Over the years the terms "remaster" and "remake" have often been used to describe the same kind of games, but Capcom really showed the world what the difference is when Resident Evil 2 launched last year. How? The studio did so by asking how it would have made a sequel to Resident Evil in 2019. This meant modernising and changing the story, introducing new and altered gameplay mechanics, and obviously rebuilding the visuals and audio from scratch. The element of surprise is definitely helped it in that regard, so how does Resident Evil 3 hold up when people kind of know what to expect? It turns out, it holds up very well indeed.
That's because it's very clear that Resident Evil 3 was developed alongside Resident Evil 2 and therefore follows the same recipe, at least to a large extent. Take the story for example. Those of you who have played Resident Evil 3: Nemesis might go in thinking that you know what to expect. Without spoiling anything, let's just say that you don't. Quite a few changes have been made to surprise old fans, while also getting rid of some of the soon-to-be-twenty-one-years-old quirks in the plot. That's not to say that we're talking about Academy Award-worthy stuff here, as the relationship between Jill Valentine and Carlos Oliveira sees them go from fairly cold to besties faster than you can say Staaaaaars, and some of the justifications for certain situations are pretty thin. RE3 also makes bigger cuts and changes to the original than RE2 did last year, and we think some of these will annoy if not infuriate traditionalists, so be warned.
Still, the story was more than engaging enough to inspire us to play through the entire thing in one sitting the first time around. The game's limited length will probably also split the audience a bit, however. Where we really enjoyed our nine hours, with a lot of exploring and backtracking to look for the game's many Easter eggs and secrets, some will find the five to ten hours a bit on the short side even with unlockable difficulty levels, costumes, weapons, items, 3D character models, and concept art. We've had a lot of fun playing through the game three times already, and the length suits the somewhat more action-focused pacing. Quality over quantity is A-OK in our book, so no complaints from us even if it's natural to always want more of a good thing.
Yes, it is more action-focused than its predecessor, but not as much as some of you probably feared. Where the first half or maybe two-thirds of the game delivers an absolutely astonishing atmosphere with zombies just waiting for you to let your guard down, the last part of the game suddenly starts forcing you to go full-Rambo by locking you inside rooms with a boss or strong enemies. It's not exactly our favourite aspect of the franchise, even if the controls and combat feel even more satisfying than last time.
One of the reasons for this is the dodge mechanic. Tap the dodge button at the right time and Jill or Carlos will usually manage to avoid the greedy arms or teeth of a zombie. Time it perfectly, and you'll even slow down time for a couple of seconds while your aim automatically snaps to the enemy's weak point. Even after three playthroughs, our heart always skips a beat every time we do this. It might even have stopped completely a few times when our health was dangerously low - it's exhilarating stuff!
A positive side of it being more action-packed is that you get more options to play around with when taking care of enemies during the calmer moments. Raccoon City is conveniently filled with explosive barrels that can rid the world of large groups of zombies with a beautiful boom and generators that paralyse everything around them when hit. Our two heroes have even realised that it's a good idea to bring a well-crafted knife to a fight, and it can be used as many times as you want without it breaking (very handy when there are breakable crates filled with weapons or ammunition and tricky zombies pretending to be dead). Then there are the firearms that are satisfying to shoot and dismember zombies with.
Jaw-dropping visuals and the amazing audio design can take much of the credit for that as well. Those of you who've played last year's game know exactly what we're talking about. Who manages to stay calm when every drop of spit can be seen - almost felt - coming out of a terrifyingly realistic zombie's mouth, or when the music knows exactly when it's time to play with your nerves by adding a thump or high pitched sound. Top that with incredible animations that make zombies react in such a satisfying way when being shot, stabbed or just stumbling towards you, and there's no doubt that the combination of these developers and the RE Engine is a match made in heaven (if heaven was scary and filled with zombies). No other survival-horror game comes close to the quality of the presentation here.
Heck. Even the much-discussed Nemesis design quickly grew on us. Not that you'll get much time to look at him. The towering creature oozes death and danger from the very first second you see it, and each meeting keeps escalating things. This is probably why Capcom decided to move away from Mr X's ever-present threat in Resident Evil 2 and instead chose to make all meetings with Mr "Staaaars" more scripted. While this might disappoint some, we like this approach. Gone are the moments when the big baddie becomes tedious by blocking progress or ruins the pacing by chasing you long enough to become a nuisance. Every encounter with Nemesis feels like a puzzle, and it's up to you to figure out a way to escape the surprisingly agile and nimble giant or "defeat" it long enough to buy you the time needed to get to a safe area. And again, making the encounters scripted ensures that each of them gets crazier in ways that we won't spoil here.
The game isn't perfect, however. Some of the predecessor's shortcomings are present here as well. As stated earlier, Resident Evil 3 is one of the best-looking games we've ever seen, but even the Xbox One X version struggles with frame-rates sometimes halved when there are enemies in the distance. Usually, this is not a problem since most enemies get up close and personal, but there are some sequences where this becomes clear as day and it ruins the sense of immersion.
Another thing that can spoil the atmosphere is obviously a design choice, namely the fact that enemies that are supposed to be activated when certain criteria are met will still get up even if you take the opportunity to make their heads look like Swiss cheese before the game says it's time to wake them up. Kind of understandable since allowing us to kill some of these would ruin certain story moments, but still disappointing that a more elegant solution wasn't found.
Those of you who've played Resident Evil 2 recently will also notice some recycling. Some of these are cool references that had us chuckling, while others are just proof that the two games were made by the same team around the same time, including similar zombie models and of course a few parts of Raccoon City. It's not a big problem, as we mostly thought that it was funny the one time a zombie's twin showed up ten seconds after we killed its brother. You might want to keep that in mind either way if you're a stickler for stuff like that, though.
Finally, we have the aforementioned changes and cuts compared to the original. This is definitely a reimagining and not just a prettier recreation. At times the story is borderline unrecognisable, there are quite a few missing enemy types, certain scenarios don't happen, and we noted a few changes that are sure to split fans of the original, so be warned.
When it's all said and done, however, these complaints are fairly minor. Resident Evil 3 proves yet again that Capcom is the king of remakes. Just like RE2 last year, some fans who are just looking for a prettier version of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis might be a tad disappointed that it makes quite a few changes to the story, but we think it's cool that the team has dared to make changes that are still in the spirit of the original. Having these surprises and tweaks makes it feel like you're playing RE3 for the first time again. That newness allows you to sit back - or on the edge of your seat if you prefer - and enjoy the incredible atmosphere that has been created by some mind-blowing audio-visuals, well-balanced action-horror gameplay that grabs you tight and doesn't let go until the credits roll, modernised controls, and cool references and Easter eggs. Just don't expect the same amount of playtime and content as its predecessor (unless you're including the multiplayer the comes with Resident Evil Resistance), nor anything groundbreaking in terms puzzles and gameplay, or even a game without minor technical issues. Resident Evil 3 is just a fabulous sequel to one of 2019's best games, and we love it.