Resident Evil 3 review - A S.T.A.R. is born

Capcom's reimagining of Resident Evil 3 steps out of its predecessor's shadow to carve out a unique identity full of refined, robust, and varied gameplay.

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Resident Evil 2 was the rare sequel that did everything right: two characters instead of one, four campaign scenarios, and a new setting, the RPD, that outdid the first game's Spencer Estate in every way.

Capcom followed up with Resident Evil 3: Nemesis 20 months later. It was good, very good, but fell short of its predecessor. There was only one campaign compared to RE2's four, a dramatic reduction in replay value. Some of its mechanics, such as quick turns and crafting ammo, were well-received; others, namely dodge, were clunky. More than anything, RE3 fell victim to franchise fatigue. It was the third Resident Evil in three and a half years, and felt more like a half-step forward compared to RE2's leap.

When Capcom announced a remake of Resident Evil 3 due out less than 15 months after 2019's remake of Resident Evil 2, I thought history was doomed to repeat itself. What could a remake of RE3 offer besides, yet again, an incremental step forward from the game that preceded it?

Imagine my surprise and delight when, approximately one hour into my first run, I realized Resident Evil 3 remake was not only just as good as last year's game. It was better.

Last Escape

Resident Evil 3 remake stands on the same premise as the original. Jill Valentine, one of the last members of S.T.A.R.S. and survivor of the "mansion incident" a few months prior, is tying up loose ends so she can escape Raccoon City, where Umbrella Corporation's T-Virus is running amuck. The appearance of Nemesis, a bioweapon engineered by the Umbrella Corporation to seek out and kill S.T.A.R.S. members so they can't divulge Umbrella's dirty secrets, causes an abrupt change in plans.

Resident Evil 3's Raccoon City, take two.
Resident Evil 3's Raccoon City, take two.

Where RE2's remake hewed close to the original's trappings, most of RE3's environments, puzzles, and story beats have been rebuilt the ground up. In fact, the story shines as one of the many highlights of the game. The writing and voice-acting are more refined and grounded than last year's RE2 remake. Jill, Carlos, and his squadmates feel more like flesh-and-blood characters this time around. The partnership between Jill and Carlos is particularly noteworthy for its slow burn--not of romance, but of mutual trust and respect. The story is not as lengthy as the original's, but what's here is of significantly higher quality than what we got in 1999.

Resident Evil 3 is more reimagining than remake, one that long-time players should find almost as challenging as players who have never joined Jill in her last escape. Capcom's RE Engine continues to turn out environments as beautiful as they are appropriately disgusting. Navigation is organic; wrecked cars, corpses, and debris block streets, so you'll have to cut through looted stores and abandoned restaurants, opening shortcuts and new paths that will come in handy when you need to stay one step ahead from you-know-who.

Raccoon City's environs are as functional as they are visually impressive. Some streets are claustrophobic; others are more expansive. Explosive barrels return, inviting you to attract as many zombies as you can and lure them within the barrel's blast radius. Portable generators release a blast of electricity when shot, stunning nearby enemies while you flee to relative safety. The design of each street, store, sewer, and courtyard add strategic layers to progression. As you move, you'll need to account for where barrels and generators can be found in addition to survival horror staples: when to heal, when to conserve ammo, choosing a longer but safer route as opposed to a shorter but more dangerous passage.

That emphasis on decision-making and the consequences that come with each step you take is part and parcel to Resident Evil's brand of survival horror, but it's never felt as weighty as it does here. The X-factor in every decision you make is Nemesis, and how you choose to deal with him.

"Starsss…"

Resident Evil 2 remake's take on Mr. X was everything Nemesis was in 1999, but better. Relentless, powerful, and an order of magnitude more terrifying thanks to the benefit of modern technology that let him roam freely once players triggered his appearance. His visual design played a part in the terror he inspired, but his sound design was even more critical. No matter where you were, you heard him stomping around over the pounding of your heart. I can't count the number of minutes I spent cowered in a safe room, knowing where I had to go and how best to get there, yet paralyzed by the heavy tread of his footsteps throughout the RPD, fully aware of the possibility that I'd round a corner only to see him stride out of the darkness, face expressionless, ready to send me screaming back to safety.

