The Resident Evil 3 Remake Seems Doomed to Fail

Playing the Resident Evil 3 remake—which is called, confusingly, Resident Evil 3—is like watching a group of game developers try to rewrite their company's own past. It's fascinating but a bit uncomfortable.

The history of the Resident Evil franchise is one of the most heavily reported stories in gaming. How it started as an attempt to re-create a spooky Nintendo game called Sweet Home; how it became rapidly dominant in a new genre that came to be called survival horror; how it had a subsequent identity crisis and went careening off into action movie nirvana before tumbling into action movie hell.

The original Resident Evil 3, called Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, is a pivotal part of that history, but you wouldn't know that from playing it. The last mainline title in the franchise to follow the design of the first game, it's an experimental but mostly familiar title, as much a side game as a main entry in the series. The next numbered title, Resident Evil 4, would completely reinvent the franchise as an over-the-shoulder thriller, making Resident Evil 3 feel modest and somewhat unimportant in the grander history of the series in comparison, the odd child out.

The new Resident Evil 3, following up on last year's fantastic Resident Evil 2 remake, modernizes the setting and story of Nemesis into a design as influenced by the games that came after it—particularly Resident Evil 4—as the games they're ostensibly remaking. Like RE4, these games have a third-person, over-the-shoulder camera, where the player manually aims their weapons and explores environments freely. This is in contrast to the original games, which were much more limited, relying on top-down fixed camera angles and characters that controlled like tanks. The Resident Evil 2 remake used this style to create a game that was much slower and more horror-focused than Resident Evil 4—zombies went down slow, did a lot of damage, and existed in an elaborate labyrinthine setting instead of a more linear series of levels and setpieces.

Resident Evil 3, then, feels like an attempt to bridge the gap between the new vision of Resident Evil 2 and what would come next in the form of Resident Evil 4. Using the same story and setting as its predecessor—an escape from zombie-infested Raccoon City, starring returning series heroine Jill Valentine and a hapless private security contractor for the evil Umbrella Corporation named Carlos who ends up being the right man in the wrong place—it pushes the design of the previous remake in a faster, more linear, more exciting direction.

This means the tight serpentine settings of Resident Evil 2 are abandoned, in favor of sprawling urban streets and a series of more isolated locations that are reduced to simple mazes and flashy set pieces. It also means that combat is much more important, with ammunition more plentiful and zombies relatively less interesting as a result. In last year's Resident Evil 2, you were almost never expected to triumph over the undead; here, it's a foregone conclusion. Even Nemesis, the giant, hyper-competent and hyper-intelligent mutated zombie that spends all of Resident Evil 3's story chasing Jill Valentine, has gone from a systemic threat—a roaming enemy that the player could confront or flee from at their best judgment—to a scripted boss appearing at specific, linear intervals, reminiscent of Resident Evil 4's quick-time events.

That's not to say this new Resident Evil 3 isn't entertaining. In iterating on all the successes of last year's Resident Evil 2, it is just as slick and playable as that game was, bolstered by beautifully moody settings and music. Fighting these zombies does feel good, and the small mazes have their satisfaction. But this game is always driving you forward, faster, never letting you linger in a place too long, never allowing you to struggle with a puzzle or risk getting lost. The survival horror of early Resident Evil, which Resident Evil 2's remake tried to recreate, was about navigating and taking advantage of dangerous, difficult-to-understand spaces. Police stations and mansions half-collapsed, turned into death traps and filled with monsters. Resident Evil 3 never gives you time for those sorts of joys. There are always places to be. One of the distinct pleasures of the series has always been replaying them, trying to navigate them quickly and smartly; it's a series that naturally pulls casual fans toward speed-running. But the first run of Resident Evil 3 already feels like the speed-run, harried and overdetermined.


This focus and emphasis on action makes Resident Evil 3 feel, more than anything else, like an attempt to create a missing link, a piece of connective tissue that makes the series cohere. From the new Resident Evil 2 to this game to Resident Evil 4, there's a relatively coherent progression from survival horror to action horror to pure action. While the original Nemesis had a larger scale and a slightly upped speed to its survival horror, it was still, fundamentally, much closer to the first Resident Evil than what would come later. But this version feels like an even compromise between the two. Now, from the first Resident Evil's HD remake, released in 2002, through to these two new remakes and on to Resident Evil 4, there's a progression in design that, belying the vast gulfs in technology, makes a sort of sense.

Unfortunately, design-based attempts at historiography don't make for good games. They make for games that, like this new Resident Evil 3, feel like they were doomed to fail. It's futile to even try, anyways; even if Capcom is successful at creating a new canon for Resident Evil, stuffed to the brim with remakes, it won't do anything to make the identity of the series any less messy. That kind of history can't be undone.

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