Resident Evil 3 review: Capcom turns in Raccoon City's finest

While the first three-quarters of this game are far stronger than the finale, this is definitely a title that no horror fan will want to miss.

RE3 Jill Clocktower Night
(Image: © Windows Central)

Since 2017, Capcom has been on a hot streak with the Resident Evil franchise, getting back to the roots that horror fans first fell in love with, long before any boulders were punched. Resident Evil 3 continues this trend in spades, placing players back in the boots of Jill Valentine as she attempts to escape from Raccoon City while being pursued by one of Umbrella's most dreaded creations, Nemesis.

Building on the incredible foundation provided by last year's Resident Evil 2, Capcom delivers another successful horror remake, with the earlier portions, in particular, being among the very best the series has to offer. The ending drags a bit, and a couple of removals from the original game are odd choices. That said, when you combine the tense gameplay that balances horror with action, the immersive sound design and the gorgeous visuals we've come to expect from the RE engine, it all adds up into a great remake and a phenomenal survival horror title.

What I loved about Resident Evil 3

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

As this is a remake, the story premise here is simple and well-known. S.T.A.R.S. member Jill Valentine is still in Raccoon City as the T-Virus pandemic breaks out, causing utter chaos as mobs of people are infected and transformed. Amidst the destruction and carnage, the Umbrella Corporation dispatches a top-secret experimental creation, codenamed Nemesis. Its mission? To kill Valentine and any other remaining S.T.A.R.S. members left in the city.

Since this is a remake, I don't want to say too much about the story or what has and hasn't changed. Suffice to say that this presentation of Jill Valentine is easily my favorite of the character, and I'm hoping we get to see more of her in the future. She's competent, tough, and no-nonsense, capable of handling herself against far more zombies than rookies Leon or Claire in Resident Evil 2.

The opening to this game is simply incredible and is probably my favorite opening of any Resident Evil game ever. Straight off the bat, Resident Evil 3 makes it clear that even if you're a veteran, you may not be prepared for what's coming. The tone is immediately set, with the action blending into widescale horror remarkably well. Did you think a zombie or three in the cramped halls of the Racoon Police Department was scary? Try a horde on the streets of the city. The footsteps of Mr. X were anxiety-inducing? Those footsteps are a lot faster and heavier with Nemesis on the prowl.

...probably my favorite opening of any Resident Evil game ever.

Speaking of Nemesis, he's the highlight here and for a good reason. Trying to escape him at long range? It's rocket launcher time. Suddenly veered off to escape him? Cool, now watch as he jumps over you and slides down a wall to greet you. Not only is Nemesis such an ever-present threat, but there's incredible attention to detail in just how Nemesis stalks you down. There's an uncanny intelligence and predatory nature, so I never felt safe, no matter how many times I briefly got Nemesis to stop chasing me or blocked him off.

It almost goes without saying at this point, but the RE engine continues to deliver here. The characters all look fantastic with realistic motion capture while the environments are all rendered in incredible detail, all while the game targets a smooth 60 FPS. One major advantage Resident Evil 3 has over last year's entry Resident Evil 2 is the environment. While Resident Evil 2 is mostly restrained to the confines of the Raccoon Police Department building, Resident Evil 3 sets you loose across the streets of the city, allowing for some much wider spaces to explore.

Every foe looks disgustingly detailed, with a greater overall enemy variety than Resident Evil 2, which helped keep me on my toes until the very end of the game. The HDR is also much-improved since Resident Evil 2, with that weird gray filter gone and the highlights popping appropriately against the shadowed environments. The city, much of which is set aflame or wreathed in neon lights, always looked brilliant.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
PlayersSingle-player campaign, 4v1 asymmetrical multiplayer
GenreSurvival Horror
Xbox Play AnywhereNo
Game PassNo

Environmental traps are a much bigger focus this time around since your guns are more or less just as effective as they were in Resident Evil 2, but you're facing a wider range of foes and usually more of them at a time. One or two zombies following you in a hallway has been replaced with several coming your way in a busy street. Sure, you've got more room to run, but figuring out how to thin the aggressive packs using explosive barrels, electric traps, and clever maneuvering is critical. Paired with the new dodge and counterattack mechanics, it's a change that works well, providing what is easily the best balance between action and horror that the series has ever seen.

