Retro Renegade – Resident Evil 3: Nemesis
Returning protagonist Jill Valentine is once again at the forefront of the horror as we head back to the viral outbreak in Raccoon City.
Capitalising on the astronomical success of Resident Evil 2, it wasn’t long before Capcom set about creating another entry into the ever-growing series. Originally conceived as a ‘Gaiden’ game – a side story to the main arc – it was eventually promoted to a full numbered sequel as Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (or Biohazard 3: The Last Escape in its native Japan). Released in 1999 to a largely positive reception, the game delved further into the incident within Raccoon City, and covered proceedings both before and after the events of Resident Evil 2.
Jill Valentine, former S.T.A.R.S member and one of the two selectable protagonists from the first Resident Evil, is the sole lead this time around as she runs the gauntlet of the zombie infested city in an attempt to make her ‘last escape’. After the team is disbanded, Jill resumed her investigations of Umbrella within Raccoon City while the other members were pursuing further enquiries in Europe. It was clear that Umbrella’s power in Raccoon City had thus far prevented any action against them, and that nobody was brave enough to stand up to question them directly. Jill knows that despite her efforts to uncover the sinister aspects of Umbrella, she is in a losing battle; and what’s more, the city itself begins to show signs of the same nightmare she experienced in the mansion.
The game opens at the height of the crisis, with scenes of terrified civilians trying desperately to get away from the hordes of ravenous zombies. Despite the police staging a violent intervention in a last ditch attempt to try and take control of the situation, it quickly becomes clear that the overwhelming numbers of the undead are too much for them to handle, and many are slaughtered. At some time during events, Jill begins her own battle to get out of the city. Blasted out of her apartment building, there is no turning back. She doesn’t get too far before finding herself surrounded by zombies en masse. Knowing she has nowhere else to go, she uses all her strength to break through a nearby door, barely managing to get away. She retreats for the time being into the safety of a warehouse.
Sometime later, realising that no help is coming, Jill decides to take the risk and head out to find her own means of escape. Fellow survivor, Dario Rosso, severely agitated and traumatised by the loss of his daughter, refuses to go with her despite her efforts to convince him. Instead, he locks himself in a storage container. With nothing else to lose, Jill steps back out into the dangers of Raccoon City. Can she survive the horror a second time around?
The decision to take the action back to Raccoon City proved to be an excellent one. Resident Evil 2 had mirrored the first game in some respects by confining the action within certain designated locations, though unlike the first game, which ensnared the protagonists within a mansion deep in the inhospitable mountains, the main setting of Resident Evil 2 was broader in scale and not so constrained. But yet, the second game didn’t fully explore what was laid out before it – a whole city infected, offering so many possibilities as to the effects of the outbreak. The level of seclusion in the first game was a given; out in the middle of nowhere in the Arklay mountains, where it was impressed upon you that attempting to venture outside the mansion grounds would be deadly. In the case of Raccoon City, there was just so much more to see and do, and Resident Evil 2’s mere taster of what had befallen the Midwestern town had left plenty of intrigue in its wake. For one, I wanted to venture through infested streets to view the extent of the carnage. And that’s just what Resident Evil 3 gave us. You get to see so many different areas – some just your run of the mill type places in an urban metropolis; though really, you don’t get to spend too long in any given place, putting emphasis on keeping ahead of the nightmare by not lingering too long out in the open.
It was great to see Jill back as the star (slight pun intended) of the show, picking up pretty much where she left off last time, though with experience under her belt in how to deal with the viral monsters. A big talking point regarding Jill was most certainly her attire, which compared to her tactical S.T.A.R.S. uniform, was something a little less conventional. Blue tube top, black fitted short skirt with a white sweater tied at the waist and brown knee high boots. It was more of an outfit you’d slip into on for a night on the tiles than something you’d wear to do a bit of zombie slaying. It’s clearly fan service without a doubt, but it could have been worse (just wait for later editions of the series – they become way more absurd and raunchy). To try and rationalise the outfit choice in the context of the game, maybe Jill didn’t have time to go to the laundrette because… you know… zombies and everything, and just threw on the last items of clothes in her wardrobe. Yeah, I’m sticking with that theory. And at the end of the day, it has become one of her most memorable outfits in the entire series (besides her S.T.A.R.S uniform), so it didn’t exactly fail in its job, even if it’s not to everyone’s taste.
