Following quickly in the footsteps of last year's frankly brilliant Resident Evil 2 remake, Capcom's preparing its makeover of Resident Evil 3 for release, and we got to sample a decent slice ahead of time.
The demo took place a little way into the game, where Resident Evil 3's leads Jill Valentine and Carlos Oliviera have already met. We took control of Jill seeking cover in the Redstone street subway station, as she meets with members of the Umbrella Biohazard Countermeasure Service, or UBCS, and is then tasked with heading to the nearby electricity substation, to get the subway's power back online. Therefore, she has no choice but to head out into the city proper.
The first thing you notice when you emerge onto the streets of Raccoon City is that everything's been given a slightly modernised makeover. So not only has the original's cable car been replaced with a subway line, the streets just look that little bit more vibrant. That's not to say that the twisting alleys and iron-gated back streets of the original game aren't here, they've just been given a slight sprucing up.
The original Resident Evil 3: Nemesis was notably more action-heavy than its predecessor Resident Evil 2. That is also the case here, but if you're concerned about a return to the over-the-top nature of the more shooter-heavy later games, don't be. This is still first and foremost a survival horror experience.
Jill isn't any old police officer and she certainly isn't a civilian - she's a member of the Special Tactics and Rescue Service AKA S.T.A.R.S and as a result her reflexes are just a little bit more enhanced. To illustrate this, an extremely welcome dodge mechanic has been added, and when timed perfectly - in other words when you press the dodge button at the last possible second to avoid an enemy's attack - time will slow for just a moment, allowing you to counter-attack with a well-placed headshot. Super satisfying and appropriate, given Jill's expert training. But you will need to make good use of it, because there are a LOT of zombies in downtown Raccoon City - way more than you might have encountered in and around the RPD building in the Resident Evil 2 remake.
Crucially, it never tilts into feeling like a full-on third person shooter. First off, the streets are crowded, cluttered and claustrophobic; you won't be getting the chance to pick off hordes of undead from a safe distance. Zombies will crush you in with your back against a wall and come at you from multiple different directions - more than once we were jumped by some shuffling, sluggish walkers we had no idea were anywhere near us. They can creep out from under wrecked cars, climb over barricades, smash through shop windows - you always need to be on your guard with one eye on your escape route at all times. They can also take multiple bullets to put down, even with headshots. Luckily, Jill herself can take more damage, but you'll definitely want to keep moving and pushing forwards because you simply don't have enough bullets to take down every enemy you'll encounter downtown.
And of course there's one particular enemy who'll be giving you more grief than others. Nemesis is every bit as scary as he should be, and even veteran Resident Evil players will be trying not to panic once he shows up on the scene. Towering over Jill and making Mr X look like an absolute nobody, Nemesis will lay the smackdown with his fists and use his gross tentacles to grab, swipe and reel you in from afar. Even when you think you've got some distance, he can leap across entire areas to cut you off, forcing you to either make use of that 180 degree turn to flee or to try to dodge past him.
The whole effect is utterly terrifying and designed to disorient, of course, and let's just take a moment to appreciate his new design. Although some people are unsure of his new face/nose job, we really like the updated body design. It's a similar silhouette to his original look, but taking a closer peek, you can see that he's basically a hulking mound of mouldering flesh barely held together by a load of body bags and caution tape stapled together. It's cool to note the protective covering on his heart too, though we'll see how much use that does him in the long run.
Nemesis isn't the only enemy that's been redesigned. Drain deimos, parasitic flea-like enemies from the original Resident Evil 3 game return, but they've got a few new tricks up their sleeve. In a particularly stressful section of the demo we played, Jill has to navigate the electrical substation which has become a nest to a huge host of deimos, which pursue her relentlessly from the walls, floors and ceilings as she has to activate transformers in order to get the power back online. If the monsters manage to grab her, they'll shove a proboscis down her throat in a particularly gruesome animation and plant a parasite in her stomach, forcing you to use a herb or a first aid spray to make Jill puke it back up before she succumbs.
There's a newer, meaner Hunter Gamma too. Despite looking less like a frog and more like an uncooked chicken these days, the Hunter Gamma is absolutely not a pushover - it's capable of killing you instantly if it gets too close. You'll encounter these slimy boys several times down in the sewers, and they can be extremely tricky to deal with if you don't have the appropriate equipment for an impromptu barbecue.
It's in these encounters that the new mechanics introduced for this updated Resident Evil 3 really shine, and they're built on some solid foundations. It's a high compliment when we say this plays out a lot like last year's Resident Evil 2 remake. The HUD is the same, maps work in a similar way in that areas are left red when there are still things to uncover there and blue when they're fully searched, Jill's inventory space will be increased by finding hip pouches, and there will be plenty of files and thoughtful environmental puzzles to ensure that Jill is exercising her intellect as much as her itchy tasty, trigger finger.
Live selections, as a reminder, were choices that popped up at key moments during RE3 which could affect player progression and even endings in the original game, though Capcom's said they won't be returning here. Still though, there's plenty of callbacks here for Resident Evil veterans. UBCS's Nikolai still doesn't trust or respect Jill and Jill doesn't exactly warm to him right off the bat either, Carlos is still a little bit cringe-worthy at the flirting game, and a fire hose will definitely come in handy out there on Raccoon City's streets.
We're still curious as to how Carlos' playable sections will be expanded upon, and how the game will just be made bigger in general. But what we can safely say is that all the new enemies we've met so far are giving us the fear already. It's going to be an excruciating wait for the final release in just over a month's time.