All in all, the RE engine provided stunningly detailed environments while also aiming for a smooth 60 FPS. While there were some occasional drops during particularly busy scenes, such as when an entire group of zombies was being blown apart or set aflame, it was solid for the most part.

The incredible audio design is a massive part of the overall atmosphere and has to be commended. It's one thing worrying about Nemesis lurking around the corner; it's another altogether to hear that iconic "Staaarrrrsss" growl and KNOW Nemesis is right around the corner. Whether it's the thumping heavy footsteps, hisses, growls, and moans of different afflicted foes or the creaks and groans of sewer machinery, the sounds of Resident Evil 3 are always perfect for putting you on edge. The notable exception, of course, is the music that plays in the safe rooms, instantly allowing a wave of calm to wash over you.

Resident Evil 3 Nemesis tentacles (Image credit: Capcom)

Resident Evil 3 remake Nemesis and Jill (Image credit: Capcom)

Source: Capcom

I finished it on Normal in about seven and a half hours...

In the original Resident Evil 3, there was a decision mechanic that led to different results depending on what the player did. That mechanic has been removed, and there's only one set path here, with only one outcome. While this could be disappointing to some, the removal of these branching paths means the game can focus on some setpiece moments, with a couple of boss battles being particularly stunning with just how many options and details are crammed in.

Overall, it's perhaps slightly longer than Resident Evil 2. I finished it on Normal in about seven and a half hours, a time that I am sure will be embarrassed by the hyper-competent speedrunners of the Resident Evil community. There are several different difficulty modes to explore and plenty of collectibles to find, so there's certainly numerous reasons to go back and replay, even if there aren't separate A-B routes like in Resident Evil 2.

What I disliked about Resident Evil 3

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I don't want to get into specifics, but veterans of the original game may be surprised or disappointed at what ends up being cut here. It helps provide a streamlined experience but at the cost of removing some potentially fascinating encounters. This is going to be a point of contention depending on what you wanted to see make the cut, but I truly do feel it's a missed opportunity, even if it's a small thing in the grand scheme of the game.

...veterans of the original game may be surprised or disappointed at what ends up being cut here.

On a related topic, Capcom again continues the pattern of a Resident Evil game's ending, not being quite as strong as the rest of the game. With that in mind, keeping in some of the portions that have been cut might've helped the final section not feel as samey and could've been used to break up the gameplay in some more interesting ways.

I did not get a chance to play Resident Evil Resistance for this review, so I'm not including it in this summary. Just be aware that it is included with the purchase of Resident Evil 3.

Should you buy Resident Evil 3?

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

With Resident Evil 3, Capcom has undoubtedly proven that the return to horror in Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and the 2019 Resident Evil 2 remake weren't flukes. I do have to wonder about certain choices that were made, and the missed opportunities said choices result in — especially given the quite literal source material. Still, that doesn't take away from the excellent game on offer here, especially at a time when most publishers seem to be shrinking away from AAA horror.

If you enjoy horror games, it doesn't matter if you're a longtime Resident Evil fan or someone looking for a scary experience, grabbing this is simply a no-brainer. The combat feels great, and the balance between action and fear feels incredibly well handled, while at this point, it just goes without saying that a game built with the RE engine will look great and run smoothly. Capcom is now three for three with Resident Evil games since 2017, and I'm looking forward to wherever the series goes next, be it a new mainline game or another remake.

Resident Evil 3 was reviewed on Xbox One X using a copy provided by the publisher.

Samuel Tolbert
Freelance Writer

Samuel Tolbert is a freelance writer covering gaming news, previews, reviews, interviews and different aspects of the gaming industry, specifically focusing on Xbox and PC gaming on Windows Central. You can find him on Twitter @SamuelTolbert.