You can add zombies to the list of things that play a bit differently in a pandemic. In Resident Evil 3, out tomorrow for PS4, Xbox One, and Steam, zombies have overrun the unsuspecting people of Raccoon City, thanks to a rapidly spreading virus. Everyone who has played a Resident Evil game (there are a lot of them) has always known this, but play it now and you will really know it.
There's history here: Resident Evil 3 is a remake of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, a 1999 PlayStation game. Its main character is a survivor from the first Resident Evil, and its events take place just before and alongside Resident Evil 2—a game that was also remade last year, to terrific and horrifying results. You don't really need to know any of that to enjoy this game, as things are about as clear-cut as it gets. You play as Jill Valentine, a woman trying to escape a city in the midst of the zombie apocalypse—only you're being stalked by an unstoppable monster sent to kill you, because you're the only one who knows the truth about who's responsible for this nightmare.
Will Jill make it out? Is this late-’90s zombie nightmare just as good in 2020? And why would anyone play a game like this in the midst of an actual pandemic? GQ contributors Joshua Rivera and Scott Meslow break down why you may (or may not) want to face a digital plague while staring down a real one.
Joshua Rivera, GQ (Gotta Qill zombies).com: So Scott—I should open up by saying that I didn't really want to play this game. Not because I was worried it would hit me different given the state of the world, but because I was always going to be a big chicken about this game's central conceit: a big unkillable monster that stalks me throughout the game, popping up unexpected like some twisted-ass Kool-Aid Man. Just...no thank you! The previous Resident Evil remake, Resident Evil 2, gave me a taste of that in one location, and I hated it! You could hear this Frankenstein-ass dude stomping halfway across a police station—it was the worst. I don't know how I survived. I suspect I may be deceased and in the Bad Place. So I have to know: What even attracts you to a game with this premise? Why invite this much stress into your life?
Scott Meslow, GQ (Garfield nemesis Quarterly).com: Unlike you (a coward), I’ve been a Resident Evil fan for—yikes—more than two decades now. Back in 1996, when 3D gaming was still in its infancy, the original Resident Evil was fumblingly but successfully applying the narrative structure (and the bag of tricks) from horror movies into a video game. As a horror fan who already craved the jolt of adrenaline you get from a jump scare, it was genuinely wild to see the effect amplified by a zombie dog jumping through a window to chomp on a character I was controlling. And a couple of years later, Resident Evil 2 did it even better.
And a year after that came the original Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, which—cards on the table—has never been my favorite Resident Evil game. In a medium where sequels basically always mean some kind of dramatic escalation, the Nemesis himself was supposed to be the biggest and baddest undead baddie yet.
There was just one problem: To give the player a fighting chance against the Nemesis, Resident Evil 3 also needed to increase your firepower and crank up the action. This was the beginning of the premiere survival horror franchise’s shift away from both survival and horror, and away from all the things that made Resident Evil interesting to me in the first place.
And that circles us back to the Resident Evil 3 remake, which faithfully repeats that same shift. As you’re both the Resident Evil 3 newbie and the acknowledged scaredy-cat among us, I have to ask: Did you find the remake’s Nemesis scary?
Joshua: So... I did not. And I thought it would be! The game wastes zero time getting you acquainted—you're controlling Jill for no more than 10 minutes before this Hulk-like monster just rips into your apartment for a very good intro where you're chased relentlessly for a while. Eventually, you're saved by a hunky private military dude named Carlos who subdues the Nemesis (if you have really big guns and a lot of ammo, you can make him take a knee for a bit, but never kill him) and then you're more or less free to wander the zombie-infested streets while working out a way to escape the hordes.
The Nemesis kind of leaves you alone after that, and doesn't actually chase you outside of specific moments in the game's story, and when you get to the end of those parts, the chase is over and he weirdly disappears. This led to more than one occasion where I just ran into a room and that was... enough? Because I had reached the part of the story where he was not chasing me anymore? It was extremely underwhelming, although his first two tangles with Jill are extremely good.
