After universal acclaim and endless gushing from yours truly and the rest of the community for 2019’s Resident Evil 2, I am in no way shocked at the response to 2020’s remake. As excited as I was to dive in and as much as I did enjoy my run through Resident Evil 3, I knew what to expect going in. What I expected was… Resident Evil 3. I have a stack of S.D. Perry novels on my bookshelf; the Resident Kool-Aid flows through my veins. But keeping expectations in check doesn’t negate the problems Resident Evil 3 innately comes with. And with a remake? Those problems stand out more, but in a peculiar, fascinating way that’s only possible in a series like Resident Evil.
It’s kind of ironic how Resident Evil discourse often swirls around what the series’ identity should or shouldn’t be, what it is versus what it was and why that matters. It’s ironic because, well, Resident Evil’s true defining characteristic is chaos: scrapped projects, ever-changing leadership, desperate attempts to innovate. There’s a rift between “classic” RE fans and “modern” RE fans, but neither of those labels mean much. And it just so happens that Resident Evil 3 is the perfect lens through which we can see that. And in creating such a straightforward adaptation, Capcom has only made that lens more sharp.
Resident Evil 3 wasn’t even supposed to be Resident Evil 3. That game was canceled, leaving Code Veronica and a spin-off meant to give a newbie team a cool project to prove itself on. Code Veronica was too far off for a “3” there to make economic sense, so the spin-off became the real deal, Jill Valentine was inserted, and the creative team had to confront its lack of series knowledge. The result was an interesting game that certainly contributed to the greater Resident Evil lore, but also a game that struggled to justify itself overall. It was more of an escape room than a story, and it leaned heavy on gimmicky new features that both added and detracted from the Resident Evil experience.
One of the biggest problems with the Resident Evil 3remake is that… those features aren’t new anymore. Despite fans being up and down on it, Resident Evil 3 did have a lasting impact on the series. It introduced things like interactive environmental objects, crafting for ammo and other tools, and even expanded mobility options. All of these things carried on to sequels. And the other big gimmick from Resident Evil 3 was Nemesis, the iconic Tyrant that chased you around Raccoon City. All of these innovations reappeared, became a normal part of the series, or showed up in new ways as recently as Resident Evil 7 and Resident Evil 2’s remake.
So with Capcom’s remake strategy, which largely seems to be about preserving the skeletal structure of the games while elaborating on the meaty parts, Resident Evil 3 was already at a disadvantage. It was a more action-oriented game with a short, speed run-friendly story that was more about the stuff you could do than puzzles or plot. These are inherent conflicts with the things that made Resident Evil 2 so brilliant last year, and cramming Resident Evil 3 into that framework was guaranteed to disappoint people who were expecting more. Resident Evil 3‘s original innovations are standard now, and the series has already gone further in the action direction, backed up, twisted around a little, and found a middle ground. RE 2‘s remake already was RE 3 in a lot of ways.
I really was into my time with Resident Evil 3. It does more for Jill Valentine as a classic character than many other recent RE entries, even Revelations. It’s full of nods and winks to the nerdier parts of the fanbase, and the way the dodge maneuver works here rules. But in following up Resident Evil 2 so quickly, a game more suited for widespread success, it’s easy to see why the review scores vary the way they do. It’s a good thing though; consensus is never good for discourse, and the scrappy parts that make RE 3 so up and down with people are fun to dive into critically. But at the end of the day I’m a RE 6 apologist, so what do I know?
Resident Evil 3 is available now for the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One, and the PC.