Resident Evil 3 plays pretty much like its predecessors (oh yeah, tank controls!), but there are a few notable additions to the playable mechanics. First, is the debut of the quick 180 degree turn, a move that can get you out of many a sticky situation. For example, let’s say a zombie or two are bearing down on you, and to avoid getting chomped on, you need to go back the way you came. In the past you’d have had to waste precious seconds rotating on the spot just to turn around. But not with the quick turn! In a split second you can be facing the other direction and leaving the zombies in the dust of your sprinting heels. Just make sure there isn’t a brick wall behind you when you use it.
Then, there is the dodge button. A very hit and miss addition. While the idea was great, the application was, well, not so great. For one thing, the dodge and the aim functions shared the same button, so when you’re supposed to be shooting an approaching enemy, instead of firing, you might just suddenly dodge to the side. In a one-on-one situation with plenty of space to move, it’s not the worst thing to happen, but when almost set upon by multiple zombies with little space to move, it can be of the most infuriating things. And sometimes if you’re trying to dodge, you end up escaping from one straight into the arms of another. On top of that, it required some critical timing to use, and sometimes it just simply refused to work when you needed it to. Really, you need expert hands and patience to master it; in the end, my fair hands just weren’t up to the task! It would have been tremendous if implemented properly, but instead, it came off as rather flawed.
To take on the zombie nightmare, Jill picks up a variety of weapons over the course of the game. The handgun, shotgun, grenade launcher and magnum are all staple returns of the series, though our brave heroine does get her hands on a couple of other forms of firepower. If you decide to start on easy mode, you will begin your game with an assault rifle in your inventory, a blessing for those who want access to rapid firepower. On hard mode, you will be able to pick up the unique mine thrower, which discharges proximity mines at your targets. It can be quite an entertaining weapon for clearing out hordes of zombies. Some weapons do have optionally obtainable upgrades in hard mode, giving Jill a wonderful arsenal of beefed up armaments.
Also to help in the action are sparingly placed drums and wall mounted detonators that can be blown up with gunfire to take out close range enemies instantly. So if you’ve got a group of zombies lurching towards you and you see one of these beauties, one well placed shot and you’ll be dancing in a rain of bloody body parts. Just don’t get too close to one of these items when blowing them up, otherwise Jill will take unwanted damage.
Resident Evil 3 has some of its own exclusive features, and first to mention is the ‘live selection’ sections. There are a number of moments during gameplay cut scenes, which create a situation that will give you the choice between two options and whichever you chose will make either subtle or substantial changes to game progression, including how other cutscenes play out, where Jill meets up with certain characters and if she is given any ammo or not. If an option isn’t selected within the allotted time, the AI will make its own decision, a sort of ‘third choice’ in some respects, and Jill may take damage depending on the situation.
Another exclusive part of the game is the ability for the player to make their own ammo. Bestowed with a reloading tool, all you need is to locate batches of gunpowder which generate randomly in different areas of the game each play-through. You could either get Gun Powder A or Gun Powder B, and once obtained, they can be mixed in different combinations and put through the reloading tool to create ammo for different weapons. Mixing A and B together will create Gun Powder C, which is more potent and can create ammo for stronger weapons. There are many combinations you can try, and you may find yourself spending time testing it out to create many different sorts of ammunition. My personal favourite ammo to create was the freeze rounds – grenade launcher ammo that debuted in 3 – and is extremely useful in tough boss fights.
