Honestly, I’m glad Resident Evil 3 is a short game, because it was really, really, stressful to play. After six hours of it, I was thoroughly jangled, and just wanted a break from things trying to messily dismantle me. Which, to be fair, means it did exactly what I wanted it to do. Before my nerves tattered and I evolved into a Strategy Dad, you see, I used to love a bit of survival horror. So I knew what boxes RE3 needed to tick – and it left great bloody claw marks through all of them.
I’ll start with something dull, but crucial: the inventory system. It’s simple, easy to manage, and extremely satisfying in its limitations. Crafting items isn’t just busywork, here, but a vital way of freeing up limited item slots by combining things, and you’re forever thinking about what to cache where, in order to free up space. The scarcity of items and ammunition is perfectly calibrated to leave you counting bullets for most of the game, and it makes looting (which I usually find well boring) both rewarding and necessary. Sometimes, a quick rummage in the bins is all that’s going to save you from a knife fight with a load of dogs, and that’s the way life should be.
The shooting feels good. Zombies’ heads burst pleasantly, like wet Maltesers crushed in a stapler, and with the possible exception of the assault rifle with its rattly lightness, every weapon feels appropriately kicky and weighty. I can’t aim for piss and have the reaction time of a gorilla on its deathbed, so I played with aim assist on, and I still found the game pretty challenging. You might be a lot better, but I’d be surprised if you found it a breeze.
The level design is excellent. Play areas are modestly open, enough for exploration and backtracking at least, and every little corner has some kind of purpose. It’s pretty navigable, too – I’m terrible for getting lost in games, ending up haunting bits of street like a shit ghost who can’t climb over minor barriers, but this barely happened to me in RE3, largely because of the pragmatic map feature (which also marks the location of uncollected loot, if you need to go back for things).
And I really can’t overstate how great everything in this game looks. It’s masterfully lit, the textures are some of the best I’ve ever seen, and protagonist Jill Valentine looks almost real at times. But it’s the details that really do it for me – especially in the first half of the game, every location is phenomenally rich in just… stuff. I spent ages just marvelling at weird in-universe film posters and adverts, to the extent where I’ve written a whole separate post on my favourites. There was a moment in downtown Raccoon City, in fact, where I was bizarrely reminded of Tales From Off-Peak City – because though RE3 is basically the polar opposite of that game in every way, that was the last time I got so into exploring a setting. And it all served a purpose, as I often found items, and even secrets, just because I was poking around and admiring things.
Fearwise, RE3 is pitched just right. There are some jump scares, sure. But this isn’t a game designed for exhaustingly energetic YouTube men to shriek at. Most of the horror, as is good and right, comes from a sense of dread, and the sense of constantly being under threat. The stunning use of environmental sound, together with its best mate, superb lighting design, means you never, ever feel safe. RE3 flexes this from the very opening of the game, where it uses a simple trip to the bathroom to show you that it’s got you exactly where it wants you. There’s a darkened shower that I was certain was hiding a brutus of some kind, and even though it wasn’t, Schrödinger’s zombie was enough to well and truly rattle my ronalds.
This is an action-heavy number, with a lower-than-average skulking quotient for a survival horror game, but the sense of dread carries through to the combat sections just fine. Because even though the camera behaves impeccably, and the controls are loyal beasts, it’s never quite enough. Even the basic zombies lurch around the place like crane flies round a streetlight (I hate those fuckers), and while Jill can run, it’s not the casual Usainian sprint of most action game heroes: it’s the run of a real, genuinely knackered human, and there’s a real sense of inertia to it. Dragging her away from pursuers is like walking a pissed lead skeleton home from the pub, and the dodge control really earns its keep.
One early segment of the game illustrates this brilliantly. You’re tasked with finding and activating four breaker switches in a power relay station. Which is infested with big grim spiders. Classic videogames, right? Fucken yawn. Only, it’s not. That’s just the substrate on which an amazing horror set piece is grown. The big grim spiders, see, infest you with parasites, which make you slower and make your vision horribly distorted. I ended up stumbling round a labyrinth, blood thumping in my ears, while horrible vermiform things wiggled across my retina, counting out my last shotgun shells as I prayed the next corner would reveal the fourth switch I’d been stumbling in search of. When I found it, and made it out, I felt a huge swell of achievement – and sheer relief.
The spiders are absolutely dreadful, and they’re just one of an impressive variety of enemy types for a reasonably short game. Even the zombies are a fine staple, with enough variety to them that they never get tiring, and there’s never long to wait before something new and vile is thrown at you.
The star of the show though, without a doubt, is Nemesis. Nemesis is the very archetype of the Relentless Brute, and looks like what would happen if Davy Jones from Pirates of the Carribean spent all his money on protein shakes, and then only had a fiver left to make an outfit for a night out at a BDSM club. But alas, Nemesis is neither safe, sane nor consensual: he would almost certainly be thrown out of said club, after being found endgame shitfaced, strangling a teenager outside the loos in his bin bag trenchcoat.
