How did you like Resident Evil 5? Were you one of the many who loved the game, or were you among those who thought it was something of a failure? What do you think of the mandatory co-op? Did you think the move toward an action-packed, "blockbuster" experience helped the series to evolve, or did you see the change in tone as a rejection of the survival horror core that made the series great in the first place?
How you answer these questions will, in a large way, indicate how much you enjoy Lost in Nightmares, the first of two planned DLC campaigns for Resident Evil 5. You may assume that answering the second question with a hearty "Resident Evil 5 f*cking ruled" guarantees that you'll love Lost in Nightmares as well, but that may not be the case. Just because you liked Resident Evil 5 doesn't mean that Lost in Nightmares is for you, and likewise, if Resident Evil 5's main mode wasn't your jam, Lost in Nightmares may go on to change your mind about the game.
Hit the jump for the the Destructoid review of Resident Evil 5: Lost in Nightmares.
Resident Evil 5: Lost in Nightmares (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 [reviewed])
Lost in Nightmares works both as a prequel to Resident Evil 5 and as an expanded, playable version of one of the retail game's many cut scenes. In the second half of the main campaign of Resident Evil 5, Chris explains to his new partner Sheva that a few years prior, he lost his longtime partner Jill Valentine in a battle to the death with series antagonist Albert Wesker. This mini-campaign shows exactly what Jill and Chris went through on the way towards that vicious battle with their ex-boss.
Seeing Chris and Jill together again is just the start of the fan service. The first section of Lost in Nightmares bears a strong resemblance to the Arklay mansion seen in Resident Evil 1 (and parts of Resident Evil: Code Veronica). Want piano-playing puzzles, password hunting, lock unlocking, and crank-turning back in your Resident Evil? Well, you've got it, with a fair amount of self-referential banter to boot. Lost in Nightmares also plays a lot like old Resident Evil. Check the entrance three times, and the game's camera reverts to the strategically placed, predetermined style of Resident Evil 1 to 3 (for the opening areas only). This opening area also places a definitive emphasis on foreboding atmosphere, quiet moments, and an overarching sense of uncertainty. Take all the complaints you've heard longtime Resident Evil fans lay onto the feel of Resident Evil 5 (too much noise, bright light, explosions, set pieces, etc.) and throw them into reverse. That's Lost in Nightmares. When it comes to style, tone, and flavor, it's pretty much the anti-Resident Evil 5.
I say "pretty much" because the one major gameplay change introduced in Resident Evil 5 -- the required co-op (with either a computer-controlled or human-controlled partner) -- remains intact. Just like in the main campaign of Resident Evil 5, playing Lost in Nightmares alone and playing it with a friend are very different experiences. While with a human, being separated from your partner adds to the fear, anxiety, and sense of desperation that the game aims to evoke. When you're playing with a computer-controlled partner, your A.I. buddy will frequently ruin scares, play interesting parts of the game for you (so you won't have to?) and generally make things less fun.
I'd say that they should have done away with co-op all together, but I can't deny that it is really fun when played with a friend. To make co-op optional really would have required everything to be designed in two completely different ways, which is more than one could ask of some DLC. Instead, the game relies on co-op from beginning to end. The campaign is basically split into four parts: an atmosphere-focused opening area; a cramped, combat-driven prison zone; a weapons-free, evasion-focused dilapidated sewer; and a QTE-infused final boss fight against Wesker. All these areas require near-constant cooperation with your partner. Again, that works great when you're actually playing with a friend, but when the game is playing itself for you, the fun starts to go out the window.
I understand that since Capcom went with the co-op thing in the original Resident Evil 5, they've sort of got to stick with it for this DLC campaign. What I don't understand is why they only went part of the way with bringing the game back to its zombie-loving roots. Lost in Nightmares features two different types of "regular" enemies, and yes, zombies are one of the two. The problem is, these are the Resident Evil 5 zombies that just sort of lie around looking dead(er) until you get within arm's length. Then they grab you, requiring a bit of left analog stick waggling, until you're cut loose. After that, one bullet will put them down. No crowds of shambling, hard-to-kill zombies of past Resident Evil games here -- just a few sleepy undead that are more of a nuisance than a threat.
The real enemies of the game don't feel all that new at all, though they definitely look original. They stalk and attack the player much in the style of the one-hit-killing executioner enemies of the game's main campaign, but they offer much more in the way of bulging arm-eyeballs and spurts of acid blood. Probably the best thing about them is how unpredictable their appearances are. My first time through Lost in Nightmares, I didn't run into one in the first area, but the second time through, I bumped into one in the middle of a previously safe hallway. Beyond the occasional surprise appearance, these "new" enemies don't do anything too different. You're only likely to bump into nine or ten of them throughout the game, and while they certainly add a much-needed sense of danger, they won't do much to you that you haven't already seen before.
Along with the Lost in Nightmares campaign, this DLC package also includes the ability to play as Resident Evil 1's Barry Burton and Resident Evil 5's Excella Gionne in a new version of the Mercenaries mode called "Mercenaries Reunion." Personally, I loved the Mercenaries mode in Resident Evil 5 even more than the campaign. Being allowed to play either cooperatively or in true single-player mode makes for a much better game, and that's what Mercenaries mode offers. Though the maps and gameplay are the same in "Mercenaries Reunion," Barry and Excella do a lot to make things feel fresh.
Barry has a slew of new hand-to-hand attacks (including a decapitating headbutt and a goofy punch attack called "Barry Sandwich"), and Excella packs weapons that make her the perfect assist partner in co-op games. She comes equipped with a grenade launcher loaded with flashbang rounds, which don't do any damage themselves but are perfect for freezing a group of enemies in place, allowing Barry to headbutt the crap out of them one by one. I expected that these two bonus characters would be unfulfilling re-skins of Sheva and Chris, but instead, Capcom has gone and made Mercenaries mode feel as fresh and addictive as it did when I first unlocked it on the disc last year.
Pound-for-pound, I enjoyed Lost in Nightmares more than the main campaign of Resident Evil 5. It's not really that far from the original Resident Evil 5 in terms of objective quality, but the overall change in style goes a long way towards making it a more memorable experience. All the effort Capcom put into making Lost in Nightmares feel like a "classic" Resident Evil game, as well as the copious amounts of fan service, make this mini-campaign act almost like an apology for the less admirable aspects of Resident Evil 5. That said, this DLC doesn't quite go all the way with the apology, and that's a little disappointing. Without "real" zombies as enemies and a true single-player mode, Lost in Nightmares feels halfhearted at times, like Resident Evil 5 impersonating Resident Evil 1, as opposed to truly leaving its failings behind. It's also worth mentioning that fans of the explosion-packed, majini-on-dirt-bikes, Redfield-on-steroids craziness of Resident Evil 5's on-disc content may be disappointed with the deliberate, slow-paced, normal-size-arm adventure found here.
All quibbles aside, Lost in Nightmares still does a lot to correct the things that I didn't like about Resident Evil 5, and I hope it's an indicator for where they may take the series in the future. More of Barry Burton headbutting Saddam Hussein look-a-likes until their faces explode would be a good thing.
Score: 8 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)