The Resident Evil 3 Remake Condenses the Series Into One, Big Gulp

Jill Valentine forever.

The Resident Evil 3 remake is a pretty condensed game. It sports events, creatures, locations, and characters from before, during, and after the zombie outbreak depicted in its predecessor — plus a rocket launcher wielding hunter-killer called Nemesis. It shoves all this, plus references to the first game, into just eight hours (if you take your time). But it’s not just the Raccoon City incident that RE3 summarizes. It might as well be a speedrun of the entire series, cycling once again in a never-ending loop that should be familiar to fans.

In one way, that’s kinda the point. This is a remake. It’s meant to channel the spirit of what we remember in our mind’s eye. Fancy new graphics and updated gameplay take the place of hazy memories and nostalgia. It’s just RE3‘s poor luck that it’s the game where the main series started to verge heavily towards action and suspense over horror and claustrophobia.

It just doesn’t stand out as much. Third-person action games are the default, not the exception survival-horror has become. And Nemesis is less effective as a vector for mildly interactive cutscenes when we have Control, Uncharted, Gears of War, and Horizon: Zero Dawn, but so few games with spooky, dynamic threats like Mr. X (a.k.a. Tyrant) from the previous remake.

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The beast is even less interesting as he shifts from a hulking stalker to blobby recurring boss later in the game. RE3 is never going to drop you into those scripted battles without the resources to win. Their arrival isn’t a tense climax. They’re moments of relief — as you know your healing items and ammo are about to be reset so you can clear the encounter.

And RE3 already starts as more of an action game than RE2. That only becomes more pronounced the farther you get. Burning streets give way to sci-fi laboratories. Zombies give way to big toad monsters. The final boss fight involves a railgun. Although I’d be lying if I said that doesn’t kinda kick ass.

Much of the gusto in that conclusion comes from a returning Jill Valentine. Every Resident Evil seems to have at least one playable himbo (Leon, Chris, Carlos, etc.). They’re one-liner machines with assault rifles, perfect for the increasingly combat-heavy franchise, just begging to get shirtless mods. On the other hand Jill just wants to leave. She gives fewer quips and more exasperated cursing — having lived through hell in the first game already.

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Oh, she’s heroic! Jill is motivated by a desire to save civilians and take down the people responsible for the outbreak. But given the chance to join the the fleeing refugees, she takes it about halfway through the game. Of course things don’t quite work out… And you can basically draw a line across that moment: between when the remake stops being like its roots and more like its recent past.

Or maybe it’s all the same. Even the spookiest and most beloved Resident Evil games do this. Resident Evil 4 whips out miniguns and mutant commandos in its latter half. Resident Evil 7, the scariest entry in the series by far, eventually puts an assault rifle in your hand and asks you to play soldier. Resident Evil always raises the stakes by the end of each game, but keeps the bar just a little bit higher the next time around. The cycle repeats until we reach a breaking point like the confused, bloated mess of RE6.

The Resident Evil 3 remake is just when fans first started noticing the pattern. Released just a year after the slightly superior double dip, it’s like watching the typical Resident Evil cycle on fast forward. It suffers from the direct comparison. But I didn’t walk away feeling all that different than when I beat the RE2 remake last year. That’s a compliment.

Resident Evil 3 Remake Jill

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It also speaks to the strong framework both games are built on. There’s just enough nuance (lining up shots on zombies that zigzag at you just so) and resource management (crafting bullets and healing items) to sustain about eight hours of game. And as much as RE3 suffers from retrospective, it also excels where it changes things up.

Jill isn’t the only character that got a refresh. The story of the RE3 remake squarely blames its viral outbreak on greedy, banal little men. There’s much less mustache twirling. Albert Wesker, who eventually eclipses the series’ timeline in super-villainy, is barely even hinted about. Instead we get the abusive Dr. Bard and the self-serving mercenary, Nicholai. The latter was in the original game, but didn’t present anywhere near as much mundane evil as we see here.

Maybe it’s just a cosmic coincidence that, as the real world is consumed in a real viral pandemic, RE3 accurately portrays corrupt people in power as our greatest enemies. Nemesis itself is a corporate cover-up: an attempt to keep stock prices high by murdering all witnesses. And its creators didn’t take control of Raccoon City without without help from people who would drink champagne in bunkers while we die. That’s better fuel for a zombie romp than the game necessarily needed. And I’m glad I got it.

If you asked me after RE2 if I would play exactly one of these every year, I would have said yes. If you ask me now, after finishing RE3, I still say yes. There’s something to be said for not overstaying your welcome, even there’s a lot going on during that short visit.