Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC

Resident Evil 2 was a tough act to follow, both its original release back in the late 90s and today. Resident Evil 3 does its level best at chasing a classic but doesn’t quite reach the same level of greatness.

This isn’t to say that it’s a bad game. It’s well-designed, challenging at times, with lots of polish. Graphics, animation, and voice acting have all improved. The awkward, stilted voice acting performances of RE2 are gone; everyone sounds like a real person, even if the actual written dialogue isn’t great. My first six-hour playthrough was a lot of fun. Judged on its own merits, it’s a must-play for fans of the series and survival horror in general.

But I recently played through RE2 again, and RE3 is good but it isn’t quite as good. If you played RE2 in 2019 and haven’t touched it since, RE3 might feel more like a welcome visit from an old friend, rather than a younger sibling imitating its big brother.

Mr. X-sized shoes to fill

In Resident Evil 3, you play as Jill Valentine, one of the protagonists from the original Resident Evil. The T-virus has spread across Raccoon City, causing a zombie apocalypse. Making matters worse, the Umbrella Corporation has deployed Nemesis, a Tyrant-class bioweapon, to hunt down and kill the remaining STARS team members. With the help of her new ally, Carlos Oliveira, she must defeat the Nemesis and escape the city (For folks who are curious about the timeline of events, RE3 occurs roughly concurrently with RE2).

Given that the engine and gameplay are nearly identical, RE3 can’t avoid comparisons with RE2. The original RE2 is rightfully regarded as a classic, and its 2019 remake re-captured that magic. Both the original RE3 and its remake both live in its predecessor’s shadow.

In RE2, you spend almost all your time in the Raccoon City Police Department, which oozes menace and personality in equal measure. It’s an art museum that was converted into a police station that became a failed last bastion for the imperiled citizens of Raccoon City. You can discover each area’s story through notes left by the area’s previous residents. Its baroque architecture is stylish as hell, and as you memorize its snaking hallways and unlock its doors, it becomes its own character.

RE3’s chase across Raccoon City feels much more generic. If you’ve been gaming more than a few months, you’ve seen the apocalyptic city schtick. Crashed cars, burning buildings, etc. The space never comes alive as a lived-in space. You see much more of the city in RE3, but it never coheres into a character. You never really spend enough time in any one place to feel connected to a place.

Also, almost all the puzzles boil down to finding a single key and unlocking the next area. Don’t expect to be gathering chess piece plugs or card suit keys and zipping back and forth across a big map.

RE3 also lacks memorable NPCs. Jill never runs across any other survivors of consequence. We never meet a Sherry Birkin or Ada Wong. Heck, we don’t even get a Marvin Branagh or Brian Irons. The closest we get is Carlos’ UCBS soldier sidekick Tyrell, but he’s mostly there to provide plot points; we never build an emotional attachment to him.

Quick spoilers - The first part of the game revolves around evacuating a group of civilians from the city. We see them through a window but never get to meet or speak to any of them. The entire last third of the game revolves around trying to save the city from being nuked, but we never meet anyone in the city to save. We never have any emotional connection to anyone who isn’t a playable character. Apparently, Jill doesn’t have any friends or family in Raccoon City, because she never attempts to find or save anyone.

A semi-anonymous protagonist

If you haven’t played the original Resident Evil, Resident Evil: Revelations, or Resident Evil 5, you will have no idea who the heck Jill Valentine is. RE3 tells us almost nothing about her, other than that she’s a total badass, was part of STARS, and hates the Umbrella Corporation. I have a tremendous emotional attachment to Jill because I’ve played almost every single Resident Evil since the original mid-90s release. But if you’re new to the series, you might have a tough time forming an attachment with her.

On a related note, I’m glad that Capcom improved her outfit. Jill’s outfit in the original RE3 was a ridiculous miniskirt, tube top, and sweater tied around her waist. Who wears a Tinder date outfit to the apocalypse? I’m a fan of the new tank top, combat pants, and fingerless gloves. This is a combat outfit for sensible police officers who lived through Resident Evil 1.

Mechanics

RE2’s core action of shooting, evasion, and crowd control are more or less unchanged in RE3. If you had a blast with RE2’s gameplay, you’ll enjoy RE3. There are a few changes worth noting.

