Carlos Oliveira knows how to handle a zombie. If one of the infected gets too close, he shoves them away, time slows down, and drawing his weapon puts a bead directly onto the zombie’s forehead. Squeeze the trigger. No more zombie problems. It’s a good secondary attack for a Resident Evil character to have, especially going into an action sequence where I had to defend a hospital room from the rampaging hordes of the dead. I tossed grenades, used flashbangs to distract long-clawed nightmare mutants, and burned through magazine after magazine of assault rifle ammo. At the end of it all, there’s a huge explosion.
A decent chunk of Resident Evil 3, a remake of the 1999 original, takes place in the Racoon City Hospital. The Racoon City Hospital is almost like the Spencer Mansion from Resident Evil 1 or the Racoon City Police Department Building from Resident Evil 2. Almost. It lacks the puzzles, creative enemy placement, and distinctive features that makes the Spencer Mansion and RCPD memorable. This could be any hospital in any town.
That’s Resident Evil 3—a mediocre retread of a better game. It was true in 1999, and it's still true in 2020. Resident Evil 3 is Resident Evil 2 with boring levels, one-hit kill enemies, and the action turned up to 11. It’s not a bad game, except by comparison. It’s functional. Killing zombies is still fun—a headshot is no guarantee of victory, and a downed zombie you’ve passed several times can still reach out and grab you.
Early in the series, Resident Evil maintained a tension between survival horror and action. Typically, the player starts with few tools to handle the zombie outbreaks but becomes a killing machine towards the end of the game. This tension occurs both on a micro level within each game, and on the macro level through the entire series. The original, Resident Evil 2, and Resident Evil 7 lean more horror while 4, 5, and 6 lean towards action.
The original Resident Evil 3 existed at the middle of that tension. It bridged the gap between the deliberately paced horror of its predecessors while pointing to the wild B-movie action that would dominate Resident Evil 4. It doesn’t resolve the tension between the two extremes of the franchise but typifies it. Resident Evil 3 felt like a survival horror game that wanted to be an action game. Pursued by a nigh-invulnerable biomutant, heroes Carlos and Jill used rocket launchers and machine guns to stall the creature while solving puzzles and dodging spiders. It didn’t quite work.
The remake of Resident Evil 3 is an overhaul that, somehow, doesn’t change enough of the original game. The level design is better, the graphics completely overhauled, and the story more expertly delivered. But it still feels like a survival horror game that wants to be an action game. It still feels like it sits between survival horror and action while doing neither well.
Unlike the Spencer and Baker Mansions or the RCPD, the unremarkable maps of Resident Evil 3 feel linear and bereft of puzzles. At two points—the opening streets and the later hospital—the game feels more like a traditional Resident Evil. I crisscrossed a map, opening locked doors and backtracking to put in safe codes. But the levels aren’t distinct and the enemies populating them aren’t fun to fight.
Killing zombies is still a good time, but Resident Evil 3’s new creatures include several biomutant weapons that can kill the player in one hit. I often encountered these monsters in confined spaces where I had few movement options. Blind but long clawed hunters can reach the player and slit their throat in one blow. The brief sewer levels contain an amphibious monstrosity with a horrifying maw that gobbles the player up if they get too close. In one instance, one got behind me during a late game encounter and devoured me.
And that’s what Resident Evil 3 is:a series of annoying action encounters occuring in uninspired levels.
Resident Evil 3’s biggest problem, Nemesis, should have been its biggest selling point. In Resident Evil 2, the large and lumbering Mr. X tortured players and became a meme. In that game, players had to crisscross the map, solve puzzles, and dodge zombies while pursued by a seemingly invincible Frakenstein’s monster. He was slow and loud, but hearing him move around the RCPD added tension to the game.
In theory, Nemesis is supposed to be an upgraded Mr. X. The issue is that he’s much less mechanically interesting than Mr. X. Rather than a constant presence that’s putting pressure on the player to plan routes and avoid certain rooms, Nemesis is a boss monster that shows up when you’re ready to leave an area and move on to the next.
If you’ve played the Resident Evil 3 demo, then you’ve seen Nemesis at his most dynamic and the game's level design at its most interesting. The demo is an early portion of the game that takes place on the zombie ravaged streets of Racoon City. After solving some rudimentary puzzles and crisscrossing the map, it’s time to leave. That’s when Nemesis shows up.
He’s invincible, but the player can stall him by doing enough damage or hitting exposed electricity boxes that will slow him down. He’s faster than Mr. X, able to leap ahead of you and lash out with a tentacle that can drag you towards him or infect ambient zombies with a headcrab-esque tentacle whip that makes them harder to kill.
It’s scary and tense, but it also only happens once. At this point on the Racoon City streets, hero Jill Valentine just needs to get to the subway to escape. Nemesis is a hindrance, an undefeatable creature blocking me from that goal. I’m not being hunted, I’m being pursued.
That’s how the Nemesis encounters play out for the rest of the game, consistently more annoying than fun. He’s never a presence stalking you. You’re either running from him to get to the next area, or standing your ground in an attempt to defeat him. The game always makes it obvious which track you’re supposed to take because Resident Evil 3 is a series of linear setpieces .
It’s not bad enough to hate and not good enough to praise. That’s disappointing for two reasons. The remake of Resident Evil 2 was excellent, and the Mr. X encounters suggested that Capcom could update Resident Evil 3 and do something interesting and innovative with Nemesis.
Instead, Capcom chose the most boring path possible.