It’s been quite a while since Capcom pumped out new content for Resident Evil 5, but it seems that the publisher is preparing a big push for both the game’s one-year anniversary and the release of Resident Evil 5: Gold Edition. The re-release of Capcom’s blockbuster will feature all of the downloadable content on one disc for PlayStation 3 (but includes Xbox Live tokens for the 360 version), including the just-released “Lost in Nightmares” pack, which touts a new mission and new Mercenaries characters. I’m one of the dissenting opinions on RE5 in the office (I liked the game for what it did exceptionally well more than I disliked what others considered regressive), so I was glad to load up the new content pack (400 MS Points or $4.99 in the PlayStation Store) and play through one of the game’s missing chapters.
If you played through RE5, you might remember a cutscene in which Chris describes to Sheva how Jill Valentine saved his life. It's a moment in the Spencer mansion library in which Wesker nearly kills Chris. The only thing that keeps the super-enhanced S.T.A.R.S. leader from crushing Mr. Redfield’s larynx like a juice box is the intrepid selflessness of Jill, who tackles Wesker through a cliffside window to both characters’ apparent doom. Except that in RE5, we know that Jill’s not dead. And we know Wesker is making Chris’ life miserable. So what happened in the Spencer mansion that leads up to that moment? “Lost in Nightmares” answers that question.
It’s a breezy chapter that even rusty players will crack through in an hour or so. The premise is simple: Chris and Jill kick in the doors of the Spencer mansion to investigate some wrongdoing by one of Umbrella’s founders, and ultimately discover Wesker at the end of it all. The journey to that discovery is fraught with tense moments that heighten the horror elements that made the series so beloved.
A great deal of that tension comes from the way that Capcom exploits gamer nostalgia for Resident Evil in the early stages of the chapter. There’s a lonely, desolate mansion, and blood strewn in the main hallway. It’s silent, save for the echoes of Chris and Jill’s footsteps and the occasional jolts of the menacing soundtrack. It evokes the first game in the sense that it toys with your expectations of what’s around the corner. Initially, I was cynical about the proceedings, but as I played through it, I came to enjoy the homage. Although I played through the chapter solo, it’s not hard to pinpoint sections where the game is designed around teamwork to overcome bottlenecks.
Eventually, Chris and Jill encounter the Guardians, a hulking group of mutants with acid-filled pustules on their backs. They tote massive anchors as weapons and eat a decent amount of ammo (at least, on normal to higher difficulties), which heightens the stakes, since “Lost in Nightmares” is miserly with bullets. In another section, you are left with nothing but a combat knife, a first-aid canister, and a few flash grenades as you attempt to survive a watery maze filled with Guardians and deadly environmental puzzles. If you’re willing to suspend disbelief long enough to acknowledge that a series of crests just happen to be lying around a series of aqueducts that will lead to a library with a gorgeous mountain view, then you’re among the audience that will enjoy this chapter.
Once you’ve finished the brief adventure, “Lost in Nightmares” also offers up two new playable characters for Mercenaries mode: Barry Burton (he of “Jill Sandwich” fame) and evil Tricell executive Excella Gionne. Like mileage, your enjoyment may vary. I’m not the biggest fan of Mercs mode, but I completely tolerate its continued existence.
“Lost in Nightmares” does a great job evoking the fear and tension that defined the Resident Evil games for over a decade before RE5 upped the ante on the action and downplayed the horror elements. The mansion setting, scarce ammunition, and a dingy maze all combine to create an action-packed Resident Evil experience that feels retro and contemporary all at once. The Mercenaries characters are a nice touch, but mostly if you’re a fan of the mode. If you want a reason to revisit Chris Redfield’s horrific travails, this brief downloadable chapter is worth checking out.