Capcom has recently been on a remake kick. The recent release of “Resident Evil 3” comes a little more than a year after the release of its numerical predecessor. Surprisingly, I’ve found it to be my favorite of the past three games because of its brisk pacing and the ways in which it varies the tempo of the action.
“Resident Evil 3” wastes no time establishing its zombie apocalypse scenario. At the start, special agent Jill Valentine, who works for the Raccoon City police department, awakens from a zombie-tinted nightmare only to find herself terrorized by a monstrous assassin — a hulking “bioweapon,” code-named Nemesis, who is dedicated to exterminating any member of the Special Tactics and Rescue Service (S.T.A.R.S.). Following a frantic escape from her apartment, Jill finds herself on the zombie-overrun streets of Raccoon City where she eventually runs into Carlos Oliveira, a mercenary who works for the Umbrella Corporation.
Carlos’s employer was responsible for the manufacture of the biological agent that turns people into zombies. Carlos, however, is a genial dupe who understands his mission to be a humanitarian one. Although Jill takes an initial dislike to him, the two work together to try to restore Raccoon City’s subway system to help evacuate civilians.
Players alternate between Jill and Carlos over the length of the campaign. Jill’s sections hew closer to the survival horror template of “Resident Evil 2.” For most of the first half of the game, Jill must rely on a handgun and shotgun to put down the various types of hellish creatures that cross her path. On the standard difficulty level, ammo isn’t plentiful but it isn’t vexingly scarce either. Enemy placement and resources are carefully distributed throughout the map to tease players with the possibility that they might run out of ammo. By contrast, Carlos’s sections are more action-oriented. Because he’s armed with an assault rifle, the developers can throw more foes in his direction. Save for an intense shootout at a hospital, Carlos’s missions feel more forgiving.
Progress unfolds by scurrying back and forth across levels, finding an item here that can be used over there. Much of the game’s tension arises from the dread of wondering if you’ll make it back to a save point with the item you need to open another branch of the map. I appreciate how well the level design works to play off the sense of the frustration that comes from smacking into locked doors, and the corresponding delight that comes from finally opening them. The intricate level design is purpose-built for generating waves of tension.
One of my problems with most horror games is that repeated encounters with the same enemy types diminish their possibility to unnerve. On that score, “Resident Evil 3” does a decent job of introducing new enemies and presenting different variations of Jill’s arch foe, Nemesis. Though I can’t say I found the game to be that scary, I did hope that the game’s monstrous bugs, which like to jump on people and inject a colony of parasitical maggots down their throats, wouldn’t crop up in my dreams.
The true star of “Resident Evil 3,” though, is the superb RE graphics engine, which debuted in 2017’s “Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.” Environments in the game are dramatically lit and brimming with details. As I made my way through the campaign, I couldn’t help but wonder how the engine will scale after the release of the next-generation consoles. Parts of the game, such as the opening in Jill’s apartment, look positively cinematic — so textured and atmospheric one can almost imagine that video games will draw near the end of the uncanny valley in our lifetimes. If and when that should occur, I hope that Capcom will have found another horror template than zombies.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.