The late 90s were full of lots of interesting transitions. Television was preparing for a digital transition, The US was going through a political transition, and the 32-bit era was beginning its final act before the Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Microsoft’s first gaming console would land and change gaming forever. The last gasp of the original PlayStation would see many outstanding titles like Ape Escape, and Silent Hill that would all go on to have sequels that would exist well past the lifespan of the legendary PlayStation. However, one series that had already proven itself with two iconic games and enormous cultural influence by this time was Resident Evil. As such, multiple games for the future of the series were already in development, and the third mainline entry would be slated to release for the PlayStation in late 1999. Resident Evil would now join Crash Bandicoot, Syphon Filter, and Spyro in the PS1 trilogy club.
But with 2 fantastic classics under its belt, the Resident Evil series would need to do what those other games also had to do with its third game and think well outside the box to deliver something that would deserve to stand with the others. While Capcom certainly didn’t reinvent the wheel with RE3, they certainly were able to churn out yet another classic horror game under the Resident Evil name by continuing the story of the first game and not side-stepping it like the second game did. With the help of Resident Evil veteran Shinji Mikami, as well as the other wizards over at Capcom who had survival horror down to a science by this time, the team pulled out yet another classic with the game launching it to similar heights as RE 1 and 2, and RE 3 would even see ports to future hardware like the Dreamcast and GameCube, which was rare for games that were originally developed for the PlayStation. In turn, Despite being somewhat overshadowed by the original and its excellent sequel, Resident Evil 3 would go down in history as one of the better games of the series.
Resident Evil 3 was particularly noteworthy to fans of the series for a multitude of reasons, but one of the most prominent is its story. Unlike Resident Evil 2, which at the time didn’t feel very tightly attached to the original, Resident Evil 3 continued the story of Jill Valentine as she continued her escape from the horrors that befell her and her comrades in the Mansion of the first game. While the setting and gameplay feels more like the second game in most ways, Resident Evil 3’s story structure and character happenings more closely resemble the style of the original with Jill coming across several STARS members, uncovering more of Umbrella’s secrets, and having a dramatic showdown with a Tyrant at the end. For this smart combination of the strengths of both previous games, one could argue that Resident Evil 3 is the superior entry of the original trilogy at least on paper.
Resident Evil 3’s gameplay also consisted of some revolutionary decisions for the series. While Resident Evil 2 took some baby steps towards more action-oriented gameplay, the third game of the series took more of a leap in that direction with way more zombies in most areas as well as explosive objects in the environment that could be shot to damage several enemies at once. To accommodate the influx of enemies, the player also had access to more ammo, but the proportions of enemies to available firepower was still balanced in a way that made every shot continue to count, so the management of resources was still a key element of the gameplay while giving the player access to more action. Cleverly drawing from some of Resident Evil 2’s best elements, the constant threat of a Tyrant encounter would also be an always-present danger in RE 3.
On top of that, Resident Evil 3’s control was a little tighter and faster than the previous two games and even included a dodge manoeuvre that could get you through some sticky situations if you had the skills to master it’s short window of effectiveness. This calculated additional emphasis on action would plant the seeds for future games like RE 4 to use well and RE 6 to arguably use not so well. While some of the additional speed and the increase of large combat sequences did clash somewhat with the tank controls and fixed camera angles of the time, those seeds would eventually blossom for the series and the genre as a whole in ways that can still be seen today with The Evil Within games and others like them. So while having these ideas contained in the limited capsule of the PS1 sort of felt like playing Mozart with a kazoo, there’s no doubt that RE 3’s revolutionary mix of combat and horror elements would be infinitely important and influential for the future of the genre.
One thing that matters to the Resident Evil series almost as much as the story and gameplay is the overall atmosphere, and Resident Evil 3 nails its atmosphere and presentation just as well if not better than its predecessors. The pre-rendered backgrounds would have more detail than ever, with many of them featuring animations like realistic fire and some real-time shading for the character models to walk through. Also, speaking of the character models, the sheer amount of enemies on screen all running well most of the time was an impressive feat for the time, as most action games on the PS1 would only put you in situations with no more than 3 or 4 enemies at a time for fear of massive frame-rate dips, Resident Evil 3 was able to cram 7 or 8 zombies on screen at any given time, sometimes more. This brought a different sort of urgency to the player than the original game did, but it was a convincing tension nonetheless and furthered RE 3’s unique atmosphere that much more effectively. As you might expect, this was made all the more effective on the later Dreamcast, PC, and GameCube versions.
Resident Evil certainly has its classics, and if you were to ask a Resident Evil fan to choose a favorite, odds are, they would either choose the first or the second due to one of those likely being their first experience with the series and nostalgia being one hell of a drug. With those love goggles removed however, it’s clear to see that Resident Evil 3 is unfairly overshadowed and left out of conversations about Resident Evil’s most important entries. RE 3 took the superior characters and story of the first game, the superior gameplay elements of the second game, tweaked them both, and added in a few ideas of its own to form arguably the best iteration in the series up to that point. It’s not only a third game that stands alongside its predecessors, but it exceeds them on multiple fronts while also performing some necessary experiments that would ultimately provide priceless guidance for future games like Code Veronica and Resident Evil 4 to benefit from several more years down the road. It is unquestionably one of the best games in the series, an extremely important entry for the survival horror genre, and without a doubt, one hell of a game.