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.
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.
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.
There's something grudgingly admirable about Capcom's determination to make Resident Evil games feel like no other. And yet - even as a long-term fan - when you first pick up Resident Evil 5 it's almost impossible not to find yourself bitching about the way you can't move and fire. Or the glacial turning speed. Or the unwieldy inventory system. Just like you did with Resident Evil 4, in fact - and Resident Evil Zero before it, and all the others. It comes with the territory. These fundamental design decisions are illogical in a modern context, and part of me wishes Capcom would wake up to the present.
But the tradition of survival horror games has its place too. Make it tense. Place just enough ammo and health. Make it a struggle to get by. To enjoy them, you have to be prepared to put to one side the default annoyances. Once you adapt to the way this game plays compared to all the other third-person action-adventures out there, it all rather clicks into place. Perhaps the question to consider from the outset is whether you really want Resident Evil to feel like every other action game or not? Because if the answer's no, then you're halfway to getting the most out of it.
In many respects, Resident Evil 5 is content to follow the path of its much-loved predecessor and tweak a few things along the way. It's still very much a series of abrasive set-pieces strung together by camp hilarity. The main addition is the presence of a fully-controllable camera for the first time. Assigned to the right stick, you finally have the option to sweep the viewpoint around as you wish, and as a result the game is more fluid. Although four control configurations are available, the default works just fine, with a squeeze of the left trigger zooming the camera to the trademark over-the-shoulder view (which so many games aped in the wake of Resi 4, remember). The laser pointer remains, and a customisable level of sensitivity allows you to tweak to your own satisfaction.