Written by T. Blake Braddy, @blakebraddy
“The zombies are getting restless.”
The third game in a series is generally when the wheels start to come off, especially for a surprise hit that was stretched into three games. Trilogy is only befitting of a series with the scope to handle the change. Otherwise, it’s like trying on jeans from high school after twenty years.
If you start a franchise by having players save the world, then how many times can you repeat without stumbling over your own self-importance? Mass Effect and Dead Space are two examples of series that succumbed to Messiah Syndrome, the main characters having transformed from mere badass protagonists to near-religious figures. It’s unfortunate because weak third games generally follow amazing second entries, which, as it were, ramped up the action and intensity from the first game.
The only place to go is up, but ultimately these games are letdowns.
The same is not true of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. In a lot of ways, it’s weaker than its predecessor, though not for the same reasons as in other franchises. The Resident Evil series made a seemingly distinct choice to focus on a small town’s zombie outbreak over the course of a few months. It doesn’t have a single protagonist but several, and the aspirations for each game are self-contained, not far-reaching as in the cases mentioned above.
Resident Evil 2 is clearly the pinnacle of the PlayStation Trilogy. It is bigger in scope, more ambitious with narrative, and just more fun to play than either bookend in the series. However, though RE3:N isn’t quite on par with the second iteration, it delivers an interesting, scaled-down experience, one that provides some interesting advancements for both the series and the survival horror genre in general.
Resident Evil 3: Nemesis is both technically a prequel and a sequel, of sorts. The narrative takes place mostly concurrently with the second game, a day before through the day after the events of RE2. It was originally intended to be a spin-off, unconnected with the main storyline, but when the canonical third game ran over on time and couldn’t be finished before the release of the PS2, this ancillary title was christened the third in the franchise and released at the end of the PS1’s development cycle.
In Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, players facilitate Jill Valentine’s exit from Raccoon City. (She stayed in the city after the events of RE1 to investigate Umbrella, duh.) It has been about three months since the events of the original game. Her path is blocked not just by the undead but by the appearance of an unstoppable force / immovable object named Nemesis. He is big and menacing and operating under a single directive: Kill STARS members.
In trying to get the hell out of this infested nightmare scenario, she meets up with members of a paramilitary unit funded by Umbrella (UCBS), Carlos Oliveira – one of the first Hispanic characters I can remember in a game – and some Russian stereotypes (or stereotype equivalents). They all have a similar goal, but that goal is ultimately knocked way off-course by Nemesis’s constant involvement. He shows up at inopportune times for the purposes of attempted murder and also general mayhem and destruction.
However, though he is the most intimidating / annoying character in the game, Nemesis is in a lot of ways the most memorable, as well. For years, until I had replayed it, thinking about the game meant having a minor panic attack at the thought of him showing up when I was low on green herbs or magnum rounds. He is not a source of sympathy, and the back story does not attempt to humanize him, as with William Birkin from RE2. He is just a walking death trap, an undead T-800.
Because of this variable, I found myself saving with more frequency than in previous games, not because it was any harder but that I was more afraid Nemesis would pummel me into a Jill Sandwich, and I didn’t want to rerun vast parts of the game. If he gets ahold of you, there’s a good chance you’ll be seeing the title screen again soon.
Resident Evil 3 is more stripped-down than the titan that is Resident Evil 2, much more of an action-oriented horror game than a pure survival horror experience. Players are expected to keep moving through the various environments – and there are plenty – without really stopping to contemplate the surroundings. If they do, you-know-who is likely to show up and grind them into zombie meal. Not only that, but zombies gather in bigger groups, so players accustomed to avoiding combat will probably have to use their weapons more often.
To underline how action-y this game is, players are subjected to sequences more reminiscent of Michael Bay than George A. Romero, and the set pieces that serve as backdrops only exist to explode. There is almost no penalty for failure, either, because those who play through on Easy are given unlimited saves, which encourages players to drop into a safe room and start plucking away on that old typewriter.
The game adds a pretty useful dodge function, and from the outset players are given an assault rifle, so it’s pretty clear the intention was to start the process of moving away from being a slow-moving puzzle game with this one. There are puzzles, and the puzzles are very similar to previous entries, but a lot more movement is required to solve them this time around. Players go on fetch quests, basically, to recover items to make a non-functional thing functional again.
There are other changes here, but they feel more like refinements. Jill, though scantily clad, is less susceptible to death-by-zombie than in the first game. Doors open more quickly, reloads occur more quickly. Zombies even lunge with more speed than in previous entries. Developers even added a crafting element for ammo, which is a cool but underused touch. Also, and this is probably not interesting to anyone but me, but the amount of environmental noise this time around is impressive. Players are more likely to hear zombies in the distance (or fire or something squishy), and that fixes the mood securely in place.
Despite the innovations, however, Resident Evil 3 still bogs down in some weird ways. What is perhaps most unsatisfying about Resident Evil 3 is that it represents a shift in the importance of narrative. Once the zombie apocalypse has been established, it becomes increasingly difficult to make individual stories important enough to warrant an entire game, and so object hunting becomes the surrogate for story. The game then becomes about the menial tasks, rather than the larger underlying idea. Of course, games need something driving them forward, but having an ultimate purpose, or struggle, is what makes for a compelling conflict, and Jill escaping Raccoon City is a weak premise, considering.
More to the point, Resident Evil 3 is just not as memorable as the first two games in the series. The best set pieces are kind of rehashed from the previous game, and one is more-or-less a revision of the house from the first. The sewers, for example, are just mind-numbingly boring, and even beyond the interesting first half, the second half of the game doesn’t produce anything nearly as memorable as the train sequence, or the first few Nemesis encounters. (And yet, it still feels righteous to nail Nemesis with the grenade launcher in that final boss battle.) The beats that made the first two games interesting are more or less predictable here, right up to the timed boss sequence at the end. It’s kind of like two day old pizza.
The good news is that RE3 moves fairly quickly, so it’s difficult to get bogged down, and it offers a few interesting modes. There is something of a Game Plus, which is nice for replayability. You can play a Mercenaries Mode and also don costumes from previous games. It’s like Capcom knew that a nostalgia boom was right around the corner.
Resident Evil 3: Nemesis is not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a stellar third entry for the series, and it attempts some new things, even if they are not ambitious when compared to the previous games. Having an assault rifle is kind of cool and fun, and learning how to deal with Nemesis over the course of the game – Ice Rounds for the grenade launcher, people! – gives the players a challenge beyond managing hordes of zombies.
The Final Word: When it was released, RE3 was my favorite out of the original trilogy, and it still holds a weird place in my undead little heart. I played through the game several times, and though it is admittedly not as good as RE2, it still holds up well enough for players to delve into the series. The game plays a lot tighter than its predecessors, and though it comes from the same system, it somehow feels a lot newer and more relevant.