But Mr. X, foreboding as he was, never moved faster than a brisk walk. If you kept a cool head, you could manipulate him to go one way while you ran in another.

Nemesis is not so easily manipulated. Dare to fight him up close, and he'll pummel you with right hooks. Try to run, and he'll charge you from behind or lasso you with his tentacle and reel you in. Manage to break away, and he'll vault over you and crash back to earth right in front of you. Find shelter in a building he can't enter, and unlike Mr. X, who'd wander off like he had forgotten seeing you duck into a save room two seconds earlier, and Nemesis will post up outside your location, and remain there. Waiting.

"Take your time," you can imagine him saying. "I've got nowhere else to be."

You cannot kill the ultimate hunter. Your only option is to become the ultimate prey. Learn routes through the city as well as you know the back of your hand. Put zombies between you and him so he plows through them en route to you. Race for a barrel or generator and stun him, then run. Or, if you're feeling brave, wait until he's stunned, then hit him with everything you've got. He'll drop to one knee after absorbing so much punishment, like Mr. X. He'll even drop a goodie for you, just like he did in '99. Don't waste time gloating: Nemesis regains his composure much faster than Mr. X.

This addresses one of my chief complaints from RE3 (1999). The game often let you choose whether to fight Nemesis or run, and the game's geometry was such that Nemesis could easily be tricked into getting caught on it. Watching this unstoppable killer walk in place while you took potshots at him until he dropped, unable to reappear until his next scripted encounter, punctured his aura of terror. You shouldn't be able to "cheese" the ultimate hunter. You shouldn't even want to fight him.

Resident Evil 3's mean streets are even meaner in 2020.
Resident Evil 3's mean streets are even meaner in 2020.

Now, fighting him is an option, but it's not the best solution. This is brilliant design: Capcom lets you decide between fight or flight. I finished my first playthrough without claiming any of Nemesis's drops. Only later, when I felt confident in my arsenal and the ins and outs of the locations, did I chance a skirmish, and even then, I got away as fast as I could.

If you don't have much experience with RE3's dodge mechanic before your first dust-up with Nemesis, you'll learn fast. Dodging premiered in the first incarnation of RE3, but it was clunky. The mechanic is much improved here. Tap the dodge button, and you'll lunge away from danger. You can dodge any time you like to put distance between yourself and a monster. But if you time it just right, usually a heartbeat before an enemy attack lands, and the screen will flash, Jill will roll forward, and time will slow for a split second, giving you an opportunity to score a free hit, or keep moving.

Nemesis tests your mastery of dodging. You'll spend most of your time running away from him, so his attacks will come from behind. That means you won't always see them, but you don't need to. Every enemy attack comes with an audio cue: the screech or roar of a zombie as it grabs for you; the faster, heavier tread as Nemesis breaks into a run and prepares to swing at your exposed back; or the whistle of his tentacle as he throws it at you. Those audio cues can be studied, just like attack animations, and dodged as smoothly.

As in the original game, Nemesis evolves after each fight. So do you. You'll find that after every encounter with Nemesis, your reflexes and timing are that much sharper. Your dodges don't have to be perfect--any landing you can walk away from and all that--but the thrill of pulling off a perfect dodge is comparable to deciphering attack patterns in a Dark Souls game and rolling at exactly the right moment.

Once, I dodged a punch from Nemesis, from behind, as he chased me up a set of stairs. I nailed a perfect dodge and rolled up the stairs toward the door at the top. Instead of hitting the door like a brick wall, it flew open, and Jill rose smoothly to her feet and sprinted through. The rush of adrenaline and gratification I experienced made me leap to my feet, hands trembling, breath shaky.

