Wednesday, 3 Jun 2020

Resident Evil 3 is the rare sequel that does less

Resident Evil 3 is haunted by the gargantuan expectations of quality established by its predecessor, the groundbreaking Resident Evil 2. That is as true for this year’s remake as it was for the original PlayStation game; Resident Evil 2 was one of 2019’s best games.

In 1999, Capcom’s follow-up to Resident Evil 2 was both risky and derivative, in equal measure. Resident Evil 3 shed the established tradition of a two-character, two-scenario game in favor of a streamlined, focused experience — one that set a more action-oriented tone for future Resident Evil games.

There was (and still is) just the singular campaign: Jill Valentine’s fraught escape from the disaster-struck Raccoon City. The sequel recycles the stalking dread of Resident Evil 2’s Tyrant with a new threat called the Nemesis, a more present danger that is on a much more even level with the player. Nemesis pursues the player from the game’s first minutes until its end — and it knows how to use weapons like rocket launchers and flamethrowers. It is unkillable to an almost comical degree.

The Resident Evil 3 remake takes fewer risks than its inspiration. The original PlayStation game offered branching story choices, and an unlockable minigame called “The Mercenaries” that would become a series staple. None of those innovations are present here, making 2020’s Resident Evil 3 play more like an extension of last year’s Resident Evil 2 remake.

That was my unshakable feeling of the first few hours of the new Resident Evil 3: that this game, so similar in its style of play and visual presentation, is simply more of 2019’s (admittedly excellent) Resident Evil 2. It is nearly identical in ways that are satisfying, but offer diminishing returns. I called the RE2 remake “a fresh, expensive-looking game that evokes the best memories of the PlayStation original, while also being something altogether new.” The same is true of RE3, but the feat feels less impressive this time. We know what to expect now.

Jill and Mikhail try to do what’s right in Raccoon City’s decline.
Image: Capcom

There’s no doubt that the things that made the Resident Evil 2 remake great are present in Resident Evil 3. Capcom’s latest remake is a beautiful game, bearing the same sharp design and streamlining of last year’s game. But much of it feels like a lesser repeat of what was so impressive in Resident Evil 2.

The zombies, most of them reused from RE2, still shamble about in ways that are frighteningly unpredictable and hard to headshot. There are new, strange monsters to fight, like the hideous sewer-dwelling frog creatures known as Gammas that showcase Capcom’s current masterful skill at visualizing gore. Their fleshy innards are gorgeously rendered, and seeing Jill Valentine crunched in two by the Gamma’s horrid maw is impressively disgusting. Even the filth of Raccoon City’s sewers and its dilapidated streets inspire graphical awe.

There is also the Nemesis, a relentless hunter who lacks the, well, meme-worthy charm of Resident Evil 2’s Tyrant, aka Mr. X. Nemesis leaps around Raccoon City to hunt down Jill in ways that feel more aggravating than they are scary, and he serves as the game’s ever-mutating big boss monster. Where Mr. X felt like a truly terrifying stalker, Nemesis feels like an overpowered nuisance.

The Nemesis tries a new Jill-killing technique: laser-guided rockets.
Image: Capcom

The action of Resident Evil 3 is familiar and enjoyable. Little has been done to expand the gameplay mechanics of RE2, which excelled at both movement and gunplay. There is a new dodge move used to evade zombie bites, and exploding barrels that wipe out clusters of the undead. Resident Evil 3 also shakes things up at times, letting me play as secondary protagonist Carlos Oliveira for segments that offer moments of catharsis amid the more careful hours with Jill, thanks to his assault rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition to unload on the horrors of Raccoon City.

The story starts with explosions, burning buildings, and a chase, setting the tone for the rest of Resident Evil 3. That’s what much of RE3 is: a chase, with little in the way of story revelations or interesting new character additions to the Resident Evil fiction. Our heroes, Jill and Carlos, are likable. The villains drip with cruelty and hubris. Bits and pieces of lore are scattered through notes and computer files, some of which are amusingly written.

When I first fired up Resident Evil 3, I worried that its tale of a pandemic turning cities into disease-plagued ghost towns would be more of a depressing reminder of our current reality than escapist entertainment. To wit: A live-action cinematic starts the game with doctors in hazmat suits and government officials telling of a CDC-enforced quarantine.

But the infection of Raccoon City is so far removed from our real-world conundrum as to be mostly unrelatable. The threat of Resident Evil is visible, in the form of zombies and other grotesqueries, and the root of its evil so tangible: the Umbrella Corporation. (The only real shared threat in our world and Resident Evil’s fantasy world, as pointed out by Jill herself, is human greed.)

Carlos faces a new threat: the Hunter.
Image: Capcom

At around six hours, RE3 is a comparatively short experience. Your second playthrough becomes a power fantasy as you complete tasks to unlock and purchase enhancements that give you extra storage, auto-healing items, and outlandish weapons like the Hot Dogger, a knife that sets enemies on fire. There are increasingly harder difficulty options to unlock for survival-horror heads who crave something grueling and more old-school. I am currently enjoying a “hardcore” difficulty run aided by a handgun with infinite ammo and a magical healing coin.

Ostensibly, the other “half” of the new Resident Evil 3 is an original multiplayer mode called Resident Evil Resistance. Actually, RE Resistance is less of an extra mode than it is a separate game — it is a distinct download, and it appears there is no crossover or connectivity between the two experiences.

I’ve only spent a brief amount of time with Resistance, but it is an asymmetric 4v1 challenge in which four players as survivors attempt to escape a research facility while an evil mastermind player attempts to kill them all with an elaborate security system. My experience with it so far has felt sluggish and clumsy, and the deep well of cosmetic and equippable items to earn through long-term play already feels daunting. There’s just so much stuff to unlock, and it all feels so laborious.

Resident Evil Resistance starts with access to six of the game’s playable survivors, but only one of the four available masterminds is unlocked. Getting the rest, which would add some variety to the multiplayer mode, will take ample playtime, and over the weekend, I found it time-consuming to get into a stable match.

I had a mastermind drop out 10 minutes into a game, shutting it down. I’ve had persistent warnings of unstable connections to the host. Getting into a game was a long process, and despite liking the premise — which is similar to horror games like Dead by Daylight — the refined controls of Resident Evil 3 feel laggy in Resistance.

Survivor Martin Sandwich shoots out a security camera, unaware of the spawned zombie threat behind him.
Image: Capcom

Were it not for the high expectations set by Resident Evil 2, Capcom’s similarly lavish remake of Resident Evil 3 would stand out as a gorgeous example of a survival horror game lovingly and painstakingly reimagined. At times it manages to be exactly that, modernizing the story of Jill Valentine’s escape from a zombie-ravaged Raccoon City crafted with amazing production values.

But the shadow of its very recent predecessor looms so large as to overshadow it. Like last year’s game, Resident Evil 3 is a great example of what a video game remake should be. It’s just that the source material is a little less impressive this time around — and so is the end result.

Resident Evil 3 will be released April 3 on PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One. The game was reviewed using a final “retail” PS4 download code provided by Capcom. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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