Resident Evil is the zombie horror game, but its shambling corpses are slow and easy to avoid. To reinvigorate the series, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis created an unpredictable nightmare man who attacked unpredictably with terrifying speed. It robbed players of their sense of control, and in doing so created one of gaming’s scariest monsters.
Taking place shortly after Resident Evil, Nemesis follows police officer Jill Valentine, one of the protagonists from the first game, as she attempts to escape a zombie outbreak. Jill is targeted by the shadowy Umbrella Corporation and attacked by a new bioweapon called the Nemesis. This creature exists explicitly to hunt down Jill and other members of the elite police squad involved in the first game’s events. The Nemesis follows Jill and attacks her randomly. It’s possible to knock it out for a time, but the monster always gets up eventually. It chases Jill throughout the game, striking at any moment. There was nothing else like it at the time.
Resident Evil 3 generates terror through uncertainty. You will be attacked, and the tension comes from not knowing when or where it will happen next. Other games have explored the idea of an implacable monster chasing protagonists, but they lacked the randomness that make the Nemesis terrifying 2004’s Prince of Persia: Warrior Within features the shadowy Dahaka, an agent of time itself that pursued the Prince to erase his meddling with timelines. Metroid Fusion has the SA-X, an alien copy of Samus that hounds the player during tense sneaking segments. Silent Hill 2’s Pyramid Head is a dark manifestation of the protagonist’s guilt, a disturbing Jungian shadow that cannot be killed by normal means. These foes capture a fear of the inevitable, but they lack the Nemesis’ indiscriminate and arbitrary nature. They arrive reliably in scripted sequences. The Nemesis arrives whenever it damn well pleases. Only Alien: Isolation’s devious monster has really managed to recapture the Nemesis’ maddening randomness.
Video games provide spaces where players can exert control or assert themselves confidently. There is a reason we call our peripherals controllers; games value player dominance, be it through achieving high scores or defeating final bosses. Most games find ways to let the player be in control, but the Nemesis does something different. It doesn’t care if you only have one pistol magazine and a knife. It does not patiently wait for you to gather healing herbs. In undermining player control, the Nemesis cemented itself as an enemy at odds with traditional game values.
For myself, the Nemesis takes on a deeper meaning. I’ve said before that time is gaming’s greatest enemy. Countdown clocks are indifferent to player struggle. They are abstractions of the most primal fear of all: the fear of death. When I look at the Nemesis, I see a representation of that same fear. It possess the same indifference and the same unfailing surety.
Jill does manage to kill the Nemesis after numerous encounters. The creature mutates and grows into a pulsating blob of tissue and rage. It takes a massive railgun to deal the final blow in a boss fight that focuses less on firing tons of bullets and more on outrunning and outmaneuvering the massive beast. This victory holds little comfort, however. The Nemesis is defeated, but the chase has already taken its toll.
Look forward to tales of ghosts and glitches all week during Kotaku’s Spooky Week.