There are quite a few engaging puzzles within Resident Evil 3, even if a number of them lead you on fetch quests to gather a selection of items to progress you onto the next stage of the game. There are still a lot of absurd puzzle designs much akin to its predecessors, for one, retrieving two gems to unlock the gates to City Hall. Wouldn’t a key have been easier? I’d imagine it would have been something of a pain for anyone who’d worked! And what if some little pickpocket ran off with one of the gems? But anyway… for the foremost, the puzzles do work well in the game, even if a little suspension of disbelief is required.
Moving onto the topic of the main environments, the visual depiction of Raccoon City is one of chaos and ruin. The virus outbreak swept through the streets like a tidal wave, leaving behind only perpetual decay. Neighbourhoods smoulder, homes broken and abandoned, with very few living souls left remaining. The roads are littered with crashed vehicles, many of which have been used – along with other masses of debris – to blockade streets in an attempt to stop the zombies getting through. Blood, trash and bodies are all that remains of a once thriving metropolis. The design work to create these haunting backgrounds really hammers home the terrifying situation of a fallen city. It’s all rendered with a beautifully macabre presence that makes running around the city in the first half of the game a weird sort of pleasure.
Jill navigates Raccoon City mostly via the back streets, playing it safe by not taking the main roads where undoubtedly a high percentage of the zombies may be congregating. The narrower alleyways and smaller lanes give a heavy sense of claustrophobia to add on top of the eerily depressing scenery. In the early stages of the game, you experience a real sense of loneliness. The few people who had survived up to that point are promptly taken down by the ravenous zombies, with Jill always being seconds too late to save them. One area that particularly captures the loss of the city is a child’s chalked drawing on the floor of one of the back alleys, where young kids had once played carefree, now forsaken by the tragedy.
You will come across numerous types of enemies on your dash across the city, most commonplace being the zombies, whose appearances are more varied than in previous instalments. But there is one particular enemy I ultimately need to talk about in-depth. Having rambled on this far, I’m surprised I hadn’t mentioned it yet!
That’s right, folks. Let’s discuss the main enemy of the game: Nemesis!
What can be more nerve-wracking than a seemingly unstoppable monster chasing you from one end of a city to another? It’s not just any monster; it’s a predator with intelligence and unyielding determination to splatter your innards across the pavement. Speed and skill are the only things standing between you and death when this hulking beast appears.
Nemesis’s design alone is nightmare-inducing; it has a lipless, half stapled face, and bulging tentacle-like distensions protruding from beneath stretched, ashen skin. Its single milky eye and toothy maw will forever burn images of horror behind your eyelids. Admittedly, its body squeezed into what seems like an altered leather outfit does make me think somewhat of bondage, but it still somehow works to make Nemesis even more bizarre in nature. Even Victor Frankenstein would have balked at this creation.
Nemesis does, for earlier portions of the game, come armed with a rocket launcher. Now, Nemesis alone is pretty intimidating, but adding a rocket launcher on top of that and you’re pushing for borderline heart failure. The fact that Nemesis could use a firearm was pretty unique at the time as none of the other previous virus-born creations had been able to do so. It made trying to escape from him even more arduous.
Jill will spend the entirety of the game, one way or another, trying to avoid this persistent hunter, whose mission is to eradicate the last remaining members of S.T.A.R.S. This is literally its only intent, even down to it being the only word it ever utters outside of its animalistic roars. ‘S.T.A.R.S…’ When you hear that guttural, gravelly call, you should be running for the hills. Poor Jill; not only is she dealing with the zombies and other viral creatures swarming the city, now she’s got to try and keep one step ahead of Nemesis, who will plough through all the other enemies to get to her. Unlike Resident Evil 2’s ‘Tyrant,’ Mr. X, Nemesis’s pursuit of Jill isn’t limited to certain fixed points or plot triggers. It can also continue pursuing you through many areas of the game, popping up randomly even if you hadn’t triggered him through a cut scene. The constant threat of Nemesis added immensely to the tension and fear, always keeping you on your toes.
