For over 20 years, gamers have enjoyed the regular doses of fantasy that Capcom has brought us via its Resident Evil games. This clever remake of 1999's Resident Evil 3, however, is the first iteration of the franchise released into a world in which the events it depicts feel terrifyingly familiar.
All Resident Evil games chronicle the aftermath of a viral outbreak - the T-Virus, developed by the evil Umbrella Corporation and initially unleashed into the fictional Raccoon City. Hence one of the first memes of the Covid-19 pandemic, involving a lab in the coronavirus's ground zero of Wuhan with an umbrella-like logo, and somewhat straw-clutching suggestions that Corona is (almost) an anagram of Raccoon. While we can all be thankful that Covid-19 doesn't actually turn people into zombies, Resident Evil 3 Remake's release seems startlingly timely.
A classic reimagined
Building on last year's modern-technology remake of Resident Evil 2, the Resident Evil 3 Remake impresses in just about every possible aspect. As you would expect, it looks fabulous, sporting graphics that would have been beyond the wildest fever-dreams of the original development team.
But perhaps its most impressive feature is the way in which it deviates radically from the original game in terms of overall structure and story details, while somehow managing to preserve its general spirit and overall story arc. It's a proper reimagining of the original, which sits much more comfortably within the overall Resident Evil canon.
In the original Resident Evil 3, for example, at various points, you had to make choices which led to different story paths and, ultimately, different endings. Capcom has done away with those: the remake has one story and one ending. Which may sound retrograde, but in practice gives the game much more coherence, and lengthens the story considerably (especially if you make it your business to explore every hidden area in a quest to find every useful object).
Plus there's a bonus: this time around, you don't just play as the much-loved Jill Valentine, but also get to control Carlos Oliveira, the UBCS (effectively Umbrella Corporation's private army) operative who teams up with Jill. Carlos is equipped with a beautifully fettled assault rifle, so his sequences tend to be more action-oriented, and typically involve taking on large numbers of zombies at a time.
Mutations: New enemies inbound
Resident Evil 3 Remake's initial gameplay style is much the same as those of last year's Resident Evil 2 Remake and 2017's Resident Evil 7, along with the original game, mixing zombie-shooting - ammo is at a real premium initially, so you must make good use of the explosive red barrels and sparking generators that stud Raccoon City's streets - with finding essential items to open up new areas and puzzle-solving.
Jill's first task is to restore power to Raccoon City's subway, to allow remaining survivors to escape the city on the one train left at the nearby station. Needless to say, the plan doesn't proceed smoothly.
Before long, she begins to encounter the notorious Nemesis, a seemingly indestructible Bio-Organic Weapon created by Umbrella to hunt down STARS operatives (of whom Jill is the only one left in Raccoon City). Through the course of the game, Jill has many boss-fights with him, each causing him to mutate - which allows every one of those boss fights to possess a distinct feel.
Resident Evil 3 Remake mixes areas familiar from the original game and others set in Raccoon City - such as the police station, 24 hours before the events of Resident Evil 2 - with a number of new venues, and it isn't afraid to introduce some excellent new enemies.
Multi-player: Survivors and Masterminds
The one criticism addressed at the original game concerned the shortness of its storyline, and while Capcom has done a good job of extending that in the remake, it still isn't the longest - we took over 15 hours to finish it in a fairly leisurely manner, but there is an achievement on offer for speed-running it in less than two hours.
There's a decent amount of replay value on offer, thanks to the urge to find all its hidden secrets, but Capcom has also opted to bundle it with an entire separate multiplayer game called Resident Evil Resistance. Previous attempts to add a multiplayer spin to the Resident Evil gameplay blueprint have lacked credibility, but Resistance, we're happy to report, shows plenty of promise.
It's highly distinctive, pitching four players taking the roles of Survivors against another playing a Mastermind. Story-wise, it chronicles a period in which Umbrella Corporation is assessing precisely how effective its T-Virus-infected Bio-Organic Weapons are when pitched against humans, so the company has imprisoned a number of random late-teens and 20-somethings, who must team up to overcome everything thrown at them and escape.
Each 15-to-20-minute Resistance game consists of three timed phases: in the first, three keys must be found and brought to a device which unlocks the exit; in the next, a Security Zombie must be located and defeated, and his security card used to unlock three terminals; and in the final phase, three Bio Cores must be located and destroyed (which can be achieved much quicker with melee weapons than guns).
Playing as a Survivor, every zombie you kill, trap you disable, team-mate you revive, or CCTV camera you shoot or disable, buys you more time.
Some of the Survivors are melee specialists, armed with the likes of baseball bats, which cause vast amounts of damage but are fragile (however, you can sustain their effectiveness with Repair Kits - Resistance has a vastly expanded selection of usable objects, but the same inventory restrictions as the main game).
Playing as a Mastermind, a card system determines which traps you can place and zombies you can spawn (some of which you can control directly, which is great fun). Plus, towards the end of a round, you get to deploy a devastating special weapon (in the case of Annette Birkin, for example, it's her grotesquely mutated husband, William).
Resistance also includes a vital tutorial, along with a Practice Mode which is well worth playing: it's crucial both to gain an intimate knowledge of the attributes of each of the Survivors and Masterminds (once anyone in your group has picked a Survivor, you must choose a different one) and of the layouts of the different (quite labyrinthine) levels - there will be four at launch.
Pre-launch, Resistance was beset with matchmaking problems that made it hard to play in its full glory. However, we had a dose of preview hands-on, which confirmed that it's highly tactical for both Survivors and Masterminds, and pretty addictive.
Presuming Capcom can sort out the multi-player matchmaking issue by launch, Resistance should become a fine addition to the Resident Evil canon: it's innovative and has plenty of tactical depth, plus it's easy to visualise it evolving over time. It unquestionably adds plenty of value to the overall Resident Evil 3 Remake package.
While Resident Evil 3 preserves the very spirit and essence of what should constitute a Resi game, it also offers a surprisingly extensive reimagining of the original, which takes it way beyond its previous limitations and endows it with a much greater level of logic and coherence.
Given the present circumstances, this game should strike a chord with pretty much all gamers. And when they experience the sheer quality and thoughtfulness behind its construction, they will surely feel inclined to also revisit the likes of Resident Evil 2 Remake and Resident Evil 7 too. At times like these, it's almost comforting to think that things could be even worse - and what could be more cathartic than shooting zombies in the face?
Resident Evil 3 Remake, need we even say, is a must-buy for fans of the franchise. For once, a Resi game is released into a world in which it seems prophetic rather than fanciful.