It’s no secret that Resident Evil 3: Nemesis is the black sheep of the classic Resident Evil trilogy. Across the board it feels like few people have played it and even fewer can describe the game beyond gushing about why The Nemesis is the greatest boss character of all time. With the remake creeping towards us like an ever-hungry zombie, it felt right to check out the game that wasn’t afraid to shake up the Resident Evil formula and introduced a generation to the iconic stalker Nemesis.
Return to Raccoon City
Set only a few hours before Resident Evil 2, series veteran Jill Valentine finds herself trapped in the zombie infested Raccoon City. While fighting through the streets Jill stumbles across Carlos, a member of Umbrella’s private mercenary unit who’s tasked with cleaning up the city’s shuffling undead. The unit is obviously out-numbered by the horde and Jill is forced to make an uneasy alliance with the Umbrella operatives to escape from the doomed city. It’s an economical premise that offers an alternate perspective to the fateful night of Resident Evil 2 while finally giving players the chance to fully explore the Raccoon City that game teased to them.
Unlike previous Resident Evil titles there’s only one campaign as Jill is the only playable protagonist. Instead you’ll see a different ending depending on how you react to ‘Choice Events’. During key moments the game will give Jill two options to get past a time-sensitive obstacle, and choosing one over the other will take her through a different story route. However, your decisions always feel innocuous since they rarely impact the world or the game in meaningful ways. The only choice that has a substantial narrative impact is apparently whether or not Jill jumps off a bridge towards the game’s end, which supposedly determines the fate of an off-screen character? It’s a neat idea, but ultimately not enough to entice an immediate second play through.
The other thing this game is sorely lacking is that classic Resident Evil kitsch. Sure there are still a few chuckle-worthy lines of dialogue and Jill’s tube top is ridiculous, but this sequel plays things pretty po-faced. The story lacks personality as a result and the narrative overall isn’t especially memorable.
Old Zombie Dog, New Zombie Tricks
Right from the get go, it’s clear that you’re going to be dealing with a lot more zombies than your typical Resident Evil jaunt. The shuffling undead fill the streets at times, never too proud to swarm the player in meaty groups which forces you to really consider some crowd control tactics. Insectoid Brain Suckers replace Lickers but are no less deadly. They keep things unpredictable by hugging walls, jumping around and charging at you with flailing arms for a venomous embrace. Hunters also return in two new flavors, raging red ‘Beta’ forms and bulbous blue ‘Gammas’. Based on my crude descriptions for each I’ll let you decide which is more threatening. While the enemy roster is perhaps a little familiar, the sheer quantity of on-screen nasties keeps the pressure on. Fortunately, the game gives you plenty of ways to even the odds.
While previous entries in the franchise encouraged you to conserve ammo and weave around foes, Resident Evil 3 wants you to play the action hero. Street-sweeping weapons like the shotgun and grenade launcher can be found pretty early on and the environment is teeming with explosive barrels, electrical transformers and the occasional gas leak. All it takes is a single bullet to set these hazards off and they’re perfect for reducing a screen of zombies into red mist.
The tank controls are still here to stay, but Jill now has the ability to dodge-roll. By tapping the aim button moments before an enemy attack, Jill will pull her gun and dive across the floor like a badass… at least when she feels like it. In practice, I could never get this move to work reliably. Sometimes it worked three times in a row, other times enemies were given a free license to chomp on a Jill Sandwich.
Craftable gunpowder makes its debut appearance here, allowing Jill to make specific ammo types depending on the situation. Within half an hour I was already a one man army with 100+ handgun bullets and a healthy handful of shotgun shells lining my pockets. I thought I was ready for anything… then I met The Nemesis.
The Hunter Becomes the Hunted
When Nemesis hunts you down he doesn’t run, he full on sprints. He’ll mercilessly chase you through doors and across large portions of the city and if he doesn’t think you’re sweating enough, he’ll bring his rocket launcher to the party to really turn up the heat. You’ll very quickly discover if you are a ‘fight or flight’ type person because those are the only means of escape. Fleeing is advisable, but evokes the B-movie tension of an undergrad scrambling from a psycho axe-killer. You’ll grip your controller with sweaty palms, screaming at Jill to show some extra hustle as you approach doorknobs. If you’re brave (or stupid) enough to fight him, he’ll temporarily take a knee, dropping a weapon upgrade at the expense of most of your ammo and a sliver of your sanity.
Contrary to popular belief, Nemesis doesn’t stalk you throughout the game. His encounters are scripted, but they feel random enough that his presence is always felt. You’ll forever feel his sour breath tickling the back of your neck, and whenever you hear his raspy catchphrase ‘S.T.A.R.S.’ you know you’re in deep shit. Nemesis is single-handedly the game’s highlight – an enemy worthy of the game’s subtitle.
With the city on fire, hoards of hungry zombies, and a Nemesis chasing after you, Resident Evil 3 successfully instills a real sense of urgency. Though you’ll still do a bit of backtracking for key items, the overall level design is much more linear to maintain your forward momentum through the campaign. This is a fight for survival after all and the whole game is crafted to make you feel like a rat in a maze, just with a much bigger rocket launcher toting rat hot on your heels.
When the game constantly has its foot on the gas pedal however, it becomes apparent that the pacing is the Achilles’ heel of the experience. Previous entries in the franchise knew exactly when to tighten the screw and when to let players hear the comforting melody of a safe room. Resident Evil 3 on the other hand is relentless often to the point of exhaustion. The sheer onslaught of enemies can become draining over extended play sessions and as novel as it is to walk the streets of Racoon City, the scenery becomes a mite repetitive. It’s a little hard to sustain enthusiasm for the adventure when you know the only thing that differentiates one room from the next is how much broken glass decorates the floor.
A brief mid-game clock tower level stands out however, with rooms and architecture reminiscent of the Spencer Mansion. It’s also here where the game presents most of its puzzles, which historically have never been a strong suit of the franchise, but here they are especially egregious. From purifying water tanks to weighing gemstones, nearly all of Resident Evil 3’s puzzles are trial and error based – I never felt smart solving them, just relieved when they were over.
It would’ve been easy for Resident Evil 3: Nemesis to stick with the ‘zombie infested creepy building’ blueprint of the previous entries, bravely though, it dared to experiment with the franchises’ formula. Though entertaining at first, its new emphasis on action means the game sacrifices its cerebral approach to horror. Interestingly though, this Resident Evil doesn’t linger in the mind because of it’s story, instead we remember the sense of urgency and tension it makes us feel as we push through Raccoon City. 21 years later and this game still gives off a vibe that’s unique to the franchise.
This game’s success and legacy weighs heavily upon Nemesis’s broad shoulders, and for the most part he alone carries the experience. It’s worth a play thorough today, if only to see how Nemesis influenced titles like Alien: Isolation and P.T. Yet even with this iconic foe pursuing you, the campaign lacks the spark and intrigue that made the previous games such classics.
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