Jill’s journey across Raccoon City will not always be a lonely one, not including her encounters with Nemesis. She will eventually cross paths with a number of soldiers of the UBCS (Umbrella Biohazard Countermeasure Service), a militia group operating as a rescue service during the outbreak. Teaming up as Jill’s support is Carlos Oliviera, who also becomes playable as a secondary character for a small portion of the game. He is a young South American with a kind, flirtatious nature. Jill is initially cold towards him because of his affiliation with Umbrella, though Carlos ingratiates himself to her through his helpfulness and bravery. The other two remaining members that Jill interacts with are Carlo’s superiors, Mikhail Victor and Nikolai Zinoviev. Mikhail is a dedicated soldier but is seriously wounded when Jill meets him, so his assistance to her is rather limited. Nikolai, cold and serious, is their effective commander, who is in charge of plans to get out of the city. Out of the three, Jill is especially wary of him and their interactions are stilted. But does she have reason to not wholly trust him?
Fellow S.T.A.R.S. member ‘Chickenheart’ Brad Vickers, the helicopter pilot from the first game, appears for a short stint during the beginning of the game, also a target of Nemesis. It’s a great contrast to his role in the first game, flying off scared and staying out of harm’s way before eventually coming back for his comrades at the last moment. This time, he is in the thick of things, running to survive – though fate may soon turn against him.
Resident Evil 3 boasts an incredible soundtrack of befitting musical scores that work under the surface to accentuate the overall mood of the game. Many tunes have ominous, drawn out ambience, imbuing a heavy eeriness in the air of Raccoon City. There are some tracks that also include slightly militaristic tones, playing up to the involvement of the UBCS as well as Jill’s own military background. Nemesis has a few musical scores of its own when on-screen; the most common, the chase theme, is a dissonantly memorable tune with a thumping cadence that offers a distinct warning of something deadly approaching fast. With so many resonating tracks within the game, let me select a few that I particularly enjoy to focus on.
‘The City of Ruin’ is up there as one of my favourites. It is a solemn track which plays during Jill’s early trek through the devastated Raccoon City. It’s such a depressing theme, eerily pungent with hopelessness. When you listen to it, there is something almost perfect about the way it mingles with the sounds of distant zombie moans and the random dying screams of people nearby. It’s the theme of a city beyond salvation. ‘Free from Fear’ is the games save room music. It could be almost described as gentle, but more permeated with sadness, a tune offering respite from the horrors waiting outside. The tinkling of the piano has quite a memorable quality in the nature of its repetition. ‘The Beginning of Nightmare’ plays when you first take control of Jill at the start of the game, just after she is dramatically thrown out of her apartment in a burst of flames. It’s an empowering and determined theme, the perfect theme to introduce Jill to the player as someone not to be underestimated in such an out of the ordinary situation. There is an edge of desperation behind the music, but at the very first point of the game, it’s not fully cemented to the player yet that things are only going to get worse. And lastly, ‘Mysterious Orgel (Correct)’, the music box theme. For a game that does its utmost to scare you, this one is a sweet little ditty. It’s played in correlation to a puzzle needing to be solved. It contrasts greatly against all the gloomy tracks with its twinkling light-heartedness.
When it comes to the game’s voice acting, it’s a mixed bag, but overall a fairly decent effort. Jill’s vocal portrayal, performed by Catherine Disher (who some of your might recognise as Jean Grey in the 90’s X-Men cartoon), was excellent and relatively natural. She gave Jill presence and accentuated her as a strong, determined woman with a kind heart. Supporting character Carlos’s voice acting is respectable enough – plenty of energy and emotion in his performance – but does suffer a little because of a wavering ‘Latino’ accent that seems to practically disappear by the end of the game.
