The strafing sting of an automatic rifle. The relative merits of a bazooka. Jill Valentine in knee-highs and a strapless top. This just about concludes the list of ‘advances’ in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, the latest in the classic horror-show series from capcom. Sure, you can brew up your own grenade acid rounds from gunpowder, and yes, Jill Valentine’s breasts costar, but by now the slaughter is as rote as a Jason Voorhees slash attack.
Game sequels, unlike their film parallel, usually get better as they go along. The technology improves, the rendering engine is in place, and the developers have the time to stop thinking about getting the game to play and start thinking about how to make it play well (vide: the Mario series, Final Fantasy, Zelda). Resident Evil was, by all accounts, already excellent source material. Atmospheric and cinematic, it spooked even the jaded, been-there-puzzled-that gamerz at Software Etc. Resident Evil 2 stayed the course, except that the pacing got even smarter, almost symphonic: It starts off forte (zombie bumrush), leads to pianissimo (eerie exploration) with little bursts of staccato (crows attacking, flaming devil dogs), climaxing in a crescendo of whupass.
But Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, like most tail ends of trilogies, isn’t really an extension of the story, it’s just a well-oiled machine looking for reason to switch on. It’s a sad sign—the Resident Evil series was one of those rarities in the video-game industry in that it had the semblance of a story. A virus overtakes a small industrial town called Raccoon City. People start eating flesh and making headlines. A group of S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics and Rescue Service) police are flown in to assist the Raccoon City cops who can’t cope with the armies of undead munching their way through the population. It seems the Umbrella Corporation, the giant biotech research facility in town, has something to do with the cannibalism and the killer ferns floating around. Each RE introduces different S.T.A.R.S. members as appetizers.
RE3 stars 23-years-young Jill Valentine (height: 5-4, weight: 108 lbs., blood type: B), whom the game guide describes as “cheerful and independent” with a “strong sense of justice.” She also has a “healthy emotional side,” but don’t get any ideas. These qualities might have meaning if you could read an expression on the pixilated cloud that is her face. In any event, Valentine is “somehow, still alive” and she’s pissed. All her S.T.A.R.S. buddies have been pulped for their brain meat. Unfazed, she informs us that “once the wheels of justice have started to turn, nothing can stop them.” Justice is a warm bazooka.
RE3 picks up not where RE2 ended, but where it began, which is why it’s so tedious. In RE2, you spend a good deal of time trapped in an abandoned police station, putting gems into statues, developing film, and repairing clocks (the typical litany of tasks that shape most video games). RE3 has you return to the police station and wander inside it again. Don’t the developers realize that half the joy of games like RE3 is curiosity, and that doesn’t work when you’ve been there before? Even Hollywood knows that if you rip through an L.A. skyscraper in Die Hard, you give people Dulles Airport fireworks in the next iteration and Manhattan subterfuge in the one after that. This is basic design and it’s been ignored in RE3.
No wonder video games now supposedly compete with the film industry—the market is fat with $44.99 returns, a situation that has to change. Video games are some of the highest-priced entertainment out there, more than books, CDs, movies, and most concerts. Industry advocates argue that the steep price tags are due to the fact that games offer 20 hours of game play. But with RE3, it only takes 15 minutes to realize you’re in painfully redundant terrain, “game play” in only the loosest sense. The sinister plot—caveat emptor—is the one after your money.