Review by Bloomer
"The trilogy is completed in an action-heavy technical nirvana, but at the cost of a little darkness."
Resident Evil 3: Nemesis is the third journey into one of my favourite horror worlds, and like the third instalment of any trilogy whose power has created an increasingly anxious and intense fan base (of which I am a proud member), RE3 arrived pregnant with meaning. Incumbent upon the game were the emotional and technical expectations from fans, as well as a greater awareness amongst the gaming population at large; thus it was bound by fate to elicit the most varied reactions to date.
In the Resident Evil arc, RE3 is the literal and metaphorical apocalypse. In the course of the two preceding games, helicopter after train after helicopter bore the surviving Special Tactics And Rescue Squad (S.T.A.R.S.) members to safety from the ever-degenerating zombie situation in Raccoon city. Our favourite despondent heroine, Jill Valentine from RE1, has now quit the team (maybe because they didn't dig her nightclubbing dress sense) but she disastrously chose to stay in town until the place had become The City Of The Living Dead. Under your control, Jill must survive the most grueling onslaught of zombies yet, as well as the constant attentions of a giant mutant assassin known as Nemesis, to escape from the city with her life.
RE3 is technically superlative, painfully well-designed, as beautiful (almost too polished I think) and grisly as ever, and in many ways it has the best play mechanics of the three. While the heights of RE2, especially the insane '4th Survivor' minigame, were an extreme challenge for the most skilful survivors, in RE3 the skill and challenge features are both more manifest in the core game and pursued to perfection (and almost unattainable levels) in the unlockable Mercenaries missions. In pure gaming terms, RE3 is the best yet, but the game's technical preoccupations and the straightforward nature of this episode's story mean it's never as deep or traumatic a horror experience as RE2 was.
My Last Escape from Nemesis
RE3's original Japanese subtitle was 'The Last Escape', and as much as I like the emphasis on what's at stake for Jill personally, I'm glad they changed it to 'Nemesis' because Capcom couldn't create 'The Last' anything and expect gamers to believe them. Both as concept and as towering-juggernaut-of-death, 'Nemesis' says it all. The man himself is a stitched-flesh unkillable giant with a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher, Judge Death dental work and minimalist vocabulary.
Created by the bad guys at Umbrella Corporation, Nemesis is an obsessive hunter whose sole function is to track and kill remaining S.T.A.R.S. operatives. He will pursue you mercilessly throughout RE3, often smashing his way through doors or windows with terrifying suddenness and running you down to break your limbs. The tension and pressure of wondering when the next attack by Nemesis will occur is pretty unbearable, and the Nemesis theme - that quiet and brooding piece of music which explodes with a sting as the Nemster bursts his way into your scene - is a heart-mashing masterstroke.
Your relentless pursuit by Nemesis in RE3 is the game's defining element, placing a constant tense pressure on you. But as exceptionally well done as it is, it is inevitably wearing, too. You have to deal with Nemesis over and over again, and he is very tough to stave off. Sometimes if he shows up while you're heavily involved in some other aspect of the game (exploration or a puzzle) you will find yourself groaning at the effort required to survive and floor him again. Still, it's conviction all around. RE3 is nothing without its obsessiveness, whether it's Jill's obsession with her Last Escape, the deeply personal 'NO!' she shrieks out when she fights for her life, or Nemesis' obsession with slaying S.T.A.R.S. members. The way he will continue to pump further rockets into your already lifeless corpse as he growls 'S.T.A.R.S... S.T.A.R.S...' on the YOU DIED screen is truly disturbing.
Developments in Resident Evil 3
- Final improvements have been made to the core game engine, probably to the limits of the Playstation's abilities. Your movement on stairs is now fully controllable onscreen; no more clicking the button or loading new scenery.
- The backdrops are even more brilliant to look at this time, and in a subtle way this is to their detriment. The clarity and stark dramatic angling of the crumbling pre-rendered city structures, of a burst fire hydrant drenching a street, and of fires raging in abandoned cars, is so uncannily artful that I feel some of the visual darkness and unpredictability of RE2 is now gone. As I keep saying, RE3 is a technical crest in the series (and for the Playstation console), so this phenomenon is the kind of thing I would expect.
- Jill's finally got her hands on the 180 degree quick turn. Regina in Dino Crisis was the first lady to use it, which is logical because she was totally wild and cool, whereas Jill is a woman whom I like very much but would certainly never describe as 'wild and cool'. Judicious use of this new move is THE single most important skill issue in RE3.
- Jill's lesser new trick is the dodge. Tap the button at the exact moment of impact (or button mash a little on either side of it) and you might be able to evade, knock down or shake off the beastie that was seeking to maul you. That 'might' is the catch, as you're grateful for this ability when it works, but annoyed when it doesn't and you wanted it to. It's obviously not intended to be a gameplay feature you can rely upon, and even though it reduces your damage-taking overall and adds some nice moments of surprise panic to the combat, it feels more like a querulous addition than a helpful one.