The part I enjoyed the most when playing was the exploration during the first half of the game between down-town and uptown Raccoon City. Every alley to blockaded roadway is morbid eye candy. It’s nice to visit numerous little buildings of different kinds, like the restaurant, Grill 13, and the STAGLA gas station – your average, everyday sorts of places caught in the chaos instead of huge building complexes, like the Arklay mansion or the police station. Though, speaking of the police station, it was a nice little nod to Resident Evil 2 with the brief visit you make at the beginning of the game, with Jill dropping in for a short time a day ahead of Leon and Claire’s arrival.
However, I personally wasn’t fond of the last area of the game: the Dead Factory. Great name, dull surroundings. At least it wasn’t just another trip into a laboratory, which the first two games encapsulated well enough. The Dead Factory is a waste disposal facility – dingy, industrial but rather drab and uninspired in design. It’s suitably horror-like, no doubt, but it’s all rather too basic after all the wonderful detailed settings that featured throughout the majority of the game.
Even though Resident Evil 3 doesn’t have two playable characters with somewhat varying scenarios, it makes up for it by having randomised elements, like enemy placement, which changes what enemies you get in some areas each play-through, just to unnerve you. One time you might be swatting away some irritating crows, and another time you might be dealing with a pack of fearsome dogs. There are also events that can be changed, like when you’re given a choice of key places to visit, you decide on going to one ahead of another, it can alter events and cut scenes involved. There are also random minor events; a good example of this was that during one of my play-throughs, when I returned to the City Hall area when venturing back and forth to collect parts for the tram, zombies suddenly burst through the windows from the side of the building. This had never happened to me before and I practically jumped out of me skin in response. It was completely unexpected, as this was already after the preset event of the zombies busting through the side door allowing you access to the Mayor’s statue in the small City Hall yard. I’d supposed after that event the area would be safe from then on. Oh how my poor little heart learned the hard way this was not the case. It certainly made me think twice before casually sauntering through there again.
And with the aforementioned ‘Live Selection’ giving you options in the gameplay, your choices can shape each playthrough differently enough to warrant replaying over and over to see how it might shape out if you’d made a different choice.
And with each playthrough completed, you can unlock character epilogues – there are eight to get in total, which gives a little titbit of story to characters that had appeared in the series so far. Though, for some reason, Rebecca Chambers from the first game didn’t receive one, even though she was a confirmed survivor. That made me a little sad, as I wholeheartedly like Rebecca. You can also unlock secret costumes for Jill, including her S.T.A.R.S. outfit and even get to dress up as the lead character from Dino Crisis, Regina. So if you’re not a fan of Jill’s blue tube number, you’ve got an array of alternatives, with even more variations available on different gaming platforms.
An extra mode unlockable after beating the game is ‘The Mercenaries – Operation: Mad Jackal’. It’s a mini game with Carlos, Mikhail and Nikolai as playable characters. The premise is that the character you choose has been implanted with a bomb and is required to get from the tram to the warehouse in order to survive. Initially given two minutes, you will be required to score more time to actually complete the game by downing enemies and rescuing hostages on your journey of survival. If you do manage to survive, the rewards at the end can be both gratifying and helpful towards the main game.
To wrap up my review, let me express my appreciation for Resident Evil 3 as a whole. It’s an incredible edition to the series, with so many attributes that combine to make a dynamic and deeply atmospheric experience. There is the wonderful use of expressive music played over eerie detailed backgrounds, an intricate story full of shocks and twists, a terrifying main antagonist and wonderful, fairly nonlinear gameplay. Revisiting Raccoon City and getting more out of the whole citywide devastation, at that time, was really a great decision on the developers’ part – it gave greater creative scope than what had been previously seen. The refreshing gameplay progression of the third game offered a change of pace and put your wits and nerves to the test from start to finish.
Resident Evil 3: Nemesis is a true diamond of old school survival horror, epitomising everything done right in wanting to bring scares and enjoyment to gamers. Dare you take on the horrors of Raccoon City? It’s your own experience to make!
Images © Capcom