Critical reception of Resident Evil 5 was across the board. One particular observation I whole heartedly agreed with centered on its apparent genre reclassification. Resident Evil 5, a serious knowing for pioneering survival/horror, had been into a pure action game. Gameplay issues aside, my chief disappointment with the game arrived with its inability to create tension. The sense of dread so prevalent in previous games, along with the perquisite scares and chilling atmosphere, was absent and, in their place, were tentacle monsters and blasé art work. I still enjoyed playing through the whole game, but it simply didn't grab me like the Resident Evils of old.
First a few facts, as this is kind of a weird release. Lost in Nightmares is currently available as a $5.00 download on the Playstation Network and Live Arcade. Later this month, it will be packaged (with previously and yet-to-be released DLC) as Resident Evil 5: Gold Edition. The DLC requires you to have a Resident Evil 5 disc in order to play, is available off the start menu, and the campaign does not feature a save function.
Lost in Nightmares is complete fan service. Placing Jill and Chris in the Spencer Mansion, an event shown briefly in flashbacks during 5's campaign, was an easy play to inject a clean 200cc's of nostalgia directly into my tender heart. Yeah, sure, it's not the mansion from the original, but its design is close enough to hit you with a wave of flashbacks the moment you set foot inside. With eerie orchestrated music, camera pans that obscure focus, and perfectly timed sound effects, Capcom did well to replicate the haunted house mood. The mansion is rendered beautifully, and it's full of unsettling visuals and things that go bump in the night (I don't want to spoil it, obviously, but an early instance not unlike the "dog windows" made me drop my controller). Smaller touches, like journal entries, a secret fixed camera presentation, a couple in-jokes, and the door-opening animations seemed to be designed with the older fan base in mind.
The more exploration focused gameplay in the mansion also harkens back to the abstract puzzle days of old. For the first act, combat is exchanged for emblems, cranks, locked doors, and passwords. Progression was kept on a fairly linear path and there was never a time where I was lost or without a clue of what I should be doing. It's short and sweet (all of Lost In Nightmares took a little over an hour of my time) and, when you really think about it, designed with minimal effort. The focus here wasn’t so much iterating on RE5 as it was creating a nostalgic overload of mood and atmosphere, and, in that regard, Capcom nailed it.
The second act of the content was reserved for a couple combat sequences. Lost in Nightmares bottlenecks you through a couple corridors and miscellaneous underground decay, but eventually gives way to a fairly intricate sewer network. You also manage to lose your weapons at that point, which sets up a fairly elaborate cat and mouse puzzle you must complete to make it to through to the end game. Again, much like the mansion sequence, it's a fairly simple challenge, but it succeeds at creating a tense and fun atmosphere.
For Humans Only
Complaints are mostly the same holdovers from Resident Evil 5 proper. Having played through the original campaign with a friend, I was ignorant of the failings of an AI partner. Playing with AI this time around, even with only a handful of combat scenarios, frustrated me to the point of verbalized rage. It was bad enough that I had to remove Jill's handgun ammo from her inventory in order to make her run out of bullets and switch to her machine gun, but then trying to babysit her during the boss encounter was simply inexcusable. Without giving too much away, the fight (lifted almost directly from RE:5) required you to wait for the boss to do a particular action, and then react with a quick-time-event button press when he made his move. This required me to put some distance between myself and the boss, which was all but impossible with the AI trailing behind and getting her ass kicked at every instance. Even on normal difficulty, the random nature of the bosses' move set combined with the ridiculous AI rendered victory a matter of a luck rather than skill. It sucked, quite frankly.
While the campaign is mercifully short (and appropriately priced at five bucks), there are a few reasons to play it over again. Collectables are abound, and enemy placement differs on the two higher difficulties. Trying to s-rank every measured score at the end of the campaign can be challenging as well, but another meaty portion of content arrives with a few new additions to the Mercenaries mode. Excella joins the cast and adds a guilty sense of style to otherwise brutal mechanics, and Barry Burton arrives and is, well, Barry Burton. Rebecca Chambers can be unlocked along with a few new costumes for existing characters, but the difference to the score based Mercs mode are all cosmetic. It's fun, but it's all fluff.