- The zombies are more numerous and more varied than ever. It's not as great an achievement as was made between RE1 and RE2, in which the zombies were first imbued with an undead 'life', a sense of movement and behaviour which was a scary parody of what they might have been like when alive. Still, RE3 demonstrates its technical prowess once again in just adding more of everything. There are plenty of new physical types for zombies and as many new attack patterns - crawling, running, tottering, stumbling - and just LOTS MORE ZOMBIES en masse.
- For replayability and challenge, Capcom outdid themselves this time. So many aspects of the game are now randomised that you're always guaranteed to be kept on your toes. The nature and location of ammo and weapons keep changing, the monster placement and distribution keeps changing, and the baddies will often regenerate in areas you've previously secured. Nemesis keeps showing up at the worst possible moments. The puzzles often have more than one solution now, though Capcom didn't go so far as to completely randomise solutions. For instance, a safe might seem to have a different combination each game, but the observant quickly learn that these combinations are coming from a set list of only four possibilities. Another idea developed from Dino Crisis is the Live Selection. When Jill faces a moment of high jeopardy, you must quickly choose one of two actions which will alter the course of play... or you can 'um' and 'ah' and suffer the default decision reserved for procrastinators.
City of Death
The first two Resident Evils concentrated on specific locales, a mansion and police station respectively. RE3 bumps the scale up to the level of a city (once again - an impressive technical feat) and manages to extend that desolate feeling of ruin to numerous locations. You'll visit a restaurant, business offices, an ornate clock tower, a hospital, a power plant and a park, just to name a few, and the effect is completed by new and impressive atmospheric effects such as drizzling rain. Nor have the designers lost any of their eye for those brilliant subtle RE moments or atmospheres: Your first glimpse of a wall-climbing monstrosity as it slithers into a shadow on the change of an angle, or the bleak sight of zombies wandering through a park at night in the rain. The synth, piano and 'concrete' musical themes possess all of the same dismal majesty that was perfected in RE2.
I don't feel that the city design proves any less claustrophobic in effect than the previous games' environments, as many players have complained. Jill is hampered, hemmed in and constantly pursued, and since she wants Out, even more of the puzzles are about environmental progress than in the past: to remove wreckage, to put out a fire, to unlock various kinds of doors. All the old goodies (or tired props - your call) are recycled too, such as THE CRANK.
The city is crawling with more undead than ever before, who attack in more surprising fashions than ever before (bursting through doors, slithering out of cars, hurling themselves through windows) and the scenery is now highly combustible. Tap R2 and you can target danger points such as barrels, crates, circuits or valves, which can often be detonated or triggered for major strategic gain. The grotesque new bosses such as the Gravedigger are as spectacular as you'd hope for. New frog-like mutant variations on our terrifying favourites, the Hunters, are truly disgusting, especially when they swallow you head-first. All of the enemies have acquired more potent AI, which is a worthy match for Jill's new tricks and the improved controls.
Jill Valentine and The Humans
We've always known that Jill was a few filaments short of a lightbulb, even if she can play the Moonlight Sonata...
'Now it's Wesker's time to disappear! I don't know what's going on.'
She could be excused by the fact that everyone in RE1 behaved with charming idiocy, and in an otherworldly acting style which I doubt you could ever reproduce even if you wanted to. Yet that shrill and resolute Jill from RE1 is sorely missed by myself. While the production values of the voice acting have relatively skyrocketed by the time of RE3, in the weeding out process, the producers also divested Jill of any personality. She's now a straightforward action woman whose behaviour or deeds I can predict under any circumstances, and that is my definition of a non-character.
Fortunately she's buoyed up by a great supporting cast which consists mostly of hardcore mercenaries who are playing at some mysterious shenanigans in Raccoon City at the behest of Umbrella. Best of all is Carlos, the soldier with the self-proclaimed faux-foreign accent that makes the babes swoon, and with whom Jill strikes up a grudging friendship. There's Russian Nikolai, the chief mercenary and the toughest crew-cut SOB to ever stalk the Resident Evil saga. We also finally get to meet S.T.A.R.S. member Brad 'Chickenheart' Vickers pre-zombification - a very big moment for series fans - and we're truly impressed with his scary 'We're all gonna die!' speech. There are a lot of great character moments and in-jokes here, though there's not a lot of variety overall since this episode is lacking in civilians.
Trial by violence
All of the classic RE weapons such as pistols, shotguns and grenade launchers are back in action, along with some innovative new ones. The minelauncher is probably the most amusing toy we've ever had to date. Pump a mine into the flesh of some zombie or slap one onto a piece of scenery, wait a few moments then watch the gore explode from the inside out. There are new pistol variations you can build and customise, too, but RE3's biggest weaponry development is the mixable gunpowder. A and B powders can be found and blended in multiple forms - and with other grenade ammunition - to produce acid, flame and ice rounds, all with their own uses. It's definitely innovative, but while it was a much-vaunted feature of the game, it's another one which, like Nemesis' constant assaults, can prove wearying over time. The rote and experimental aspects of mixing just slow things down too much for my taste, prompting impatience and further slugging up the never-generous RE inventory slots.
