Version tested: Xbox 360
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.
Armed with just enough ammo, you find yourself squaring off against malformed axe-wielding sentries, undeterred by the bulging mutations rippling through their flesh. Squeezed down narrow prison corridors, it's the usual race against time as the pair of you frantically blast every last slug into rancid, cankered torsos.
But it's the third quarter of the episode where the old Resident Evil design genius really returns. With minimal resources at your disposal, you're forced into the kind of true survival-horror scenario that makes games such as these so compelling. No longer is it about the accuracy of your aim, but how you utilise the environment to your advantage to get the better of your vastly overpowered foe.
Eventually, of course, we catch up with Wesker and engage in the usual cat-and-mouse shenanigans as he, yet again, does his best Neo impression and dodges every bullet with lightning balletic grace. By the end you're left in no doubt that you've had your money's worth, in what has to represent one of the best-value slices of DLC yet.
With an assortment of added bonuses there are even more reasons to be cheerful. Most significant is the new rejigged Mercenaries Reunion, where you get to play the ever-popular score attack mode with a bunch of new characters and skins.
Available from the word go are Excella Gionne, the glamourous CEO of Tricell Corporation, as well as STARS Alpha Team member Barry Burton. Once you get good enough to achieve an 'A' rank on each map you'll also be able to unlock other characters, such as Rebecca Chambers and rather amusing new versions of Chris and Sheva (including the leather-clad 'Warrior Chris' and hood-wearing 'Sheva Fairytale' and more which we won't spoil for you here). In keeping with the free Costume Pack it's all throwaway stuff, obviously, but in the best possible way. There's nothing quite like a Village People version of Chris Redfield.
The obligatory presence of online leaderboards for your solo and duo excursions adds a tremendous degree of replay value, so the opportunity to run through all eight familiar maps and compete for honours again holds the same curiously moreish allure it always did. As with the main game, it's far more enjoyable to play alongside a buddy than to run solo, giving you the opportunity to take the fight to the Majini with a broader selection of weaponry. With split-screen available alongside online options, one of the best co-op experiences around now has even more to offer.
Having received a fair bit of criticism over the handling of its previous Versus DLC offering, Capcom more than makes up for some of its questionable decisions a year ago with Lost in Nightmares. Whether you play this via DLC or as part of the forthcoming Gold Edition of Resident Evil 5, it's an essential episode. For the price, you can't go wrong, and it bodes extremely well for the Desperate Escape DLC next month.
9 / 10