It’s been an interesting experience so far seeing how the Resident Evil series has evolved from its once humble horror beginnings into the explosion-laden middle finger to its fans that it became sometime around 5 and 6. While those two are still a while away for this retrospective, I think I’m starting to see the series turning point now that I’ve finished Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. And it became fairly obvious mere moments after starting the game. Following a short montage of stills that set the scene by telling you that you’re back in Raccoon City and that you’ll be playing as Jill Valentine this time, the game goes straight into an FMV cutscene showing a shootout battle between mercenaries and police against hordes of zombies. Sadly, these guys didn’t realise they were in a Resident Evil game, so they end up getting their asses, almost certainly literally in some cases, handed to them not long afterwards.
This ends with a short cutscene of Jill flying out of an exploding building before gameplay begins in the same vain as Resident Evil 2 by having you run for a safe haven while being chased by a hungry, hungry horde of zombies. As the chase scene comes to a close, Jill tries to shoulder barge through a rusty door as zombies surround her, only just managing to escape by the skin of her teeth. Once the chase ends and the game calms down once more, it became incredibly clear just how tonally different Nemesis is from previous series entries. Where Resident Evils 1 and 2 had constant feelings of fear and dread, Nemesis replaces them with feelings of panic and tension. Nemesis is a pure adrenaline-pumping action movie in the same vain as Escape from New York, and the gameplay was adjusted to reflect that.
Great Steps Forward
The most notable of these adjustments is the drastic improvement to the controls. I personally found the implementation of a 180 degree quick turn incredibly satisfying – finally allowing you to escape from danger faster than the time it takes a kettle to boil, unlike in the first two games. With the introduction of interactive environmental objects that can potentially kill a large group of enemies when shot also comes an auto-aim button that allows you to lock onto these objects exclusively without needing to blindly fire in its general direction. But the most important, and personally most welcome of these new controls, was the inclusion of a cutscene skip button. But that’s mostly because death after a cutscene or during a boss battle stung just a little less now that I knew I didn’t have to sit through them again.
The game always has a sense of forward momentum, never slowing down and making sure that you always had something to do or at least somewhere to go. I think this was primarily achieved by giving the player the illusion of having a large city map to explore, when in reality they were simply being led down a very linear path to the next destination, albeit with one or two detours along the way. This could also be seen in the newest mechanic, exclusive to Nemesis, which probably reflected the game’s change in tone and pace the most: the Live Selection moments.
Throughout the story, Jill will stare death in the face through various means, such as a large group of zombies that she can’t overpower or, more often than not, an encounter with the titular Nemesis monster. During these moments, time slows down and the player is presented with two choices to pick from; both of which will resolve the situation, but also change the progression of game in certain ways. These changes can include when you’ll fight certain bosses or even change the path you’ll take to the next destination. These snap-decision moments were strangely enough, the parts of the game I looked forward to the most as they made me feel like the choices I was making actually had an impact on the game’s world, ultimately letting me craft my personal experience of the game’s story.
Take for example a Live Selection that occurs during the final act of the game in which Jill encounters the Nemesis on a rope bridge. As the Nemesis closes in, the player can choose between of pushing Nemesis off the bridge or, alternatively, having Jill jump off instead in order to escape. Whichever option is chosen will either cause Jill to enter the following Laboratory level through the front door or the sewerage drain, which in turn affects which enemies, items and puzzles you’ll encounter through the level first.
While I’m singing praises, by the way, can we talk about the quality of voice acting in Nemesis? It seems that the team behind Nemesis finally decided to get a VA director for the sake of the lactose intolerant, because the voice acting this time around only had microscopic traces of cheesiness. Maybe it was because my bar was set so low after the first two games that ants couldn’t limbo under it, but the performances, save the a few small moments, actually carry some believable human emotions and reactions. I don’t think I’ve ever been so invested in the story of a group blocky looking figures since the first time I played Thomas Was Alone.
An Unfortunate Step Back
And yet, despite the praises I’ve been giving Nemesis for its overall improvements and new gameplay elements, I actually found myself being fairly disappointed with the whole experience. Of course I wouldn’t just spent a good five paragraphs talking about the welcome changes it made from the previous game if I didn’t enjoy myself. But I think it’s because of the game’s heavy lean towards more action-oriented gameplay that I didn’t enjoy the game as much as I did with Resident Evil 2. Some of the design choices in Nemesis just didn’t sit well with me, starting with the game’s difficulty settings.
