There's something about academic research that just makes you really dislike the subject of your study. And since "Lost in Nightmares" and "Desperate Escape" are apt descriptors for how I felt during the preparation stages of my recent pop culture conference presentation on Resident Evil 5, the last thing I wanted to do when I finished said presentation was play the game ever again. But it is a testament to the two new downloadable chapters that they reaffirmed my love for the game.
The first of the two downloadable contents, "Lost in Nightmares," fleshes out a back story only vaguely told through flashbacks in the main game. The chapter is an excellent return to form for the series, simultaneously satirizing and paying homage to the first game in the series–that saw the birth of the survival horror genre.
All the elements are here: cheap scares, puzzles requiring archaic cranks and keys, less than enough ammunition to defeat the monsters, and of course, mounting tension in the guise of journal entries. Granted, it's very short (taking me a little over an hour to play through on "Hard"), but it gave me a renewed inspiration in RE5 as a whole (to see what the developers could have done, rather than boldly taking the series in a new direction) and left me wanting more classic Resident Evil. I promptly went online to download RE2 and jumped right in (which, though I'd never gotten around to it before, had aged very well).
The second DLC takes a wholly different approach. This time filling in the gaps in the story of two secondary characters, "Desperate Escape" embraces the new direction of RE5 by dialing up the intensity to adrenaline pumping proportions. And while the chapter plays out like an extra-long session of the game's arcade-like "Mercenaries" mode, the stakes are greater, as each character is given only the bare minimum of equipment to start with (and only the possibility of randomized upgrades) to face the hordes of zombies.
While the chapter is also short, it's brutal even from the outset, leaving little room for error. Where the core game is generally easier when replacing your AI partner with a human one, this switch seemed to make little difference in "Desperate Escape." Eventually, I was able to beat it, but by myself after a couple of human players bailed on me online. Games like Demon's Souls and RE2 have re-taught me to relish this kind of challenge, and "Desperate Escape" only solidifies that.
As much as I love both of these new chapters, however, I'm nevertheless jealous of gamers who will pick up the game as the Gold Edition–which includes all of the game's DLC. How will it affect their perception of the game to play the "complete" experience? I'd imagine they'll like it better, getting it all at once. This in itself almost makes me appreciate it less. Why didn't these "extra features" get included from the start? RE5 is even shorter than RE4, and even that game came with a bonus chapter telling the story of a secondary character.
But I can't really be upset with the developers over this. After all, this isn't a new practice. Ironically, that novel which I spent the last two months comparing to RE5 (King Solomon's Mines) was first released as a series, only later to get it's own "Gold Edition," complete with revisions and additions of its own.
In the end, I suppose it's only fair for Capcom to take their good game, tweak it, and make it great. And really, that's what "Lost in Nightmares" and "Desperate Escape" do for Resident Evil 5–make it great, make it Gold.
Questions? Quibbles? Controversies?
A Short Summary of my Presentation: "King Solomon's Mines" Are Full of Zombies! Using 19th Century British Lit. to Answer the "Resident Evil 5" Race Debate