Wednesday, April 6, 2011

RE5: Lost in Nightmares DLC

One of the reasons I wanted to use 'Level-minded' in the name of this silly little blog of mine is because I wanted to talk about individual levels in games, rather than focusing on entire games the way review sites do. In the modern era, that's going to mean talking about DLC a lot of the time; now that we're mostly out of the Horse Armor era, you're often buying new, bite-sized portions of games. That's the case with 'Lost in Nightmares,' the first of the two additional episodes for Resident Evil 5, and the one I'll be talking about today. As is always the case with my blog, expect spoilers.

Early on in RE5, you learn that Chris Redfield has guilt issues concerning the fate of his late partner, series fave Jill Valentine. During a routine investigation into the sordid history of the Umbrella Corp., Jill took a header through the window of a cliff-side mansion and fell to her presumed death. We see all this through flashbacks as Chris tells his new partner Sheva about what happened to Jill, and over the course of the game he broods that something similar will happen to Sheva.

But what really happened on that earlier mission with Jill? 'Lost in Nightmares' is a new playable chapter that serves to answer that question. In actual fact, there aren't any real answers here -- the chapter begins with Chris and Jill entering the mansion and ends with Jill going through the window, so as far as information goes there's not much new. The real draw here is the gameplay, and for long-time fans of Resident Evil it absolutely should not be missed.

The reason for that is that 'Lost in Nightmares' is a complete throwback in feel to the earliest games in the series. The starting location is extremely similar to the mansion from the first Resident Evil, and the gameplay there is completely unlike that in the original RE5 campaign: you're not fighting off hordes of Not Zombies; in fact, there's almost no combat at all. You're moving from room to room, reading creepy documents, collecting passwords and cranks and making your way through an ominous mansion. Watching the doors slowly open from a first person perspective is itself a throwback to the early games, and there's even more.

In what feels like a love letter to series fans, here's a hilarious easter egg: when you first enter the mansion, turn around and examine the door. Then examine it again, and the description will change to '?'. Examine the question mark and the camera angle will change! Gone is the over-the-shoulder viewpoint of Resident Evil 4 and RE5. In its place? The static camera angles of the first games in the series! You can then play the mansion section of 'Lost in Nightmares' in the old style. Eventually the story takes you into the basement and the old style camera angles go away, but it's incredibly cute that it was included. In all honesty you probably won't want to play through in the old style more than once, since the Score Stars hidden throughout the mansion can be impossible to see with the old camera angles.

Once you drop into the basement, the sense of tension that has been building is finally paid off with your first encounter with a new enemy type: the Guardian of Insanity.

A Guardian of Insanity, fresh off his beauty contest win
These guys move slowly and deliberately, hauling that huge anchor behind them, and can deal massive damage with it. They can also lift you up and insta-kill you if your partner doesn't come to your aid quickly enough. Their perception radius is fairly low, but when they see you there's a musical sting and their pursuit is accompanied by scary, driving music. Their weakpoint is a tiny eye on their backs, and just when you get used to attacking them with your weapons, 'Lost in Nightmares' takes your weapons away and traps you in an area with a number of these guys that varies based on your difficulty level. On Veteran level I had to figure out how to use the environment to defeat four of them; on Amateur you only have to tangle with one.

Once you figure out the puzzle it's not so tough, but there are clever wrinkles to change up each subsequent encounter. The Guardians of Insanity make for tense and frightening battles, just what I want from Resident Evil. The Internets tell me that on higher difficulties they can even show up in the mansion section, before you drop down into the basement!

At the end of 'Lost in Nightmares,' after you escape from the Guardians, you arrive at the final battle... a trick battle with Wesker. What is it with RE5 that requires us to always face this guy in puzzle battles? It's less annoying than some of his fights in the original RE5 campaign, but it's still not that fun. You need to force him into situations where he can be countered with melee Quick Time Events. Luckily there's a three minute timer, so you just need to outlast him, but there's an achievement in it for you if you deal enough damage to him.

On the whole 'Lost in Nightmares' doesn't add a great deal to the storyline, but it's a must-play for fans of the original series because of its atmosphere and mood. It's also pretty inexpensive at $5, and I'll be playing through it at the start of all my RE5 playthroughs from now on.

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