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One of the ‘worst’ Resident Evil games is actually one of the best

Resident Evil 3 Remake is one of the most debated games in Capcom’s survival horror series, but it’s just as good as the remake of Resident Evil and 2019’s RE2.

Resident Evil 3 Remake was an unusual follow up to 2019’s Resident Evil 2. Whereas RE2 felt like a comprehensive reimagining of a classic survival horror, building on all the strongest areas, bulking out and improving the weaker parts, and successfully filling every gap from the original, RE3 Remake was shorter, narrower, and generally less ‘content rich’ than its 1999 namesake. For some, it understandably felt like a mid-effort cash grab; Capcom trying to quickly capitalize on the success of Resident Evil 2. But I think Resident Evil 3 Remake is much more than this, and that it’s a smart, economic, and modern recreation of the weakest game in the original trilogy. It’s better for the material that it cuts out, and has easily the best central characters and dialogue of any RE game. With the Ada Wong-driven, Separate Ways DLC for Resident Evil 4 Remake finally upon us, this is why Resident Evil 3 Remake deserves another go.

I’d say there are three central criticisms that are leveled at Resident Evil 3 Remake. The first is also the most glaring, which is the omission of the entire clock tower sequence from the original horror game. I also like this section in the first RE3. There’s an especially fantastic detail, in the room where you solve the painting puzzle, and you see that UBCS mercenary and the young woman dead in the corner with their arms around each other. Like David Ford’s memos in RE2, it gives away a subtle kind of background tragedy that makes the horror and bleakness of Resident Evil – and Raccoon City in particular – really sing.

Resident Evil 3 Remake, however, does not need the clock tower. This  game lives and dies on pace. Anything from the original that’s even close to superfluous – anything that can be shortened, distilled, and delivered with more focus and clarity – gets reworked. The game begins with the appearance of Nemesis. We jump over the downtown section and get right to the subway car. In just one brief sequence at the beginning, which is almost entirely absent dialogue, we understand precisely why Jill has remained in the city, what her fears are, and what she’s trying to do.

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The important part of the clock tower is that Jill gets infected and Carlos has to try and heal her. That’s the interesting stuff. That’s the character beat. That’s the drama. I think the best horror movies, and also the best action movies, are about 80 minutes long, and move kind of effortlessly from one emotionally charged set piece to another. Resident Evil 3 Remake has this same sensibility. We cut out some puzzles, enemy killing, and exploration, but we exchange all of that for big dramatic beats in rapid-fire succession.

It’s contrary to game-making vogue, which right now size, scale, and more things for players to do. But a four-hour game, with triple-A production value, that leans heavily into character and story, all delivered with a terse, streamlined clearness, that’s the kind of game I want to play – if you took ‘Resident Evil’ out of the name, so it wasn’t wedded to the expectations of a big franchise, RE3 Remake would be unambiguously loved.

The second criticism of RE3 Remake is how it reworks Nemesis. In the original game, he stalks you organically from area to area, appearing at what seem like random moments, so that you never truly feel safe. In the Remake, confrontations with Nemesis are scripted and determined – he appears at the same places every time. Superficially, this is a weakening of the game’s premise. If Resident Evil is meant to be scary, and Nemesis is supposed to be an unstoppable, ever-lurking threat, if you know when he’s coming and when he won’t be around, the tension goes down. But this is just the fallacy of stalker-type enemies.

Resident Evil 3 Remake is good: Jill Valentine and Mikhail Victor in Capcom survival horror game Resident Evil 3 Remake

Like in Amnesia The Dark Descent, Resident Evil 8 with Lady Dimitrescu, and Resident Evil 2 with Mr. X, after a relatively short amount of time it becomes eminently possible to outsmart and ‘game’ the stalker’s behavior. Mr. X especially will just follow you around the RPD reception desk, so you can kite him and eventually sprint off – if you go into a safe room, you can even watch him reach the door and turn around. Similarly, after these enemies keep appearing, and keep appearing, and keep appearing, they stop being frightening and become more of a mechanic, or even worse, an annoyance.

You wind up in a frustrated sort of slapstick routine where you’re just trying to trip out their AI, or otherwise get by them, so you can carry on with the game proper. They don’t feel like intimidating ultimate monsters; they become dopey, uncannily behaving videogame NPCs. Since the games tell us that these monsters are the most fearsome and the most dangerous, but then you can also fool them and make them look dumb, it undermines the game’s horror pretences wholesale.

Resident Evil 3 Remake is good: Nemesis in Capcom survival horror game Resident Evil 3 Remake

Again, it’s contrary to modern videogame rubrics, but I’d rather a scripted, choreographed sequence that creates the impression of the Nemesis’ power and omnipresence than a stalker system that I can ultimately find the gaps in, and that steadily becomes more an annoying thing I have to deal with rather than substantive and dramatic encounter.

But then we also have the game’s climactic section, in the Umbrella lab called Nest 2. Now, even as someone who really likes Resident Evil 3 Remake and thinks it deserves a reappraisal, even I struggle to vindicate this change. Nest 2 is less aesthetically inspired and atmospheric than the Dead Factory in the 1999 game, and it really does feel like a shortcut reuse of assets from the RE2 Remake one year previous – if someone wants to argue that RE3 Remake really is a cash grab, the Nest 2 section is definitely exhibit A.

Resident Evil 3 Remake is good: Jill Valentine in a subway car from Capcom survival horror game Resident Evil 3 Remake

Nevertheless, I feel like it’s compensated by the rest of the game’s strengths. The relationship between Jill and Carlos is the most convincing and entertaining in the entire RE series – Carlos particularly is one of the best characters in all of Resident Evil, from his wonderful opening line, where he calls Nemesis a “f***face” then shoots him with a rocket, to the warm, romantic little moments that he shares with Jill. The whole game buzzes along at such a clip – always another action sequence, always something new to do, always a new character moment, always coherent and quick – that I think it’s the ideal antithesis to the stereotype of triple-A games.

Resident Evil 3 Remake looks, sounds, and plays wonderfully, and has all the characteristics of a serious and professionally made game, but also seems to operate via a different set of game design ethics than what we typically find in the mainstream. Without wanting to lean into cliches, it’s a totem to the idea that less is more, which feels like an incredible relief and a real achievement when games today operate based on the opposite, the often misjudged idea that more and more and more is more. If you only played it once back in 2020, or you’ve avoided it based on what you’ve heard, give Resident Evil 3 Remake another try.

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