No time to celebrate. Nemesis was still coming.

Action-Horror

Resident Evil 3's designers said early on that they would lean more into action in order to stay true to the original title. RE3 was never an action game; it had action elements. That's the case here, but the balance is better, finer, and more rewarding for it.

If that gives you cause for concern, don't worry. This isn't Resident Evil 5 or, mercifully, RE6. Like a pendulum, Resident Evil 3 swings between sweaty-palmed survival horror and exhilarating action. There's more survival horror than there is action, but action sequences are perfectly placed within the story to give you a release for all the tension that's built up over the previous 30 to 60 minutes of play. Resident Evil 3 achieves a rhythm between action and horror, always ensuring that the former is the exception that proves the latter as rule.

That balance extends to every facet of the game. Combat against non-boss monsters is engaging, with some enemies more vulnerable to certain weapons than others, encouraging you to exploit weaknesses. Going up against one monster, or a pair, inspires as much fear as running into a street crawling with zombies. Boss fights are thrilling and strategic, a vast improvement over the RE2 remake's reliance on "hit it until it dies" encounters.

Hardcore mode returns, but now you may save as often as you like. No more finite ink ribbons. That may sound like a bad thing, especially for players who pride themselves on punching new holes in their Hard Game Club card, but consider: You must still limit your saves on Hardcore if you want to achieve the game's highest ranking. Capcom isn't making you save, but RE3 throws a lot at you, and you'll be grateful for every typewriter you find. It's up to you whether to use them.

Resident Evil 3's Hunters pose almost as great a challenge as Nemesis himself.
Resident Evil 3's Hunters pose almost as great a challenge as Nemesis himself.

RE3 is a shorter game than its original form, though not by much, and it's for the better. Capcom reimagined Jill's flight from Raccoon City with Jill and Nemesis in mind. Everything in this reimagining revolve around them. As it should. Any component of the original that did not fit the story of Jill and Nemesis--their battles, their evolution as characters and fighters and survivors--posed a distraction. The final package is as tightly designed a Resident Evil experience as you can find.

It's also one of the most robust. Aside from a few reworked puzzles and a tougher first trek through the RPD, the secondary scenarios in Resident Evil 2's remake play identically to the default campaigns. Resident Evil 3's remake contains unlockable modes that rearrange item and enemy locations. There's also a shop where you can buy special weapons and items by cashing in points you earn as you play and replay Jill's adventure.

The addition of a store and remixed campaign add significantly more replay value than Resident Evil 2 remake's "2nd Run" scenarios. Its replay value is also much stronger than the original RE3's. I've played through the game four times, just unlocked yet another mode, and am excited to go back to Raccoon City again.

Hunter and Hunted

Fans spent over 20 years clamoring for a remake of a specific entry in the series, and it wasn't Resident Evil 3. Let that serve as proof that developers often know what we want better than we do. I did not go into this review expecting RE3's reimagining to be the best Resident Evil I've played, or one of the best games I've played, ever. 

Every inch of Resident Evil 3 has been polished to a blinding sheen. From gameplay and replay value, to the overhauled story and environments, this game is a masterpiece, and the new standard bearer for Capcom's franchise.


This review is based on PS4 and Steam review codes provided by the publisher. Resident Evil 3 is available on Xbox One, PS4, and Steam today for $59.99.

Long Reads Editor

David L. Craddock writes fiction, nonfiction, and grocery lists. He is the author of the Stay Awhile and Listen series, and the Gairden Chronicles series of fantasy novels for young adults. Outside of writing, he enjoys playing Mario, Zelda, and Dark Souls games, and will be happy to discuss at length the myriad reasons why Dark Souls 2 is the best in the series. Follow him online at davidlcraddock.com and @davidlcraddock.

