Version tested: Xbox 360
Just two weeks on from the release of the excellent Lost In Nightmares DLC, Capcom has seen fit to serve up another delectable portion of episodic content for the five-million-selling Resident Evil 5. How kind.
But while Lost In Nightmares saw a refreshing return to the slow-burn style of panic-stricken survival horror that characterised the series' early days, Desperate Escape sees the gameplay firmly back in bullet-spraying territory as you fight a concerted battle to get out of the Tricell facility alive.
Set midway through the events of Resident Evil 5 - beware! spoilers ahead - we catch up with Jill Valentine just after Chris and Sheva have removed the mind control amulet that turned her into a pirouetting death machine. With Chris and Sheva determined to high-tail it after Albert Wesker, they leave the exhausted BSAA agent to fend for herself. Manners.
Having blacked out from her exertions, Jill comes around to find West African BSAA agent Josh Stone on the hunt for his errant colleagues. Josh having evidently awoken the entire Majini neighbourhood en route to Jill, the seemingly straightforward task of getting back to his waiting helicopter suddenly becomes one of the most death-defying missions encountered in the entire Resident Evil series.
Save for some flirtatious banter between the two, the mood takes a distinct turn for the worse the moment it becomes apparent that they're going to have to fight every step of the way. Desperate Escape certainly lives up to its title.
Unlike in the ammo-light Lost In Nightmares, it's just as well Josh and Jill bothered to pack for the journey ahead, as there's no shortage of targets. For the record, Jill comes equipped with a machine gun, while Josh must settle for the pistol, but, fortunately, any arguments over who gets the "best" character fade once you pick up the additional weapons along the way.
With no puzzle-solving of any note to worry about, the simple goal is to fight your way through the docks and the remainder of the facility, dispatching the unrelenting Majini hordes as they spring forth from every darkened corner, eager to stove their sharpened projectiles into your skull. As with Lost In Nightmares, boosting your points tally with 'score stars' adds an extra element to the killfest, but the bigger ones are notably harder to find this time around.
No sooner have you cleared the path ahead of Majini foes than these nimble adversaries leap down from unseen gantries to keep the pressure on, threatening to grapple you at a moment's notice. Whatever it is they want, you've got it, and they're bringing all their chainsaw-toting and Gatling gun-wielding mates along for the ride. To up the ante considerably, the Desperate Escape designers have devised elaborate ways of heaping on the agony, with numerous rocket turrets criss-crossing intricately constructed environments to provide additional hazards as you dash between the incoming missiles of death.
With a seemingly unending procession of infected stalking you down every corridor and gantry, the only solution is to eventually take out the emplacement operators and try and turn the tables before reinforcements arrive. That's easier said than done, however.
Armed with the collectable scoped rifle or rocket launcher, you frantically work together to take advantage of the small window of opportunity to aim at them before they get a chance to wreak havoc with your health bar. It's a wonderfully balanced cat-and-mouse affair as you gingerly hop through the relentless explosive mayhem, and challenging even on Normal difficulty. Veteran and Professional players can fully expect to receive the bloody nose they probably deserve.
The climactic third portion of this stressful episode essentially plays out like an arena battle, with enemies pouring over the walls from all sides as a countdown ticks down to your eventual rescue. But nothing is ever quite as straightforward as it initially appears, and you wind up facing no end of setbacks before you can relax once more.
As usual, this kind of combat-focused brand of Resident Evil works far better in tandem with a competent real-life player than the perennially hapless AI, and with co-op possible via split-screen, system link and online, all bases are covered. Strangely, the process of failure actually works in the context of this bite-sized portion, and while you might find yourself screaming blue murder at the game for defeating you yet again, it merely toughens your resolve for next time.
You might feel a slight initial pang of disappointment that Capcom has merely reverted to type after the bold about-face we were treated to with Lost In Nightmares, but if you're one of the many that actually preferred the more action-oriented Resident Evil, then you'll definitely give this hour-plus chapter the thumbs-up.
Even if, like me, you prefer the more brooding old-school puzzle-exploration style, then there's still a very good chance you'll appreciate the sheer challenge thrown at you by Desperate Escape. In terms of all-out action, there are few co-op experiences quite like it. On that note, though, I would be wary of recommending ever playing Resident Evil 5 on your own. Simply put, it was designed from the ground up to be played with a friend, and, sadly, the AI does the game no favours whatsoever.
It is a shame, though, that there's nothing new about Desperate Escape. While Lost In Nightmares provided a refreshing gameplay twist, as well as a new monster to fight, this merely recycles old enemies and old gameplay in a new setting. The fact that it does so in pleasingly overwhelming style is great consolation, but you can't help but reflect that things could have been freshened up in other ways without making it any less action-packed. New enemies certainly wouldn't have hurt, for a start, not to mention a bona-fide boss fight.
As a footnote, those who enjoyed the remixed Mercenaries Reunion mode can now play the game with even more characters, including, of course, Josh Stone. It won't make much difference, but the real obsessives have a few more leaderboards to compete on.
Despite Desperate Escape being little more than a rehash of any number of Resident Evil 5's levels, this is still a hugely enjoyable example of why DLC has become a vital part of the gaming landscape. For the meagre sum of 400 Microsoft Points, or £3.99 over PSN, you're getting another quality episode, and anyone who enjoyed the game's campaign won't be disappointed with more of the same.
8 / 10