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A Critical Look at ‘Resident Evil 3’ and its Design



Resident Evil 3: Nemesis is the final numbered game of the Resident Evil PlayStation trilogy. The game originally started out as Biohazard Gaiden, and its development was in the hands of the newly formed Capcom Production Studio 4 (who also made Resident Evil 4, the Dino Crisis games, the original Ace Attorney trilogy, and Devil May Cry). The game was tossed around in development hell for a while until Capcom needed to fulfill the end of an agreement with Sony that required three numbered Resident Evil entries on their PlayStation console. This actually ended up pushing Resident Evil: Code Veronica, the game that was originally intended to be the third main entry, further back into development and out of numbered status. Biohazard Gaiden was then renamed to Biohazard 3: Last Escape (Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, overseas) and launched on September 22, 1999, in Japan, with a release in America and Europe a few months later.

Resident Evil 3 follows Jill Valentine, one of the protagonists from the original Resident Evil, and her escape from Raccoon City during the viral outbreak that happened before the events of Resident Evil 2. The story is unique in that it takes place both before and after the events of Resident Evil 2. The first half of the game takes place during the outbreak, while the second half takes place roughly a day later. The story itself is much more simplistic than that of Resident Evil 2; there are very few twists or mysteries to uncover about what’s happening in Raccoon City, as those things were all answered in the previous game. Instead, Capcom dialed back on the plot in favor of presenting a simplistic story with a definitive conclusion. Loose ends are rare in Resident Evil 3, and there are no shadowy figures throwing rocket launchers or inconclusive documents about characters missing.

Aesthetically, Resident Evil 3 is easily the best looking of the PlayStation trilogy. Models in cutscenes are much smoother and lack the sharp polygons from Resident Evil 2. The colors are brighter, complimenting the non-natural lighting scheme Capcom went with, and the game has aged a lot better than one would expect. The in-game graphics use a similar technique in certain areas, but many of the backgrounds still make use of the dramatic lighting used in Resident Evil 2.


The voice work for Resident Evil 3 is about on par with Resident Evil 2; it’s a definitive step in the right direction and proves that Capcom sought to turn the franchise into something respectable. As mentioned earlier, the script and writing is simplistic. Scenes move rather quickly and are there to set up where the player needs to navigate to next.

Resident Evil 3‘s biggest contribution to the series is through its gameplay. It turned much of the franchise’s formula on its head, and it honestly creates one of the most unique and entertaining experiences within the series. The easiest way to break all these changes down is to just start at the beginning.


If I ever had to list some of the best “first levels,” this would definitely be up there.

The introductory sections for a Resident Evil title can speak volumes about its direction. In the original, the player is put into a big empty room to get used to the odd movement style of the game. In 2 they are thrown right into the action and are expected to already be familiar with how the game works. Resident Evil 3‘s introductory section is a mix of these two. When the player gains control of Jill they have to make their way past a single zombie in their way before they get placed in a large empty space to play around in. Inside that single space the player is introduced to just about all of the game’s mechanics. The stairs near the entrance show that you no longer have to hit an action command to make use of them, the ammunition-making tool and a few sets of gunpowder are left lying around to show how that system works, and there’s even a puzzle that shows how keys can be discarded when no longer needed. The starting area for Resident Evil 3 is one of the best within the Resident Evil series for teaching the player all of the important non-combat related mechanics of the game in a matter of minutes.


The layout for Raccoon City has very few dead ends and choke points.

The level design within 3 is also vastly different from the first two games – or at least its first half is. Capcom took a very open approach to the layout of Raccoon City and constructed it in a similar way. There are less small corridors and mazes, navigation is broken down to the player optimizing their route from one location to the next rather than backtracking through areas that might have enemies in them, and the city can actually be broken down into two parts – pre and post-trolley puzzle. The ultimate goal of the Raccoon City half of the game is for Jill to escape downtown with a group of mercenaries by repairing a trolley car. The entirety of the game up to this point is very linear, and introduces the various sections of the city to the player while they make their way to the car. The post-trolley part is about returning to places in the city to gather the parts needed to repair the car and leave. While an inexperienced player will spend a lot of time bouncing around gathering parts one at a time, the game rewards those that can manage their inventory by putting item boxes in specific places. This style of level design was fresh for Resident Evil, and shows what a team uninfluenced by past games can create when given the reins to a bigger project.


