Seeing Stars: Why the Resident Evil 3 Remake is Precisely The Game It Needs To Be

It’s nearly impossible to talk about the new Resident Evil 3 remake without talking about the 1999 original, but that’s exactly what I’ll be doing here.

Leave all your reasonable expectations that come with examining a remake of Resident Evil 3 at the door, I’m here to talk about why this remake is precisely the sequel to the REmake 2 it needs to be, rather than examining how closely or successfully it updates its source material.

As you’d expect, the following contains light spoilers for some of the environments and events in both Resident Evil 2 and 3 remakes. I promise knowing these things won’t ruin either game, but if you’re adamant about going in cold I suggest you stop here.

Let’s get into it.

Aside from being about zombies, 2019’s Resident Evil 2 is fundamentally a game about Discovery, Familiarity and Mastery of space. For most environments in the game, particularly the iconic Racoon City Police Department, you spend a lot of time intimately backtracking its rooms and hallways, discovering new pathways and shortcuts, and stockpiling new weapons and items. Discovery of your environment is perhaps the most tense phase of the game’s loop, a cautious journey into the unknown where any corner turned could yield new dangers you’re not prepared for. But once you’ve walked those halls and know your foes, you begin making complex and informed decisions about your routes and what equipment you might need to get where you’re going. You may opt for a short route through the Library to reach the Stars Office, or a longer and more dangerous path across the lower floors to gather resources or equipment you couldn’t get earlier. This second phase is one of Familiarity with the space, it’s more comfortable and satisfying than it is scary, but has its own tensions by putting those micro-decisions — and the consequences — in your hands.

But after Familiarity comes Mastery, and you don’t get Mastery over an environment without being tested. That’s where Mr. X comes in.

Or whatever other abomination you mod into his role.

With Mr. X chasing you down, you’re suddenly tasked with making those same considered decisions that you did during the Familiarity phase, but under the pressure of constant danger. You’re effectively forced to speedrun areas you were previously tiptoeing around, and if he cuts off your planned route you’ll need to have contingencies ready. Walking carefully past a licker to avoid detection is no longer a viable strategy with X on your back, so you might find yourself wishing you’d brought those flash grenades you’ve been stockpiling as you’re suddenly forced to take a more populated alternate route. Mr. X, despite not being a traditional boss fight in those earlier portions of the game, serves the function of any good game boss: testing the player’s Mastery over the game’s systems, particularly the game’s space.

Many people would tell you that this is Resident Evil 3’s biggest shortcoming: it doesn’t offer the same intimate relationship with your environment. Resident Evil 2’s gradual loop of Discovery, Familiarity and Mastery creates a satisfying arc for both you and your chosen protagonist. You walk into the RPD a rookie, but you walk out of it a weathered and resourceful badass. But the problem with creating a follow-up to that experience is that most of your players will be entering the new game having already become weathered and resourceful badasses. Replicating that same arc simply isn’t an option anymore, no deep and complex puzzle box of an environment is going to be a match for the player raised by Resident Evil 2’s RPD. They’re naturally going to chew through that carefully constructed loop much faster than they did the first time, and the sequel needs to be built to accommodate.

This is fine.

And that’s precisely what Resident Evil 3 remake does: it tightens the loop. It assumes you’ve been paying close attention and effectively flattens Discovery and Familiarity into a single step, and then puts your Mastery to the test almost immediately.

You cover the streets of Racoon City once over — perhaps twice if you’re thorough —before you’re tasked with an intense race to the opposite side with Nemesis in close pursuit, dodging around the enemies you already mapped out in your mind, and luring Nemmy into electrical traps to get distance on him. Carlos’ mid-game trek through Resident Evil 2’s RPD assumes Mastery right out the gate, as you make your way through a building you already know intimately from the previous game, but with an increased enemy count and several interesting surprises along the way. The late-game Spencer Memorial Hospital location barely has you cover its ground once as Carlos before it fills the halls with Hunter Gammas. Covering that same ground again later as Jill is optional if you want to pick all those locks you couldn’t open as Carlos, and so it makes sure to pepper in a few extra surprises for your third visit.

What is often identified as a lack of depth for this sequel-remake is instead a designed recognition of the player’s experience with the previous game.

Hunter Gammas honestly scare me way more than nemesis.

This truncated formula was in fact a key element of what made the Resident Evil 2 remake special, with the B scenarios covering many of the same events again but from another character’s perspective. Knowing you’re already experienced with the mechanics and setting, the B scenarios ramp up the difficulty much sooner, throwing Mr. X and lickers at you almost immediately, and subtly altering some key item and enemy placements to keep you on your toes.

Finally, once both campaigns are completed, you’re treated to a 10-minute action packed gauntlet mode called The Fourth Survivor. This puts you in the elite combat boots of Hunk, an Umbrella operative armed to the teeth and with only 11 minutes to carve a path from the sewers all the way to the front gates of the RPD, the reverse of a journey that took you hours in the main game. You’re given a lot of ammo and a much thicker density of enemies to battle through, with several clever surprises dotted along your elaborate escape route. It’s a mode that centres the player’s Mastery over these environments and mechanics.

Got places to be.

And so Resident Evil 3 had to be sequel that understands the player’s learned competence every bit as much as The Fourth Survivor does. The loop tightens out of necessity, and the pace quickens as a result. You’ve been through way too much shit to be treated like a rookie again, and so it doesn’t bother trying to lay down that delicate arc for you all over again. You’re no longer Leon Kennedy wandering into his first disastrous day on the force, or civilian Claire Redfield on the hunt for her missing brother. You’re Jill fucking Valentine, badass super-cop and survivor of the Spencer Mansion Incident. She’s been through all this before, and so have you.

So get your gun and get the fuck out of town.

Hi, I’m Gary. I make games sometimes, write games sometimes, and make trailers for games sometimes. You can find those games I make right here. And if you enjoyed these game thoughts enough you can throw me a dollar or three via ko-fi. Thanks for reading.

Lead Designer @ National Insecurities. Has Game Thoughts sometimes. Is loud on Twitter @Garyjkings. Hire me to write your game or edit your trailers.