Among the adjectives applied to the Resident Evil games over the franchise’s 20-year history of frenzied zombie-slaying, we perhaps never expected to find the words “relevant” or “instructive”. However, this modern-technology reimagining of 1999’s Resident Evil 3 charts the immediate aftermath of a devastating viral outbreak – in this case the T-Virus, created by the evil Umbrella Corporation – in a small city, so it is perhaps uniquely apposite.
In the current circumstances, it is also faintly reassuring: at least our streets aren’t ablaze and teeming with undead monsters.
Resident Evil 3 differs considerably from the first two titles in the series, discarding the original’s branching narrative, which forced you to take decisions at certain points, instead adding sequences in which you control UBCS (Umbrella Corporation’s security force) operative Carlos Oliveira, in addition to much-loved main protagonist Jill Valentine.
That adds to the game’s sense of ebb and flow: Carlos is armed with a powerful assault rifle, so his more action-oriented sequences involve coping with large amounts of zombies at a time, whereas Jill’s sequences judiciously mix puzzle-solving and more traditional survival-horror gameplay, in which she must make the most of scarce ammo and whatever firepower is at hand.
But the game has another central character: the seemingly indestructible Nemesis, who relentlessly pursues Jill and provides a number of boss-battles, each of which forces her to take advantage of different environmental quirks, and after which he mutates into ever-more terrifying forms.
The game provides plenty of the franchise’s staple elements, against a backdrop of gloriously modernised versions of familiar locations such as the Raccoon City Police Station (here seen 24 hours before the events chronicled in Resident Evil 2). But this time the emphasis is on storyline rather than archetypal scary horror sequences, though there a few, including a creepy switch-finding puzzle in an area infested by giant spiders (that inject Jill with maggots which she vomits up when healing herself) and the first encounter with a new enemy in the sewers.
Despite cleverly tweaking the original game’s story in such a way that it feels more logical and coherent than before (which may offend Resident Evil purists), and providing a general gameplay experience that displays a bit more variation, it doesn’t feel quite as groundbreaking, or as meaty, as Resident Evil 2. This is quite a short game (as was the original), and while you can just about spin a play-through out for 15 hours or so, the presence of an achievement for speed-running through the story in less than two hours tells you a lot.
Capcom has tacitly acknowledged this fact by bundling the game with a separate multiplayer mode named Resident Evil Resistance. Past attempts to add multiplayer to Resident Evil have been patchy, but Resistance has promise. It is certainly distinctive, featuring four-versus-one asymmetric play, in which a group of Survivors must escape each location, while a Mastermind attempts to thwart them by spawning traps, zombies and bosses.
Survivors are placed under extreme time-pressures, but can buy time through positive actions such as killing enemies or healing team-mates. Resistance expands its gameplay by, for example, introducing characters who are melee specialists, and giving each Survivor a skill with a long cool-down, and there’s much Machiavellian fun to be had as the evil Mastermind.
Resistance is recognisably part of the Resident Evil universe, but its gameplay is fresh, distinctive and highly tactical. You have to work at it a bit, learning the layout of the levels intimately via its Practice Mode, and pre-launch, its matchmaking system wasn’t working (which should have been fixed by now). If Capcom can continue to evolve it post-launch, with new levels, characters and gameplay mechanics, it should prove an enduringly popular addition to the Resident Evil universe.
Resident Evil 3 doesn’t quite hit the heights achieved by last year’s reworking of Resident Evil 2 – it fails to gloss over the shortcomings of its forebear. But it is still a well thought-out and nicely executed modern refresh of a survival horror classic – and welcome slab of (almost) escapism to enliven our current house-bound lives.