Grenades can no longer save you from being bitten by a zombie. In RE2, if you had a grenade in your inventory, you used to be able to jam it into a zombie’s mouth if it grabbed you, and then shoot the grenade to make it go off. Grenades no longer do this and can only be used when thrown. The knife cannot be used this way either. When grabbed, you have to mash a button to fill a meter. If you fill the meter, you take damage, but you get away. If you don’t, you take more damage or (in hardcore mode) you die.

The knife no longer has a durability rating, and can be used to stab and death check zombies as often as you want. They also added back in breakable boxes (familiar to anyone who played the original Resident Evil 4) with health items and ammo. The knife is great for popping these open, or, if you’re feeling frivolous or time-pressed, you can shoot them open.

Gameplay-wise, I’m not a huge fan of its two biggest changes: the quickstep dodge and the Nemesis itself. The quickstep dodge adds useful mobility that Claire and Leon lacked in RE2. It gives you more options when dealing with zombies and monsters.

But to use it to best effect, you need to hit it at exactly the right moment. If you pull off this trick as Jill, you leap far and hard If you manage it as Carlos, he hauls off and slugs the opponent, momentarily stunning them. It’s sort of like a parry in Sekiro. And like Sekiro, I know some people will like it, but it’s not my favorite.

But unlike in Sekiro, perfect parrying isn’t essential for victory. I didn’t even realize that this was the best way to use quickstep until about 2/3s through the game. Most of the time, I would use quickstep while running from zombies. It’s most useful when dodging the Nemesis, and at those times, you don’t have to perform the maneuver perfectly to avoid damage.

However, on hardcore mode, it is not optional. The game gives you far less ammo and zombies do far more damage, so quickstepping around them and away from them is much more helpful and useful.

In RE2, the free-roaming Mr. X chased you through the winding halls of the police station. His booming footsteps created a sense of profound tension as you attempted to solve puzzles, gather supplies, unlock doors, and evade zombies and other monsters. There’s no telling when and where he will finally catch you, but when he did, he created encounters that forced you to rethink your environment and how you’re going to reach your next objective.

In RE3, most of your encounters with the Nemesis are strictly scripted set pieces through simple areas. Your goal is simply to run away down an alley or hallway. If you make it through a section alive, the game informs you that you can relax, and that Nemesis won’t be showing up again any time soon. RE2 made you feel hunted in a way that RE3 can’t replicate.

The worst part? Your first real encounter with Nemesis takes place in several burned-out city blocks where you must evade him through wit, grit, and map knowledge. The best part is that you’re not done with pillaging the area for supplies yet. The game’s just given you a lockpick, and you know there are other areas with boxes and lockers you can now search for gear, but now the Nemesis is trying to kill you!

The game forces you to choose between grabbing a few final power ups and running for your life. But that’s the first and last time you have this sort of encounter with him. Every other encounter is strictly scripted. The game gives you just enough of a taste of what could’ve been that the rest of your encounters with Nemesis feel bland in comparison.

The Nemesis boss fights are a lot of fun, however, they’re tense, exciting, and test your grasp of the game’s base mechanics. I was very happy with these fights, and they were perhaps the best part of the game.

Replayability

You can replay Resident Evil 2 four times: Claire’s run, Leon’s run, and both characters’ 2nd Runs. Resident Evil 3 only has one run through. If you’re interested in playing to improve your rating or gameplay time, you can go through the game again, but you won’t see any new content. This is a bit of a disappointment.

The original Resident Evil 3: Nemesis attempted to spice things up by giving you two routes to escape the Nemesis during scripted chase scenes. This was a neat mechanic back in 1999, and attempted to address the fact that, compared to RE1 and RE2, RE3 only had one protagonist. I was hoping to see a larger, more open world in the RE3 remake as an evolution on this old mechanic, but it’s nowhere to be found.

Accessibility Note

RE3 has a few accessibility options, such as changing the color of the reticle and the laser dot sight. You can also change the brightness options. Lastly, it also lets you change “rapid tap” action prompts to “hold” action prompts, which can be helpful for people with joint and reflex issues. Kudos to Capcom for all of this.

Please note: Resident Evil: Resistance multiplayer was not available at the time of this play-through.