It's not any particular weapons themselves that make RE3 the great leap forward in RE combat that it is, but the improved design and implementation of combat elements in every area. What I think gamers at large have missed in regard to the RE saga is the degree of gaming skill involved, and the astronomical level of challenge and depth for those who want it. It was becoming more apparent in RE2, what with the stringent deadlines for unlocking secrets, and the vicious 4th Survivor minigame in which you had to run an astonishingly harsh gauntlet of monsters equipped with just two healing items and a small, finite arsenal of weapons. These skill and challenge aspects have peaked in RE3, yet you might not have noticed this if you didn't want to. Many players less fanatical about this genre are content to play through just once or twice, maybe only on Easy, and that will prove engrossing (or difficult) enough. What I'm suggesting to those who have played the games, but never considered the dimension of challenge I'm about to discuss, is that you dust off RE3 and see what you can really do.
With the new degree of control available to your character in this episode (quick-turns and mobility on stairs especially, and dodging secondarily) and the more sophisticated behaviour of all your enemies - and the challenge of dealing with Nemesis - and the fact that the knife now WORKS! - there is so much that can be mastered here. You can learn the anatomical weaknesses and foibles of all the monsters. With which arm will Nemesis first attack? With which claw will a Hunter try to cut your head off? What will prompt a Hunter to run or leap at you? You can learn the patience and discipline of killing zombies or dogs with a knife, how to best deal with different kinds of situations - crowds, narrow assaults in corridors - and how to best use the environment to your advantage. Refining and exploiting all of these skills in the course of the regular game will bring you a gamer's sense of mastery and satisfaction in itself, and maybe impress your friends who find survival horror is tough. But what you really want to do with these skills is put yourself on trial in the bonus Mercenaries missions.
Named for Umbrella's 'hired hands' who were both reconnaissance soldiers and unwitting guinea pigs in an experiment (aren't we all?), your goal here is to take on the role of one of these mercenaries to run an extremely savage gauntlet across a stretch of the city involving massive numbers of every kind of monster you've ever met in the game, including Nemesis, within a time limit and with severely limited resources. Merely surviving to the finish line is brutal enough, but if you actually want to score well and earn money to spend on special items for the regular game, you need to rescue up to six hostages trapped by the monsters en route. Killing monsters rewards you with corresponding amounts of extra time, as does rescuing the hostages, who also reward you with weaponry or healing items.
You have a choice of three characters here. Mikhail is, relatively speaking, the easiest (and that's still in no way 'easy' by anyone's standards) because he's loaded up with weapon variety. Carlos has less weapons and an annoyingly random critical hit pistol. The character choice to make you 'a real man' in the old sense will be Nikolai, the 'Iron Sheik' who comes armed only with a knife, fifteen rounds and some healing items.
Now, hack and slip your way through roomfuls of hunters, packs of ravenous dogs and up to sixteen zombies at a time placed in the worst configurations known to man. You'll relish your own insane deaths, like rolling in a corner with the timer bonus going ballistic before your head is cut off by multiple hunters, you're swallowed upside down or otherwise manually torn apart. And correspondingly you'll relish the amazing stunts you will pull off to beat the odds (if you're good enough...) like tearing your way through a garage full of zombies with the knife alone because you have no choice in the matter. This stuff will make light work of most players in just a couple of screens, and they need never see any more of it. But if you're a real RE fan, you want to be hardcore, RIGHT? This is where it's at.
The Last Escape?
RE3 is a great game both in the history of Resident Evil and in its own right, and I also view it as a concluding high watermark of sorts for Capcom's horror efforts on the Playstation. There's huge accessibility here to appeal to new fans for the series (though the challenge of Nemesis himself could admittedly put you off), but at the same time the reverence for the first two games is as solid as it could possibly be. The myriad in-jokes, references, and story connections to old characters and situations are guaranteed to reward fans (with a 'secret Jill's diary' mode and multiple epilogues to boot), and you'll even revisit a significant stretch of the RE2 police station at one point. What better way to cheekily drive home the technical mastery of this episode than by taking a great favoured slab of the second game and reproducing it as just one area of the city, as if to say, 'We can do this and still have room for everything else.'
That 'everything else' is glossier, shinier, faster, more numerous, and better controlled than its predecessors, but at the cost of a little darkness and depth of feeling. Everything's a little more assured, less dangerous. It is precipitated by action rather than character, with Nemesis driving you desperately towards your goal of escape. You will feel the psychological pressure that's bearing down on Jill Valentine; it's there in the brooding musical score, in the sights of a decaying city all around you and in the dehumanising experience of the mercenaries she meets - and that's the inner life of this episode. The Mercenaries missions themselves, however, finally exploit the massive gaming potential of the ever-improving RE engine to its fullest.
Jill's Last Escape? Somehow I doubt it. My own critical edge senses a degree of hollowness in RE3, but this is mostly an organic symptom of a more straightforward story and the fact that Capcom almost self-consciously pushed the Playstation RE engine to breaking point on this one; dazzling, and yet you can begin to see through it. The game remains a graphic, sonic and atmospheric masterpiece of massive replayability that dwarfs a thousand lesser action-adventures, and a thrilling entry in the Resident Evil mythology which happily explores a few new avenues.
-- Resident Evil 3: Nemesis -- 9/10 --
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 10/13/01, Updated 08/01/02
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