Scott: It’s genuinely surprising to me that Resident Evil 3’s Nemesis represents such a dramatic step backward from the baseline set by Resident Evil 2. That game had it own unstoppable creature, Mr. X, who was introduced fairly early on and spent much of the game stalking you around. But Mr. X’s appearances were scattered, unpredictably, through the normal business of dodging zombies and solving puzzles. It didn’t matter what else you were doing. If Mr. X appeared, your main goal became getting the hell away from Mr. X.
In Resident Evil 3, Nemesis basically never gets in your way. He tends to appear in Uncharted-style button-press action scenes, or one-on-one boss fights that are confined to single arenas. You can’t have a terrifying agent of chaos if it’s always obvious when he’s going to appear, and when you can actually do something about it.
But I don’t want to let Nemesis dominate the whole conversation about Resident Evil 3. Maybe there’s a good reason they dropped the original game’s subtitle, because as he recedes into the background, other, more interesting aspects of Resident Evil 3 come to the forefront—like, say, the hospital.
Joshua: Yeah, I've been wanting to talk to you about the hospital. It's effectively the point where the game starts to work for me. Basically, after spending roughly half the game trying to find a way to escape the city and dodging the Nemesis a few times, you end up holed up in an abandoned hospital. At this point, you're pretty well-armed, so it's not exactly scary—the game has fully traded chills for thrills by now—but it is kind of harrowing. The hospital is a war zone, full of files and records you can read in which medical professionals slowly realize how bad this virus is before giving into despair about their odds of even surviving, let alone treating anyone. It's a lot, especially to experience at the same point the game becomes most fun. How'd all that play for you?
Scott: More like Resonant Evil, am I right? But seriously: While the timing here is not ideal—and I can sympathize with anyone who doesn’t want to dive into the escapist fantasy of a hospital overrun by a pandemic right now—Resident Evil is pretty good about not taking itself too seriously. Resident Evil 3 is always pretty good about sprinkling some black comedy into the horror. (My personal fave this time around: A file from an Umbrella Corporation employee who despises his coworkers for talking shit on his favorite mutants just because they went haywire and killed some people. “Haven’t they ever heard of CHARACTER FLAWS?” he fumes.)
I came into this game most excited for the quasi-open world of Raccoon City, but I also ended up liking the hospital best. One lesson from stacking Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 back-to-back like this is that these games tend to work best in clear, confined spaces. In the hospital, as it was in Resident Evil 2’s police station, Resident 3 is both an action game and a puzzle game, with a bunch of tricky locked doors and a clever navigational hook that forces you to really understand the hospital as a three-dimensional space.
It’s also, as you say, the point in the game when Resident Evil 3 essentially abandons all pretensions of horror and becomes a full-blown Michael Bay-style action extravaganza (with one bullet-riddled standoff surprising me by emerging as my favorite part of the whole damn game).
And that leads me to my last question for you. Resident Evil 3: Nemesis was never my favorite game in the series, and despite my hopes, this remake doesn’t crack my top tier either. But it does leave the franchise in a bit of a strange place. After rolling the dice with a first-person, back-to-horror approach in 2017 with Resident Evil 7, Capcom has spent the past few years looking backward. But barring a similar remake of the (under-appreciated!) Code Veronica, we’re at the end of the line; Resident Evil 4 doesn’t really need a remake. So what do you hope the next phase of Resident Evil looks like? More horror? More action? More anything?
Joshua: I have a weird relationship with horror. I want to be scared, but I also hate every second I feel scared. I'm a big old chicken, as I have said on the record many times. I like Resident Evil games because they tend to have this neat arc where you play them for a few hours and they're completely horrifying, and then you slowly accrue weapons and piece together the layout of the maze you're trapped in and that leads to a feeling of confidence. At their best, you never feel unstoppable, but you feel capable. That feeling rules.
I never really got there in Resident Evil 3. You've mentioned some of the reasons why: there's no real desperation, you always have plenty of ammo, the biggest threats can be easily handled with the right weapon, and you never really feel trapped in a space. I don't like forecasting, but I do know what works for me. I want to feel trapped, with my back to the wall, with no choice but to take a deep breath and plunge ahead into whatever it is that scares me. I like horror, especially when I'm feeling anxious, so that's what I hope for with these games. It's the direction they were moving in before, and I hope after this detour, that it's the direction they return.
In a transformative decade for video games, this is the handful stood above.
Originally Appeared on GQ