I’m stuck in a dead end, surrounded but zombies with three bullets in my pistol and a knife that’s remarkably ineffective, one hit away from game over. Freaking out, I manage to roll my way out of the hoard and into an abandoned coffee shop that’s near pitch black. On the counter I see a box of ammo, my saving grace. But before I can get to it, a disemboweled zombie tackles me from the ground, tearing flesh and muscle right out of my neck. I’m about 15 minutes into this game, and it’s going to be a long night.
The remake of Resident Evil 3, which releases Friday, follows Jill Valentine as the bad capitalist corporation (Nemesis) releases a virus in Raccoon City that turns folks into zombies and makes a big, scary monster. There are two chapters, one taking place before the events of Resident Evil 2, and one following them. Of course, Capcom executes this seemingly old-hat premise with a lot more imagination than I just did, but you get the gist. Resident Evil 3 accomplishes something more, too: Unless you play so tactically as to stab everything that can possibly move and land every shot, you’re forced to knowingly put yourself in vulnerable situation after vulnerable situation, in control of triggering your own jump scares but feeling helpless to stop them. It is a truly terrifying mechanic.
The Resident Evil franchise has always been a little more linear than, say, an open world title. It operates like a haunted house, shoehorning players into positions to get spooked. Within the first 20 minutes of playing the remake, I found myself out of ammo often, making my best option to run, trailing monsters behind me as I prayed I wouldn’t get stuck in a dead end. I felt helpless, under the control of the game, even though I could technically choose how to allocate my resources and whether to try to take down every zombie to cull the herd. Oftentimes the most efficient option was to dodge and roll my way through, damn well knowing there was still an undead parade after me and more waiting ahead.
That core mechanic is what takes horror games in general to the next level from horror movies. They give you the control to make these bad decisions. The “no, don’t look in the closet” choices are now your fault. While Resident Evil has always been a spooky game, because, well, the zombies are scary, the way the games scare you isn’t necessarily just the jump scares, it’s that overwhelming anxiety of being forced to physically activate the jump scare, like a trap you know you have a 50/50 shot of walking into and no way to improve the odds.
Resident Evil 3 also got bundled with the Resident Evil Resistance Pack, an online multiplayer game with a damn cool premise. Four players work on a team to make it through a lair, and a fifth player works as the mastermind of this zombie-infested murder factory—like Saw, I guess, but more fun. A sadistic mastermind can place traps and zombies, control cameras, and choose placement on the map for special character (i.e. the Tyrant or Nemesis). It’s similar to games like Dead by Daylight or Friday the 13th but hits where other horror multiplayer games fall flat, because I honestly enjoyed both being the mastermind and a survivor. Too often with a player-controlled environment game, people are waiting for their turn to be in charge, but here, each survivor doesn’t just play the victim; they’re empowered to defeat the mastermind. In the main game, Nemesis’s AI and the game designers work against you. It’s an entirely different kind of adrenaline, knowing that another human is strategizing how to get you, trap you, and yes, scare you.
When Resident Evil 3 originally released in 1999, it felt more compact and populated with evil than its predecessor, amplifying that feeling of something inescapable lurking around you. The Resident Evil 3 remake, with its polish and excellent gameplay, is exactly what everyone hoped for following last year’s absolutely killer remaster of Resident Evil 2. The way it manages to both tell you you’re getting yourself into the shit and still force you to go through with the shit is the most stress-inducing but exhilarating mechanic. The control you have is the scariest part. The dread never fades.