Version tested Xbox 360
As anyone who completed Resident Evil 5's campaign will know, you unlock The Mercenaries mode when you finish the game. It's a rather nifty little offline mini-game where the focus is on blasting as many enemies as possible within a time limit, in a series of enclosed environments. Like a good old-fashioned arcade game, it's all about racking up as high a score as possible, which means trying to keep increasing your combo count by making sure you go no more than 10 seconds between kills. The bigger the combo, the higher the score, and the better the grade. Simple.
While you could play The Mercenaries in offline or online co-op mode with a buddy, Capcom evidently realised that this mode could easily translate to a competitive online multiplayer affair with a few tweaks to the rules. And so, 1.86MB and 400 Microsoft Points (or GBP 3.99 at the PlayStation Store) later, we get the new Versus add-on, using the same eight maps - Public Assembly, The Mines, Village, Ancient Ruins, Experimental Facility, Missile Area, Ship Deck, and Prison - and the same score-attack principle.
All of the four play variations within Versus allow you to choose from ten characters - only two of which, Sheva and Chris, are available by default. The rest (no spoilers!) you'll have to unlock by getting scores of 40,000 plus, gradually giving you the ability to choose characters with slightly more exotic load-outs. Rather than the default pistol being supplemented with a shotgun (for Chris) or machine gun (for Sheva), you can go into battle armed with a flaming bow and arrow, or a grenade launcher. As you'll note once the action gets under way, these can make a big difference in getting points on the board quickly.
Each gameplay variation revolves around the same score-attack principles. Kicking off with a five-minute time limit, the priority is to go looking for kills as soon as possible and get the combo count up. A simple kill might be only worth 300 points, so you can't just cautiously creep around the map and pick off enemies one by one. To stand any chance of winning the round, you have to dash around and find where the action is so you can gain maximum points from your efforts before the ten-second kill buffer disappears.
Seeking a good, sheltered choke-point might provide the perfect opportunity to rack up kills while giving you the opportunity to get out of the way of unexpected human attacks, but the feeling of never quite being safe is omnipresent. With limited ammo always at the forefront of your strategy, it's a game in which you're constantly on the run. As players of The Mercenaries will note, the multi-tiered maps can leave you quite exposed to projectile attacks if you're not careful - and with human opponents now thrown into the mix, that threat is multiplied exponentially. It's an interesting dynamic, because while it's fairly straightforward trying to fend off the attentions of the shambling undead, you run the permanent risk of being caught unawares.
Strangely for an online multiplayer game, there's no opportunity to vary round times beyond the basic five-minute limit, which feels like an oversight. You can extend the round times slightly while the matches are under way by kicking time bonuses and killing enemies a certain way, but for the most part you're stuck playing very short rounds regardless.
Similarly annoying is the way that, once a match ends, you get dumped back to the Versus start screen, giving you no opportunity to replay the match with the same group of players. Likewise, you can't enjoy a best-of-three round, or, in fact, do any of the kind of match customisation you'd find in most online multiplayer games, which is disappointing considering the premium paid to access the content in the first place. As usual you can play ranked or player matches, and each of the eight maps feature four online leaderboards. Sadly, the leaderboards feature only the baseline score, and no stat breakdown of how the score was reached in the four modes.
Speaking of which, what of these four Versus variations? First up: Slayers. Present in both single and 2-vs.-2 team flavours, it's is a straightforward fight to the death, where each player or team competes for the highest score in a single round. In solo mode, each player is only concerned with killing whatever's in front of them, so whether it's a fellow human competitor, or hordes of infected Majini, everything must perish.