Hooked on the Hollywood nostalgia high of remakes and re-releases, the video games industry has become a snake intent on eating its own tail. From time to time, developers succeed in giving their old games new life with Frankensteinian aplomb – as was the case with last year’s Resident Evil 2, a slick, energetic remake of the hit 1998 horror game that managed to outsell the original.
Resident Evil 3 arrives hot on the heels of its bestselling predecessor – a little too hot, maybe? – updating and re-jigging another classic Resident Evil game, this time 1999’s Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. While there’s never really a bad time to revisit the thrills of the original, you can’t help but wonder if Capcom, the game’s creators, would be better off taking a lesson from their own zombie-slaying protagonist: some bodies are better left dead.
For the bulk of the game (which, with a single-player campaign that you can blast through in half a dozen hours or so, isn’t all that bulky), you play as Jill Valentine, the resourceful series protagonist played by Sienna Guillory in several of the Resident Evil films. Elsewhere in the game, you control Carlos, the lustrous-haired military operative who assists Jill as they escape a zombie outbreak.
Here, as in the original Resident Evil 3, Valentine spends large parts of the story on the run from a hulking pursuer known as “The Nemesis”. Some eight-feet tall and seemingly indestructible, The Nemesis is sort of a bipedal equivalent of the menacing tank truck in Steven Speilberg’s 1971 classic Duel (but with less personality).
He might be one of the Resident Evil series’ most recognisable villains, but there’s really not that much to him. The Nemesis is about one thing, and one thing only: hunting down Valentine. While this mute foe goes about his deadly game of “Kill Jill”, the player must also contend with hoards of smaller enemies, which range from standard-issue Romero-esque zombies to giant spiders, to other creatures of Resident Evil’s own invention.
The walking dead are unlikely to give you any serious frights – the series has often leaned hardest on the “action” part of action-horror – but some of the others are genuinely unnerving. My own personal Room 101 was an early sequence set in the sewers, when Jill is ambushed by a succession of huge, bulbous frog-like creatures.
Even in the two decades since the release of the original, audiences have grown more desensitised to horror – it helps that the unsightly enemies are rendered here with unprecedented clarity. Resident Evil 3’s graphics are its sharpest asset: the lighting effects are top-drawer, and the game’s human characters sparkle with realism.
Yet the sense of realism is hobbled somewhat by the dialogue, which is a step up from the of-its-time original, but lacks any real pep or nuance. How do we know Jill is a kickass woman? Because someone explicitly says so, of course – embodying the old dramatic adage of “tell, don’t show”.
Resident Evil 3 has a slight problem with its scale: the city streets always feel closed-off and artificial. Too often, the gameplay removes you from the moment as you get bogged down in trivial decisions over which guns and tools to fit in your limited-space inventory.
Moreover, the game’s most egregious failure is its length. If we’re talking about value for money, then £49.99 is simply too much to pay for an experience that is over before it really gets going – even if the game is bundled with its one-versus-four multiplayer counterpart Resident Evil: Resistance.
Cinema and video games are not the same thing. While Hollywood remakes are rarely justified, there is obvious merit in revisiting classic games – updating the graphics and the gameplay can make for objectively superior experiences. But while Resident Evil 3 might be superior to the 1999 original, it fails to aim high enough. And as any player pumping bullets into a zombie’s torso will tell you, this can be a fatal mistake to make.
Resident Evil 3 is out Friday 3 April on PS4, Xbox One and PC