Strange as it might be for downloadable content to arrive almost a year after the game's release, few will complain when it's as good as Resident Evil 5's Lost in Nightmares. Available for around four quid on either PSN or Xbox Live, it includes not only a fantastically enjoyable new chapter, but the added bonus of a 'Mercenaries Reunion' mode featuring new playable characters.
Set in 2006, Lost in Nightmares taps into the franchise's almost bottomless well of back-story intrigue by fleshing out a flashback touched upon midway through Resident Evil 5. If you've played the game already (if not, skip this paragraph) you'll recall Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine duking it out with the perennially annoying Albert Wesker before flying through a window to their apparent doom. Originally destined for the main game, it was cut to ensure that your co-op partner remained consistent throughout.
With such concerns irrelevant in the context of a standalone episode, this new vignette catches up with the hour or so leading up to that climactic stand-off, as Chris and Jill uncover the unsavoury mysteries of Ozwell E. Spencer's mansion. As you scope out the grand building for cranks, emblems and passwords, Lost in Nightmares feels comfortingly familiar.
Instead of fighting a relentless, repetitive rearguard action against the Majini hordes, the emphasis switches back to the more thoughtful, slow-burn, explorative style of old. The change of direction and the slower pace instantly cranks up the atmosphere several notches as you creep tentatively through darkened corridors, expecting a slavering apparition to burst through cobwebbed windows at any moment. Occasionally these moments arrive right on cue, but most of the fear comes from the sheer anticipation of it all. Moments of panic-stricken violence are saved for later.
Of course, no sooner have you made yourself at home in the salubrious, delicately detailed and high-ceilinged opulence, than you take to smashing up the furniture in anger, mostly in the vague hope of finding a hidden stash of weapons. Usually you wouldn't even blink at such random acts of vandalism, but Resident Evil has never looked so lovingly crafted, to the extent that it feels somehow wrong. Not that it stops you.
Some things never change, though. In a throwback to the old-style Resident Evils, you're desperately ill-equipped, armed with little more than a pistol and a few clips and expected to make every bullet count. But for the first section, at least, the absence of combat puts the focus firmly on puzzle-exploration, as you work on finding the necessary components required to open up Spencer's festering basement.
Once beyond this pleasingly understated throwback, Lost in Nightmares starts to come into its own with a tense sequence of set-pieces which neatly demonstrates what was sorely missing from the parent game.