In Nemesis, you can only choose between the “Hard” and “Easy” mode, something that was rather frustrating for me personally, being a player who usually goes for “Normal” difficulty. As it turns out, “Easy” mode plays like something along the lines of an “action movie mode”, starting you off with basically every decent weapon in the game, all with a healthy supply of ammo; a health kit with three full-heal items; the dodge ability set to automatic as long as you’re holding down the aim button; and an unlimited supply of ink ribbons to save your progress with. Meanwhile, “Hard” mode is basically classic Resident Evil mode, giving you limited ink ribbons, the dodge ability set to a more timing based manual mode and fuck all items except for your pistol.
My issue with this is that there wasn’t a balanced in-between. If you choose “Easy” you essentially have a cruisy ride through a game which poses very little in the way of challenge. You’ll be able to get through about 80% of the game with just the pistol and barely running out of any ammo or health items. Meanwhile “Hard” is too tough in comparison to “Normal” difficulty the series’ previous entries, primarily because of what Nemesis ends up throwing at you. There always seemed to be far too many enemies to take on, with large groups of enemies always showing up in cramped spaces that would give you a few pixels worth of space to avoid them without taking damage.
I really think the game could have seriously benefited from the inclusion of a “Normal” difficulty setting that could play similar to something like Resident Evil 2’s “Easy” Mode. The game would still gave the player limited saves and very little in the way of weaponry at the beginning, but also give the player a small helping hand by starting them off with some extra ammo for the starting pistol and a few health items. By doing this, Nemesis would have still been able to keep its action elements in order make the player feel like a badass, while still keeping that tense level of challenge from the previous Resident Evil games. Unfortunately without this in-between, it feels like Nemesis was asking me to pick between a much harder version of the game I know and have grown to love, or a far-too-easy action game wearing that game’s skin.
While I’m on a roll of pissing off the fans of Nemesis, it probably won’t help to say that I wasn’t really a big fan of the Nemesis monster either. Mechanically, I understand that he’s meant to act as this constant force that’s chasing you everywhere you go – showing up basically at the exact moments you really don’t want him to appear. He’s primarily where the sense of tension comes from in Nemesis.
The Nemesis was possibly the first enemy of its kind that made a game feel like it had this looming and unstoppable presence that could strike the player at any moment. But playing Nemesis as a modern gamer has somewhat ruined the whole point of that for me.
People who love the Nemesis grew up with him being probably their first ever exposure to that sort of enemy – the kind that was always following you and was ultimately unstoppable no matter how many times you fought him. However, I’ve seen that enemy-based mechanic done before and a hell of a lot better in games like Alien: Isolation. And because of this, every encounter with the Nemesis after the initial one wasn’t met with me jumping in surprise, but rather instead with eye-rolling groans of annoyance because he was blocking the only route of progression or the door to a save room. And any attempts at fighting him just felt like a colossal waste of my time, ammo and health items when I knew he would just come back later. Sure, you get rewards for beating him each time on “Hard” mode, but I never felt like the items you got were worth the risk of being killed by his incredibly cheap one-hit-kill tentacle attack for the fuckmillionth time.
But hang on, Resident Evil fans. Before I lose what small gaming journalistic credibility I have with this article, let me explain why I feel the exact opposite about a game that Resident Evil lovers clearly see as a beloved entry.
As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t grow up with these games. It’s the reason why I’m doing this retrospective for the sake of educating myself. But as I go through these entries, I end up with barely a week in-between before I play the next one. So while Nemesis personally gave me tonal whiplash, the overall change in tone was probably a lot less jarring for those who had a year and a half waiting period between Resident Evil 2 and Nemesis. I just simply don’t have that relatable experience that allows me to feel the same way that those people do.
Despite what small complaints I have about Nemesis, I still did enjoy it overall. It added some incredibly necessary gameplay tweaks that I think should have come along a lot earlier into the franchise than they did – better late than never nonetheless. And while, in my mind, Nemesis didn’t really have any of its predecessor’s horror elements, it was still pretty fun when it wasn’t getting on my nerves whenever I wasn’t getting intrusively mouth-fucked by the Nemesis monster. But while the game’s panic and tension was a nice change of pace in terms of tone, I think it may have gone too far in doing so. As a result, it turned what I thought was the perfect mix of action and horror from Resident Evil 2 into a pure adrenaline-pumping action-packed thrill ride with zombies and monsters making a guest cameo appearance.
I know that this was ultimately the series turning point towards more action-focused gameplay and I do admit that’s something I’ll have to get used to as the games go on. But, personally, I think this step in the series was an incredibly uneasy one. But who knows, maybe Code Veronica fit into its new action-oriented focus a bit more comfortably. Guess I’ll have to wait until next time to find out for myself.