This Article Contains Spoilers… likely for both the original Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (’99) and the 2020 Remake. You have been warned!
Late to the party as ever I’ve been in a bit of a Resident Evil hankering type of mood recently; which is not a mood I’m unfamiliar with. So whilst everyone with a PS5 or beefy enough PC to handle it has been exploring a certain Village, I finally got around to picking up and playing last year’s big Resi-offering; the remake of Resident Evil 3. Sitting as a direct sequel to the previous years remake of Resident Evil 2, the REMake3 (yes, I’m going with that shorthand) is mechanically and visually very similar to its predecessor but offers something quite different in the gameplay department.
Now, honestly I finally put the REMake3 down a couple of weeks ago, but I really wanted to digest the game that I’d just played through twice in a row, something virtually unheard of for me, before I publicly spoke about it. Eventually I settled on doing pretty much what I did with the RE2Make and sidestep all the regular review nonsense that so many other have covered to consider how it compares to he source material; in short, is the REMake3 a good remake of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (’99)?
Crucially I’m not quite as overtly protective of the ‘Nemesis’ source material as I am with ol’ Resi’2. A revisiting a few years ago reminded me that Capcom’s third PS1 outing had some character flaws that don’t stand up under today’s scrutiny and that, whilst it remains a classic, in some ways it’s weaker than the two that came before it. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s still my second favourite Resi game on the system, but the limits of that particular game engine were being pushed by ’99 and despite interesting world building, the plot was thin at best. This isn’t too surprising if you start to look at how Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (or ‘Last Escape’ if you’re in Japan) originally came about, but to do that you’ll need to join me in a…
… History Lesson.
The story goes something like this: whilst it’s now generally associated with the PS1, the original Resident Evil also received a release on Sega’s ‘competing’ (using the term loosely) console; the Saturn. Proving to be a successful title for their ill-fated system, Sega went to Capcom to talk about receiving a port of the sequel (as did Nintendo, but that’s a different history lesson). Capcom ultimately reached the conclusion that RE2 just couldn’t be ported to the Saturn due to the increased hardware demands of the game, but from these discussions they did agree to develop the direct sequel to Resident Evil 2 for release on Sega’s next generation machine; the Dreamcast. At the same time the wild success of Resident Evil 2 on the PS1 sent Sony back to Capcom with the request that a third numbered Resident Evil game be released on the PS1. Some quick thinking by Capcom here turned a small spin-off game in the series (simply titled ‘Resident Evil: Last Escape’) that was already in development in to a fully numbered sequel; Resident Evil 3: Last Escape (or ‘Nemesis’ in the west). The original direct sequel that they were working on for Sega lost its number and became Resident Evil: Code Veronica…
... and to me this makes a lot of sense. CV opens with Claire Redfield having infiltrated Umbrella’s offices in Europe which is the cliffhanger statement left at the end of RE2, whereas RE3 feels like a greatest hits album covering ‘more’ or what RE2 had to offer…
The point I’m trying to make in a lengthy kind of way is that RE3 was always supposed to be an action packed ‘bonus’ to the original games; building and expanding on that original world whilst giving fans ‘more’ of what was so popular. In many ways that’s exactly what the REMake3 feels like. At the time of release I saw plenty of commentary that REMake3 was ‘too short‘ or ‘too action focused‘, but having played it now I can confidently say that in my opinion it feels exactly how the original was supposed to; one final, frantic dash out of Raccoon City. More of what was good in a more action packed bundle. Heck, I’d even go as far to say that it wouldn’t have felt out of place being released as DLC for the RE2Make.
So, I was pretty happy overall that the vibe from REMake3 lined up nicely with the original and having reflected on it for a while now, there is quite a lot to like about it despite its unarguably short nature. Visually the RE Engine is stunning as ever, heck, this has been one of the really consistent factors in all the recently released Resi-titles. The world of Raccoon city feels ‘alive’ and gritty with the opening stages of the game bringing out the sense of panic and chaos that the limitations of the original only managed to brush up against. Likewise the control and combat are generally tight with the addition of a dodge/shove move not only fitting neatly with the action focus, but also a nice callback to this feature that was added in to the original game and fair compensation for the lack of counter-attack weapons.
My only gameplay gripe is really with the hunters and their almost inescapable one-hit-kill slash attack. Even if I dashed to the ‘non-claw’ side of them I always got caught in a jarring cutscene where my character seemingly reappeared directly in front of them for the fatal blow.
Then of course there is Nemesis; the archetypal unstoppable pursuit enemy. When he appeared in the original outing he struck fear in to players by his ability to chase them through multiple rooms and I have to admit that same heart-pounding-run-for-your-life vibe is present in the REMake3 also. Capcom seem to have learnt from Mr. X in the RE2Make and chosen to keep ol’ Nemmey frightening by upping his speed and power, but limiting slightly when he appears to make sure he stays scary and keeps clear of becoming annoying. Nemesis is rightly responsible for some of the best ingame moments REMake3 has to offer, from the frantic opening, through being pursued with a flamethrower, to the epic final battles. His character design is also top notch, initially appearing wrapped in black plastic, he gradually evolves like all good Umbrella monsters should.
Unfortunately we’ve hit the point in my rambling where I stop lavishing praise on the REMake3 because as much as I enjoyed it, there are undeniably ways in which it falls short of what the original was or indeed what it could have been. The first glaring omission are the decision events. When these split-second decisions appeared in the original they allowed for interesting short branches in gameplay and provided a fairly heavily reported unique selling point for the game at the time. Given that the entirety of the REMake3 is set up for repeat playthroughs (being able to buy upgrades in the store for your next run of the gauntlet) it’s a shame that Capcom didn’t give away much in the realm of branching options especially as this was a key feature of the source material.
By far my biggest complaint however are the iconic RE3 locations that were either omitted entirely or brushed over very very quickly. Fro example, the scenic tram being switched out for the colder less-interesting subway carriage, the petrol station’s destruction being relegated to a cutscene, and the clock tower providing a external location for a boss battle without being given the chance to explore its ornate Gothic interiors.
For me, there are two key losses in this respect. Firstly, we’re given a flimsy reason why Carlos enters the RPD station rather than Jill, and I still can’t quite fathom why the developers decided to do this. I guess that Carlos’ search for the doctor who developed the vaccine strengthens the mercenaries plotline compared to the original, but having a S.T.A.R.S. member battling their way back in to their office to recover an item or try to regroup feels so much more meaningful. With the superb graphics and mo-cap acting this could’ve played out in a very poignant way as Jill re-entered her old office and looked over the personal effects strewn across the desks of her friends and colleagues.
Secondly we lost Jill’s exploration from the park after she has recovered from the T-Virus infection which is super important from a world-building point of view. RE3 was a game broken in to two halves: the first half where she repairs the tram and ultimately is infected with the T-Virus. The second half picking things back up a day later as she wakes up to continue her final escape through the Umbrella facility. Walking through the park after she recovers in RE3, there is a ‘quiet’ and a sense that the city is now ‘dead’ in contrast to the more frantic game’s opening. I could be over-romanticising, but that morose ‘loneliness’ as Jill explores the park in the rain provides a moment of reflection and a growing horror of the death and destruction that the T-Virus has wreaked on this once vibrant town. Instead REMake3 chooses to keep its foot pressed down in the gas pedal and simply shortcuts Jill through the basement of the hospital to Umbrella’s lab without her ever experiencing the city’s remains some days after the panic of the outbreak. And yes, I know that to many this isn’t a big deal, but to me is a small but noticeable signal that those put in charge of re-imagining this fan favourite didn’t fully understand what is was that made it special in the first place.
… and I think that really captures the taste I’ve been left with having now explored the REMake3. It stands up as an experience; it’s fun, action packed, tense, and mechanically well put together. If you can overlook how small the map is and how short each playthrough is (and it is short to the point that I don’t think it’s quite worth the premium price-tag), then there’s lots of fun to be had here. Heck, I’d even put in a good word for the plot, which is a big improvement over the original and is carried by the performance of Nicole Tompkins as Jill Valentine. But even with all of that, like the RE2Make, my gut says that there’s something of the original draw of this world that the creators didn’t quite capture or understand in the first place.
Heck, I don’t know, maybe my nostalgia vision is just too sensitive to these games…