Just imagine you were being chased by the Terminator. Scary, huh? Now replace that Austrian Oak bodybuilder / governor / Kindergarten Cop who’s currently scrambling your thoughts with an eight-foot-tall living bioweapon who makes Shaquille O’Neal look like Danny DeVito. Oh, and he’s got an RPG strapped to his shoulder to boot. Congratulations! You’ve conjured up an image of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis’ utterly terrifying titular star. And believe us, you won’t forget your first encounter with him in a hurry.
Sure, a returning Jill Valentine is technically the playable character, but really, it’s the disgusting dude in the S&M gear who’s the real reason PS1’s final full-fat Resi has such enduring appeal. Umbrella’s ruthlessly relentless creation is the deadliest, most determined villain in survival horror history. He’s a purpose-built killing machine who exists for one reason: to eliminate anyone involved with a certain Special Tactics And Rescue Service who knows what Umbrella had been up to. Forget that campy ’90s talent show where members of the public dressed up as famous musicians. Nemesis may have S.T.A.R.S. in his eyes, but slaughter, not singing, is the only thing that plagues this monstrosity’s mind. “Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be a mass-murdering SOB.”
Resident Evil 3 is undoubtedly defined by its iconic villain, yet it’s got a lot more going for it than a monster with serious personal space issues. For one thing, the game’s setup offers a cute nod to the series’ past. Set in Raccoon City and staged over a single night, the action overlaps with events from Resi 2, Pulp Fiction-style. As Mr Kennedy is enduring the worst first day ever over at RCPD headquarters, Jill is fleeing her obsessed stalker. Revisiting locales from Leon and Claire’s earlier adventure is a nostalgic hoot, never more so than when Nemesis chases you through that police station.
From a mechanical standpoint, Resi 3 marks the point where the spook-’em-up franchise starts to dilute its famously fussy horror leanings – ironic considering how frightening its baddie remains. Whether it’s Valentine’s snappy 180° combat turn, the plentiful supply of ammo, or split-second Live Decisions that affect the game’s ending (do you hide in a cafe’s basement or try to blow Nemesis up with a gas cooker explosion?), this is a more immediate, exciting game than its predecessors. Looking back, it’s clear Resi 3 sowed the series’ first action seeds, ones that would fully bloom in the outstanding, and very shooty, Resident Evil 4.
It’s a shame this entry in Capcom’s legendary horror saga gets overlooked in favour of the two (admittedly incredible) games that came before. Is the setting in Resi 3 as effortlessly iconic as the Spencer Mansion’s masterful haunted house? Not quite. But this game was about the action as well as sending shivers up your spine. And in Nemesis, you have one of gaming’s truly great villains. You can’t outsprint it. You can’t hide from it. You can’t reason with it. All you can do is hope to scrape through Jill’s terrifying encounters with the ultimate enemy. Nemesis runs on nightmare fuel, and he gives Resi’s PS1 swansong the power to horrify like few games since.
This article originally appeared in Official PlayStation Magazine. For more great PlayStation coverage, you can subscribe here.