Resident Evil 2 was one of the best games of 2019. It was an engrossing remake of the survival horror classic that managed to not only modernize the Playstation 1 classic, but also brought all of its idiosyncrasies without altering them in a way that changed its oppressive tension.
It featured an intricately layered hub-area in Raccoon City Police Department that gradually allowed the player to peel away its layers with fulfilling results. But to do that, the player must brace themselves against threatening enemies that could come back to life when defeated, finite resources, and the ever present threat of a deadly, unkillable pursuer with Mr. X.
This created a risk/reward system for player exploration. You could leave the safe house to venture off to the opposite side and use your new key to enter a room that was closed to you earlier, but maybe you’re low on resources and you have to push this excursion to the back burner because Mr. X is standing between you and that goal.
Countless times, I was on edge because I had just barely scraped by an encounter with some enemies, only to begin hearing the thunderous plodding of Mr. X’s boots approaching. Then, he would burst into the area I was in and completely throw a wrench in my plans. He demanded my attention in the moment and forced me to work around him.
There are no moments like these in Resident Evil 3.
The similarly remade Resident Evil 3 feels like a regression in just about every metric when compared to its predecessor from just a year ago. Instead of a scintillating survival horror experience, what we have been given is a bog-standard action game.
Resident Evil 3 is significantly more linear in its level design. As opposed to large, ever expanding hub-like areas, Resident Evil 3’s design is tight and constrained. The starting area, which is outdoors in Raccoon City and has players going back and forth between a store, a diner, and a train station office to get a subway car back online, gives an initial impression of potential expansiveness. This is quickly revealed to not be the case as all routes outside of small nooks and crannies for ammo are blocked off.
This is not a design philosophy that changes, even when the player revisits the Raccoon City Police Department from Resident Evil 2 in the later half of the game. This is a problem not because linearity is inherently bad, but because the game doesn’t use that focus to its advantage in ways that could embolden its difficulty.
Resident Evil 2 gave the player more areas to traverse which also meant that they will come into contact with more enemies and will have to use more resources (which tightly doling out is essential to execution in this genre). To offset this, the game has made the enemies harder with larger health pools than in Resident Evil 2. However, Capcom has undermined this by drastically increasing the proliferation of resources. Ammo and healing items are plentiful and never was did I run into a situation where I had to gamble on whether or not I could progress with what I had.
Also, the inclusion of a dodge button makes many encounters trivial as the player can negate taking damage or even run right by enemies with ease. This erases the tension and creates a Resident Evil game that has eschewed survival horror in favor of being a third-person shooter.
Puzzles have been reduced to time wasters or cut altogether. The most engaging “puzzle” in the game involves switching the inputs in a subway station to send the subway car on the correct path out of the city. This is solved by looking up at the wall in front of the player where the solution is just… there.
Another issue is how Nemesis, this game’s alternative to Mr. X has been implemented. Whereas Mr. X was an organic AI designed to stalk the player across the open areas, coming in at very inopportune times to make the player exist in a constant state of vulnerability, Nemesis is merely a set piece; appearing only at scripted and blatantly telegraphed instances.
Nemesis has an expanded set of abilities over Mr. X, who could only briskly pursue and physically hurt the player. In contrast, Nemesis can sprint, grab the player with tentacles from range, and leap over the player. However, this is subverted by his heavily diminished AI and intentional limitations. His abilities are not difficult to dodge and his AI is nowhere near as aggressive as Mr. X. In fact, Nemesis will not chase players into rooms or buildings that are outside of his set path. He will patiently wait outside for you to leave your current location before resuming his pursuit. Also, Nemesis is easily downed by the loads of ammo you will probably have; especially when you come across the grenade launcher.
So, instead of an omnipresent and anxiety inducing presence like Mr. X, Nemesis is relegated to a scripted nuisance at best. Not once in my playthrough did I die to Nemesis and until the game forced me to confront him, I almost always just ran away (without issue).
All of these issues lead to a game that feels like a huge step back for the series. After going in the direction of generic action game, Resident Evil 7 and Resident Evil 2 were able to make slow, shambling carcasses feel like legitimate threats again. Resident Evil 2 reminded us that the series is at its best when you’re struggling to navigate labyrinthine complexes. Resident Evil 3 instead takes the series back into the direction that saw it nearly implode.
It’s also very short. While I played, I made sure to backtrack and unlock everything other than the bobblehead collectibles and I was able to clear it on normal difficulty in under five hours.
The game isn’t without its strengths. It’s still a well polished an competent shooter. Mechanically speaking, guns still feel great and zombies explode real good. The feedback from combat is still crunchy and weighty and the game does have some very well executed moments and boss fights. The penultimate encounter with Nemesis stands out as one of the highest moments of the game.
It’s also still gorgeous. Characters have noticeable texture to their skin, lights and shadows dynamically react to objects, and water reflects images. Zombies shuffle and trip over each other very convincingly. The RE Engine is still capable of excellent visuals and animation.
But what we’re left with is a sequel that not only trims the fat of its previous entry, but most of the meat as well. It’s a series of setpieces glued together by level design so constrained it feels like its on-rails (fitting that half the game is spent getting a subway car to work). Knowing that at least three areas from the original were cut from this does not ameliorate this impression.
Resident Evil 3 is a series relapse. It’s a stripped down followup that only highlights how great entries like Resident Evil 7 and 2 were.
It may sound like I’m being overly harsh on Resident Evil 3 and that’s because it’s my intention. The game isn’t terrible. But it is a jolting left turn into severe mediocrity just as the series was gaining a second wind. Capcom is interested in remaking even more titles in the series. However, if we’ve already reached diminishing returns on this model, is it something we want continued?