Jill’s run through Raccoon City is not without obstacles though, and the titular “Nemesis” is a constant roadblock for her. An evolution in both story and design of Mr.X from Resident Evil 2, the Nemesis is Tyrant-class Bio-Weapon that’s seeking to eliminate members of the S.T.A.R.S. branch of Raccoon’s police department. Unfortunately for Jill, she’s the only remaining member in the city. Nemesis spawns at set points around Raccoon City and will quickly close in on Jill. The creature will also follow Jill through multiple areas, making it hard to avoid him and impossible to de-spawn him from an area by simply leaving and coming back. Nemesis is easily one of the scariest elements added to any survival horror title, as it’s an overbearing boss creature that follows and tracks the player down. He’s faster, stronger, and beefier than Jill, while also being able to hurt her during other creatures’ attacks (something that the other zombies in Resident Evil have never been too good about abusing). He’s not unbeatable though, and if a player really wishes to fight Nemesis this early in the game, they can (though its overbearing raw power is supposed to act a deterrent to fighting it). Nemesis drops various high-tier rewards for the player, including large amounts of healing items or weapon upgrades when defeated, but it will always get back up and jump the player later at another spawn point.

Reaction commands give the game a new layer of depth.

Reaction commands give the game a new layer of depth.

Jill is not left without options to combat Nemesis, however. Reaction commands are a gimmick introduced in Resident Evil 3, and it’s the only game to really make use of them. By readying her gun and hitting the fire button with frame-perfect reaction, Jill can either dodge an attack or quickly force an enemy off of her. Most of the game designed around this; for instance, hallways are larger, and as such there are more enemies to deal with. The simplest and most effective way to get around hordes of zombies is obviously to shoot them, but learning reaction command timing can help the player not end up stuck in a corner. The timing needed to successfully pull a dodge off lends to the adrenaline-fueled, terror-inducing gameplay, since missing a dodge means taking a hit. To compensate for this there are a lot more healing items, but using a lot of heals tanks the player’s end-game score, which can affect unlockables for subsequent playthroughs.


It’s in the game’s second half where Resident Evil 3 begins to mirror its predecessors a bit. Raccoon City is effectively behind the player, or at least the open-world part of it is, and so the latter half of the game focuses on the same small hallways and linear design that Resident Evil 2 uses. This isn’t a bad thing, but it certainly feels weaker than the game’s first half. Nemesis also stops chasing the player around by this point and only shows up for a few jump scares and a couple of boss battles. Overall, the second half of Resident Evil 3 does not match it’s first in quality, but it does present several interesting and fun boss fights.


Oddly enough, this is the only time the mode is aptly named.

Upon completing the game, an extra game mode called “The Mercenaries” is unlocked. It’s a survival-style time attack game where the player has to navigate from the trolley on one end of the city to the starting point at the other. The playable cast includes the mercenaries that Jill meets in the game, and is why the mode is titled the way it is. It’s possible to unlock special weapons and other items in The Mercenaries that can then be carried over to the main game for subsequent playthroughs. Resident Evil 3‘s replayability does not just end with The Mercenaries, however. Much of the game’s puzzle elements are randomized, so you can go to different areas of the game in a different order each time to see different scenes play out. On one hand, it’s annoying to have the game flip around simple puzzles, but on the other, it’s a quick and effective way to keep the player engaged when they go into new game plus.

For the average gamer, Resident Evil 3‘s contributions to the series are dwarfed by the narrative focus of 2. Rather than concentrating on continuing to clean up story and prose, Resident Evil 3 took an approach to gameplay that makes it stand out as one of the most well-designed titles in the franchise. Its action-oriented approach was one of the most effective ways out of the poorly-aged design of the original Resident Evil, and also shows how even slightly breaking away from the mold, or letting a new developer give something a fresh perspective, can result in great strides in game design.

Taylor is a writer from Atlanta, GA. His passion for games extends across genres and generations. When not playing or writing about games, he's probably reading science fiction.