role of naive rookie who eventually ends up escaping with Jill, and Nicolai filling the place of sinister authority figure out to betray his team. Sadly Nicolai’s involvement in the whole fiasco is pretty minimal and barely constitutes more than a few cutscene appearances which feels like a missed opportunity. The first part of the game revolves around trying to summon the mercenary’s extraction chopper at the clock-tower rendezvous which sees Jill take on a city wide scavenger hunt in order to get a tram working.
… and a tram always struck me as a weird way to get across a debris strewn city; not known for their turning capabilities, one car abandoned on the rails is going to scupper the whole escapade….
Of course that all falls through and after a brief mid-game nap (during which the events of Resident Evil 2 take place if you’re paying attention to timelines) Jill and Carlos take the street to make alternative arrangements via sketchy Umbrella facility #37. It’s a functional, “by the numbers” plot that serves to move our protagonist through the city but shows telltale signs of being a product of that tricky third-in-series outing where the core-concept has already been well-trodden.
Luckily RE3 enriches the series in other areas and, even on this revisiting, held my attention through to the end confirming my initial view that it is a solid addition to the franchise. It’s a more action focused game and small gameplay tweaks have done what they can to smooth out the tank-control shortcomings and give the player a helping hand. Jill can now perform a quick 180 spin, dodge, and shove moves which make navigating zombie crowds a little easier when ammo is scarce. The player also has the ability to lock on instantly to nearby enemies or newly added explosive items when levelling their weapon which takes time and tedium out of the slow pivot aiming. Standard enemies are all drawn from the series classics; zombies, dogs, spiders, and hunters all make an appearance with some minor variations (my favourite being the hunter/frog hybrid that can grotesquely swallow Jill whole). The enemy number however are generally ramped-up with many respawns and jump scares thrown in to areas that the player has previously cleared out. Average Joe zombie also has some new moves being able to go up and down steps and even accelerate in to a fast shamble meaning that prioritising targets is more than just chipping away at the closest in the group.
The big “new-feature” that I’ve deliberately stepped around so far is the monstrosity of the Nemesis with that distinctive gravely “STTAARRSSSS” that everyone I’ve mentioned the game to seems to quote almost immediately back at me. A natural extension of the Tyrant (or Mr. X) who pursues the player through the B-scenarios of RE2, Nemesis keeps showing up to, not only torment Jill Valentine, but actively chase her through areas – a feature generally not seen in Resident Evil titles up to point. The conventions of the series had dictated that upon leaving a room, the threats of that area had also been left behind, but run away from the Nemesis and a few moment later the telltale music will start up before the player seems him charging across the screen. He’s also fiendishly strong and fast making running generally more favourable to a showdown, especially as he’s often armed with a rocket launcher. Nemesis almost exclusively makes up the game’s boss encounters which is a bold underlining of his status as the game’s primary antagonist and motivation for Jill’s escape. In short, without the Nemesis this game would be a run of the mill addition to the series, and it’s maybe as an homage to him that Capcom decided to revive the idea of an unstoppable malevolent force in the form of the Baker family in RE7.
Escaping Nemesis often involves another new feature to the series; decision moments. I guess you could grudgingly call them QTE’s but by comparison the RE3 method of tackling these tricky beasts is far superior to many that have gone since. The game freezes for a second, the player clearly has time to read.. and understand… the two possible options and is then given a fair amount of time to select their course of action. They’re not designed to “catch the player out” but they are designed to recreate that feeling of making a gut decision and form some interesting (albeit fairly insignificant overall) branches in the otherwise linear experience.
My final praise for the game comes from the setting that it chooses to explore. The original outing took us through a classic spooky mansion experience, the sequel briefly showed us how the city looked in the opening scenes, but quickly moved to a similar experience as the first. RE3 ambitiously attempts to show the player the over-run city. The opening half of the game has the feel of the event unfolding; Jill sees some other survivors and the burning fires hint at a recent downfall of society. As the rain gently falls on the second half of the game the tone shifts; 48 hours later the city is dead, the only inhabitants are the remaining monsters and gradually rotting zombies and somehow it feels lonely as Jill and Carlos pick their way out of the ruins. We’re shown a multitude of interesting small areas; a cross section of the city which has to be navigated by alleys and back gates to avoid the roadblocks and pileups of the main roads. Jill even visits the RPD police station which neatly ties it to RE2.
Sure, I’m a fan of the series, but I also think that RE3 brought new elements to it just at the right time. In the interests of fair discourse I think it’s worth pointing out that along with the weak plot, the limitations of the tank controls really stood out as a negative in my revisiting; the larger emphasis on combat, particularly taking on Nemesis, hammered home how frustrating this control scheme can be. Overall however I wasn’t disappointed going back … this time at least nostalgia vision wasn’t too rose tinted!