Review for
Resident Evil 3
9
Pros
  • Reimagined environments are organic and superbly designed
  • Perfect balance between action and horror
  • Improved character development and storytelling
  • Tactical combat extends beyond resource management
  • Nemesis poses a threat without overwhelming players
  • Gorgeous artistic direction
  • Dodging is immensely satisfying
  • Unlockables boost replay value
Cons
  • Some players may miss removed content
From The Chatty
  • reply
    March 30, 2020 8:00 AM

    David Craddock posted a new article, Resident Evil 3 review - A S.T.A.R. is born

    • reply
      March 30, 2020 8:07 AM

      Sounds great. I quite ejoyed the ~45 minutes I spent with the demo.

    • reply
      March 30, 2020 8:17 AM

      Well I wasn't exactly sold before, I am now

    • reply
      March 30, 2020 8:18 AM

      Weird, other reviewers are panning this game. Shirif also said it’s boring.

      • reply
        March 30, 2020 8:19 AM

        Not boring, merely not as good as RE2 remake. But few games are.

      • reply
        March 30, 2020 8:19 AM

        https://www.metacritic.com/game/playstation-4/resident-evil-3?ref=hp panned. a disaster, a flop. utter failure hated by all

      • reply
        March 30, 2020 8:22 AM

        I'm saying average to glowing. IGN and Game Informer also gave it 9s. GameSpot gave it a 6. I don't know how Kotaku's scale works, but they like it too.

        I expect this game to be a tad divisive. Individual areas such as the Raccoon City streets are intricately designed, but the world isn't contiguous like RE2make's. I was fine with that. The gameplay systems and replay value are through the roof, and that's what I look for. RE2make's replay value, despite offering four campaigns, was significantly weaker. The second campaigns, or runs, do not diverge enough from the first set, other than a few reworked puzzles and your first trip through the RPD.

        More in the review, but in short: While both games are fantastic, I even say in my review that I wasn't expecting to like RE3R as much as I do. Color me surprised and pleased.

        • reply
          March 30, 2020 8:23 AM

          *seeing instead of saying.

          • reply
            March 30, 2020 8:23 AM

            Hmmm. I might pick this one up. This might be a game shirif and I disagree on if I enjoy it.

            • reply
              March 30, 2020 8:25 AM

              Play the demo, it is free

            • reply
              March 30, 2020 8:39 AM

              There's definitely more action than in RE2, but 1) that was the case with RE3 ('99) as well, although 2) this game balances action and horror much, much better than the original.

        • reply
          March 30, 2020 8:26 AM

          Yeah, I only did two of NuRE2's campaigns; it's a great game but that was enough of it given the limited changes.

          • rms legacy 10 years mercury super mega
            reply
            March 30, 2020 11:13 AM

            I did all the tofu runs, and may never recover from the level of self-hatred that required.

    • reply
      March 30, 2020 8:33 AM

      Cool. I'm gonna get this game in October.

    • reply
      March 30, 2020 10:17 AM

      What about the multiplayer?

      • reply
        March 30, 2020 10:28 AM

        Servers aren't online. Also, Resistance doesn't launch from within RE3R, so we're treating it as a separate game, and will review it separately.

        • reply
          March 30, 2020 10:29 AM

          Cool, pretty curious about that too. Honestly though I'm an RE diehard so I'll be getting this regardless

    • reply
      March 30, 2020 10:21 AM

      Is the store open from the beginning of the game? I'm guessing that's where I cash in my "20 bobblehead" prize from the demo

      • reply
        March 30, 2020 10:28 AM

        The Store opens after you finish the game once. You still earn points to buy items as you play, though.

        • reply
          March 30, 2020 10:31 AM

          Are the the "ambassador points" from the RE website or are they a different currency?

          • reply
            March 30, 2020 10:54 AM

            Hmm, not sure.

            • reply
              March 30, 2020 10:55 AM

              Some good website content would be listing the items in the store and how many points it costs to get each one. Some clicks waiting to be had.

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