When the original Resident Evil 3 was released a little over 20 years ago, its tale of a city in the midst of a deadly viral outbreak seemed ridiculous and overblown. The same scenario didn't even seem likely when the excellent Resident Evil 2 remake came out last year or when developer Capcom revealed that 3 was getting the same treatment on PS4, Xbox One and PC last December.
But things have changed ahead of this game's April 3 release.
In the midst of a COVID-19 lockdown in the UK, I spent last weekend trying to get STARS member Jill Valentine out of Raccoon City. Exploring a virtual town struggling with the T-virus, an infection that transforms its inhabitants into shambling cannibals, I couldn't help but notice a few parallels between the game's world and our own situation during the last few weeks.
Despite this, this remake proved a nice distraction from unnerving reality as I dodged Raccoon City's shambling zombies and Nemesis, a hulking bioweapon that stalks Jill. Unfortunately, this horror gaming icon doesn't hunt you as relentlessly as he did in the original (or the lumbering Tyrant in Resident Evil 2's remake) -- Capcom opted to reserve him mostly for heavily scripted cinematic sections and boss battles. He's pretty agile and terrifying when he does show up, but ultimately feels underused.
Combat is similar to last year's Resident Evil 2 remake -- slick and satisfying, with a consistent sense of danger. You can use a cool new dodge to get away from enemies (replacing the defensive weapons of the previous game), but I always moved deliberately lest something nasty leap from the shadows. Jill also has a small arsenal of weapons, some of which are upgradeable. The perspective occasionally switches over to mercenary Carlos Oliveira, giving you a different set of guns to play with.
This pair form a convincing partnership through the story, and it's beautifully presented via engaging cutscenes as slick as I've come to expect from recent entries in the series. Jill is a charismatic protagonist, while ruthless villain Nicholai has more convincing motivations than in the original. It ties satisfyingly with the events of Resident Evil 2, which take place after the first half of this game chronologically.
The early section of Resident Evil 3 has a delightful sense of freedom as you move through Racoon City's streets, but I was a little disappointed when the remake suddenly pushed me into a new area. This meant the initial one was locked off unexpectedly, so I had less time to get to know the game's visually arresting environments.
This is especially unfortunate when you consider the optional areas and branching paths of the 1999 original -- this remake pretty much forces you on a set track, with few options to deviate, so it lacks the same replay value.
The remake also suffers from a serious dearth of puzzles -- getting most of the game's key items requires facing a bunch of enemies, but I seldom had to use my brain to figure out a combination or to get some machinery working. It's regrettable that this classic element of the series is largely ignored in favor of combat. Ammunition and health are a little too plentiful as well, so item management isn't as vital as it was in the remake of the second game, robbing the experience of some tension.
You'll get through the game in about five to six hours, which isn't quite as long as I'd like, and there's little to bring you back beyond the series' usual array of unlockable items and harder difficulties. The original game's excellent Mercenaries minigame -- which tasked you with battling monsters and racing across the city as quickly as possible -- is sorely missed.
Instead, the remake is packaged with Resident Evil Resistance, an intense four-versus-one multiplayer game, but I couldn't get into a match during the review period. Our friends at sister site GameSpot will be taking a deeper dive into Resistance in the coming days, so keep an eye on their review in progress.
On its own, the Resident Evil 3 remake is a fun way to pass a few days of social isolation, but it feels a bit bare-bones compared with last year's exquisite reimagining of the second game, and its lack of replay value means it won't resonate like the original.