Last year's Resident Evil 2 remake proved that you could take a classic game and make it relevant again (which will no doubt be music to the ears of anyone desperately waiting on the likes of Final Fantasy VII Remake - but we digress). We liked RE2 so much that our editors voted it our Game of the Year 2019, so based on that you can probably imagine just how much we're looking forward to returning to Resident Evil 3.
We got our first taste of this quick-fire follow-up at a recent hands-on event in London, where we played through a couple of hours of the solo campaign with returning fan-favourite Jill Valentine. Together, we pushed through the city streets of Raccoon City, dodging the undead and aiming for the head, and based on the time we spent sneaking through shops and running in terror through twisted alleyways, we can't wait to get our hands on the finished article in early April.
The RE2 remake scratched an itch because it gave us a more measured Resident Evil experience. As technology has improved over the years we've been given increasing spectacle, yet this rising polygon count has also seen a quickening of the pace. The series took a hard-left with Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, where things seemed to click back into place and an old rhythm was found, and RE2 followed shortly thereafter with another atmospheric adventure where the action stepped into the background and made room for pure terror.
Resident Evil 3 is a conundrum, then. It was the shorter, more aggressive follow-up to the original RE2 and that legacy needs to be respected, but the community has clearly resonated with the intensity of more recent releases. This problem looks to have been solved by atmospheric exploration that's peppered with light combat in RE3, coupled more intense moments when face-for-radio poster boy Nemesis comes chasing after you. And chase he will.
Methodical examination of your surroundings is essential in this refreshed Resident Evil adventure as there seem to be secrets hidden everywhere. The deeper you dig, the better you're rewarded - at least that's the impression we got from our hours with a near-finished build. We scoured the section of the game we played, with Jill heading out onto the streets of Raccoon City looking to get a subway train filled with companions back on course. Straight away we were ducking and weaving around the undead as they lunged for us, conserving ammo because, after all, these zombies don't die easily. There were shops on either side of the road, ready to be scavenged for supplies, with walkways linking smaller areas that are all crammed with environmental detail.
Perhaps even more so than in sections of the RE2 remake, Capcom has fleshed out the experience beyond the bones of the original. The city streets that Valentine explored in the original - via those dated fixed cameras - are now much more plausible. There are nods to the old in there, like an alley on fire that needs putting out via a hydrant, but the more open environments of the 1999 original have required a loose-handed reimagining. It works, though, and we spent more than two hours combing each room for resources, going back and forth as we found the bolt cutters and then the lockpick, items that opened up previously inaccessible areas and bagged us extra ammo and herbs.
As per, inventory management is a key part of the process, and you'll spend a fair amount of time swapping out items at safe rooms and combining herbs to make more potent concoctions. There's also an assisted mode with extra inventory slots if you're after more room, but having a limited selection of items makes for a tighter, leaner experience where every decision matters - and that's how we like it.
The more expansive city streets serve another purpose. Nemesis, the iconic big bad who old-timers will remember none too fondly, returns in RE3, and this time he hunts the player down relentlessly. This disgusting, mutated monster has been terrifyingly recreated, and from the first moment we clapped eyes on him, our heartbeat went through the roof. He's hard as nails and firing your pistol at him is basically pointless, and so we needed to take advantage of the environment to slow his seemingly inexorable advance, shooting fuseboxes and sending bolts of electricity through his twisted body, giving us just enough time to escape his clutches. The demo ended with a face-off, but this battle had much greater flexibility than the limited single-screen battles of yesteryear.
Combat is tough, but sometimes it's the things you can't see that are the scariest, and he was almost more daunting when he was hunting us out of sight. That's because, during his pursuit, Nemesis can stay on your trail with apparent ease, and when he catches up with you he can pull you to the ground with a tentacle-like grab attack, and if you do manage to evade him momentarily he can jump past you as you try to run away, forcing you to flee back whence you came. Nowhere seems safe from this sinister foe, and in our first meeting, we even saw him run through a wall (although that moment was scripted and we're not sure he can do that during normal gameplay). He's a little like a more direct spin on the Xeno from Alien: Isolation; a menacing presence that hunts you down relentlessly and who can't easily be stopped. We were terrified.
He also has this nasty little trick whereby he can resurrect already dead people with headcrab-like parasites that he drops on dead bodies, turning once-killed enemies into an entirely new threat. And while we're on the subject, there was one particularly exhilarating sequence where we had to flush parasites out of our body using green herbs while pulling a series of levers at the same time as being chased by what looked like a modern twist on the Drain Deimos (except here they don't suck your brains out, they pump a deadly substance in). The section was tough as nails too, prompting us to go back through the whole level on the hunt for supplies that we had missed the first time around. A solitary magazine filled with pistol ammo simply wasn't enough and it wasn't until we went back and unlocked the shotgun and stocked up on ammo that we were able to return to this challenging part of the mission.
One character we didn't get to see much of was Carlos Oliveira, who we understand will have a more sizeable role to play in this version of the game. He appeared during cutscenes either side of our time on the street, and we're looking forward to seeing what his story turns into. After all, the original wasn't the longest game ever made and Capcom will want to make sure that there's a bit more meat on the bones this time around. That said, one might speculate that a shorter adventure might explain why it's being bundled together with Resistance, the standalone 4vs1 multiplayer game that pits four players against a villainous mastermind (you can read our hands-on impressions of that game right here).
Our main takeaway was the edgy atmosphere that characterised RE7 and then RE2 has been largely maintained for Resident Evil 3. Yes, it seems like the experience has been fleshed out more, and yes, it does seem to have a bit more of an emphasis on action than its predecessor, but so far the signs are good that Capcom has made yet another crowd-pleasing adaptation of a fan favourite horror game. RE3 and bolted-on multiplayer title Resident Evil Resistance are launching together on PC, PS4, and Xbox One on April 4 - based on everything we've seen thus far, we're staring down the barrel of yet another blast from the past.