The Resident Evil 3 remake sticks very close to the original’s action-focused take on survival horror. While this can give you a greater feeling of control in your struggle to survive the hordes of undead, the game can often feel like it leans too heavily on action, resulting in encounters that aren’t very scary. While Resident Evil 3’s campaign is brief, and the game doesn’t have much in the way of bonus content, completing the story on Hardcore difficulty opens up a new difficulty mode that feels closer to a survival horror experience–presenting RE3 at its best.
After completing Hardcore mode, which is the hard mode available from the beginning and which has more aggressive enemies, RE3 will open up a bonus difficulty called Nightmare. Essentially a “very hard” mode, it includes tougher enemies and less ammo and reshuffles item locations. Those changes are already a lot to deal with, but what makes Nightmare mode so interesting are the remixed enemy encounters. In addition to throwing more zombies at you, tougher monsters appear much earlier, and Nemesis is far more aggressive and faster than before. My Nightmare mode playthrough, which rounded out to about four hours, offered a more worthwhile approach to RE3’s survival horror, that actively placed more pressure on me as it went on.
One of the reasons why survival horror is so effective is that it actively creates an air of uncertainty, of not knowing what awaits around the corner. This feeling will inevitably be diminished once you’ve gotten an understanding of the dangers in each environment, especially on repeat playthroughs. What I appreciated most about Nightmare mode is that it almost immediately lets you know that things aren’t going to be the same this time around.
This sentiment was exemplified shortly after leaving the subway for the first time. I rushed into an alleyway after taking out my first zombie and almost ran head-on into a crowd of eight undead looking for their next meal. What was a short encounter with a couple of distracted zombies in other modes is now a moment where your run can meet a quick and violent end, and it offered the first of many rushes that I seldom felt in my earlier playthroughs.
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The repositioning and reordering of enemies not only makes for more claustrophobic encounters, but some areas now prompt detours based on the increased danger. This reordering is especially evident when Nemesis comes into play in the Downtown area. Like Mr. X from RE2, Nemesis is a disruptor, and just when you feel you’ve gotten a handle of the undead and the layout of the area, the villain makes a sudden entrance and forces you on the run, turning the common enemies and the tight corridors of the areas into genuine threats once again. Nightmare mode ratchets this up considerably with the undead in higher numbers, and in some cases, they will block pathways when you’re trying to make a break from the unstoppable bioweapon.
In addition to all these changes to the gameplay, Nightmare mode also adds bits of narrative that speak more to the current emotional state of the characters not seen in the standard modes. But in an interesting twist, it also shows off unseen events. By far, my favorite moment in RE3 is the revisit to the RPD station. During this sequence, you get to see Brad Vickers’s last appearance in the game, now as a zombie. In the default difficulties, this encounter ends in the courtyard, with you going about your business inside the station. But in Nightmare mode, the harder difficulty gives Brad more time to shine, as he stalks you through the station on more occasions. And just like his appearance in the original RE2, Brad is one tough zombie, and it’ll take more rounds than usual to put him down.
In my five playthroughs of Resident Evil 3 remake, I had the most fun with the game in Nightmare. As I mentioned in my full review, I felt that RE3 struggled to maintain the balance between survival horror and action gameplay. Nightmare mode, however, pushes the game further to survival horror, putting significant pressure on you to pick your battles and conserve ammo–which is when survival horror is at its best. And if you’re still looking for more of a challenge, the game’s final difficulty–Inferno–will unlock after finishing Nightmare mode, pushing the challenge even further.
Even with some of the bonus items and weapons I managed to scrounge up after my first run through the game, Nightmare mode still presented a significant obstacle to complete. Many encounters in this difficulty are genuinely clever, and it makes me wonder why they weren’t included in the standard modes. I usually groan at taking on harder difficulties, but Nightmare mode turned out to be a pleasant surprise from a game I thought I knew in and out, and it ended up showcasing the remake at its best.
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