Nemesis is a bioweapon, who wakes up each day with one item on his to-do list: “absolutely beast Jill Valentine”. Jill was some sort of supercop, who’s trying to take down the evil Umbrella corporation, and… oh, to hell with all that. He’s the truck from Duel. The Terminator from The Terminator. The T-rex from Jurassic Park. A big bastard who won’t give up, or stop to explain himself. He’s teased in the opening FMV sequence, and I assumed he was going to be a late-game boss monster of some kind. But then, right near the start of the game, about the time I was expecting a tutorial sequence, he smashed through a wall in a moment of pure “guess what, now this is happening”, and began the bruting. The tutorial was his fists.
I guess Nemesis wants to kill you, but it seems incidental, almost, when it happens – a regrettable side effect of his true passion, which is to choke you, hurl you through walls, and just generally physically overwhelm you. All this mauling makes his presence incredibly oppressive, where it wouldn’t necessarily be were he just a super-efficient killing machine. His relentlessness impressed itself on me so solidly that it took me way longer than it should have done to actually start trying to resist him with weapons – I had just assumed nothing would work. Nemesis develops bigger and nastier forms through the game. And they’re cool designs, but I thought they actually made him less horrendous, somehow, as he was relegated to what amounted to a series of arena bosses. He’s at his most elemental when he’s just an implausibly wide, angry torso, lumbering round after you like something conjured by burning a stack of Wrestlemania VHS tapes inside a pentagram.
I do kind of want to flag the whole “violence against women” aspect of Nemesis, and of the game in general, as it’s hard to deny it’s a theme, or that it’s presented with at least a little relish. I realise it’s completely unreasonable to single out RE3 for this when, y’know, *gestures at the entire history of the horror genre*. And in fairness, you play as trigger-happy mercenary Carlos for a good portion of the game, so you get to see loads of lingering close ups of a man’s neck getting devoured like a late night burger, too.
But… yeah. There were moments while playing when I just felt uncomfortable. Jill isn’t too obviously a vessel for anyone’s fetishes, but realistic as she is, she’s clearly designed to be sexy. And she spends an awful lot of time being hurled into things, slapped about, grunting in pain, being asphyxiated, and either struggling to force assailants off her, or being graphically murdered by them. There was one particularly rough bit where one of the previously mentioned spider monsters strangled her with tentacles, then rammed a bigger tentacle down her neck to pump her full of parasites. Watching back through my capture footage for screenshots, I could hear myself mutter “not cool, man” into my headset. And it doesn’t happen to Carlos.
I wasn’t even kidding on Nemesis having sleazy dom energy, by the way. Jill’s ex-supercop colleague Brad mentions Nemesis having a “hard-on” for her, and when Carlos is introduced – while saving Jill from a mangling at the hands of ol’ bagfists himself – he quips that Nemesis “knows what it wants, and won’t stop till it gets it – don’t you like that in a man?”
“No thanks,” replies Jill, “he’s all yours”.
I actually liked the interactions between Carlos and Jill, and they worked well to dispel some of the general miasma of yikes mentioned above. Carlos (who is also sexy, though I can’t work out whether that’s because of or despite his ridiculous hair) is a prick. He wants to play the white knight, and Jill’s just not having any of it. Her dialogue never really strays into cringey Strong Female Protagonist territory while fending it off – she’s just a total professional, who’s too busy trying to deal with her situation to pay any heed to that sort of guff. She never feels like half the victim her death animations make her seem.
The writing in general is very deliberately B-movie, and I appreciate the craft – it takes real skill to pastiche really schlocky writing, and there is absolutely no shade being thrown in that compliment. I laughed out loud when I found the journal of a throwaway character who’d died, and it was a full life story complete with imprisonment, redemption, and a dead brother. It’s all very self-aware, and never quite breaks kayfabe by fully taking the piss out of itself.
Despite being a long time survival horror fan, the Resident Evil series is one of my big gaming blind spots – I haven’t gotten round to playing last year’s RE2 remake yet, so I went into this game with no expectations at all. Watching Matthew’s excellent video review, it seems that from a series fan’s perspective, there’s moderately more to delight than to disappoint in RE3, even if it maybe falls a little short of the RE2 remake. But I can only speak as someone who’s played this game in isolation.
And I liked it! More than I expected to like it. But at the same time, after six hours of it, I’ve had enough. The spider labyrinth was astonishing, but it’s not really a mess I’d get myself in twice, when the real joy was in escaping it. I could have spent more time finding secrets and backtracking for loot. And there’s certainly a huge replay potential to RE3 for completionists, and folks who are fond of difficulty challenges. But that ain’t me. I was precisely in the mood for a fairly linear, day-long series of setpieces, and that’s exactly what I got. If that’s what you want too, then the question is whether it’s worth £50 to you. Unless of course you also have pervasive fantasies about being smacked around by a wardrobe-sized bastard wrapped in bin liners, in which case this is a must-buy.
You can, of course, enjoy Matthew’s video review right here: