I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the team tasked with designing the follow-up to Resident Evil 2. RE2 improved upon every facet of what made the original so memorable; the end result is a title still hailed as one of the best survival horror experiences even now, nearly twenty years later. Since I don’t work for Capcom, that’s something I’ve never had to worry about. Nevertheless, this is where new director Kazuhiro Aoyama found himself with regards to said follow-up: Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, released today back in 1999.
It might seem cruel to pick on Aoyama, especially because this was his first-ever gig as the director of a project, but I’m still not sure how he wound up with the job. Shinji Mikami was still working as the producer, so it’s not like he didn’t have talent going back to the original to back him up, but Aoyama’s resume showcases very little reason to put him in charge of such a monstrous sequel. Maybe it was done deliberately by Capcom because they were afraid it would be impossible to top Resident Evil 2‘s success, and rather than sully the reputation of one of their A-list developers they let a relatively unknown programmer handle the job. We might never know. The point is, Resident Evil 3 is smaller in scope than its two-disc predecessor and it suffers for it.
Yes it brought back Jill Valentine from the original game, but gone was the option of picking a second character, minimizing the replay value for the main storyline. And while it introduced the Mercenaries sub-game, there’s no getting around this short scenario being far less interesting than Jill’s. While the idea was to focus on one woman’s escape from Raccoon City after the events of the first game, Resident Evil 3 feels more cramped because of it despite the setting still being an entire town instead of just one building. The choices introduced with regards to fighting Nemesis or running away are all well and good, but the story itself feels threadbare. There aren’t any new mysteries to uncover, no interesting puzzles to solve, and you learn very early on what the final boss of the game will be since the Nemesis is chasing you the whole time.
That said, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Resident Evil 3‘s graphics really push the PlayStation to the limit, especially with regards to the backgrounds which look far more vibrant and real than previous games in the series. And the opening cinematic alone is well worth the price of admission: this FMV still looks beautiful today and is a stupendous example of Capcom’s understanding of the visual medium. Squaresoft might be the reigning FMV champs of Sony hardware, but that final visual of the zombies approaching, reflected off the visor of the riot helmet laying in the street sent chills up my spine on first viewing. Capcom’s two-page spread in gaming magazines of the day wasn’t anything to sneeze at either, as you can see for yourself: