If you haven’t had the viewing pleasure of The Shawshank Redemption, avoid the first paragraph. Movie spoilers ahead.
Andy Dufrane’s escape from Shawshank prison was pretty desperate; I don’t think you could argue otherwise. After years of physical torment and having survived the daily trudge of prison life, painstakingly carving a tunnel from his cell underneath the prison and then crawling through miles of sewage pipes and claustrophobic tunnels to eventually emerge, exhausted and dirtier than 2am television on a Friday night as a free man; that is desperate.
In comparison Jill Valentine and Josh Stone’s escape is fairly docile. Picking up after Chris and Sheva leave Jill to pursue evildoer Albert Wesker on his plight to unleash Uroboros onto the world, with Josh turning up inexplicably to satisfy the co-op part, Desperate Escape begins with some uncomfortably contrived banter about “the lovely Miss Valentine”. Thankfully it doesn’t last long.
Desperate Escape is set during the final third of the campaign, bringing with it the forgettable metallic environments and curiously accurate zombie soldiers. It follows in its footsteps admirably, you’ll move from one area to another, stockpiling ammo for the limited selection of weapons while trying to survive the endless barrage of the undead. Some have shock batons, others assault rifles. Some have body armour. You’ve seen them all before. By dismissing the bold steps taken with Lost Nightmares this episode is all action and bullets and kind of feels like it should have come first to avoid the jarring sensation of reverting back to the less cerebral style of gameplay.
Just like in Lost Nightmares you’re stripped of all the weapons and items you amassed through the main campaign. That makes sense, of course, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the game is more fun when you’re using your preferred weapons. Rather than taking advantage of some of the exotic weapons like the bolt-action rifle or catastrophic and equally entertaining Hydra shotgun, the limited array of guns are all textbook by nature. The MP5 is great for sweeping a shuffling mass of corpses off their feet but there’s no class to it, no expertise and no grisly headshot-esque indulgence at the end of it. The lack of toys wasn’t an issue in Lost in Nightmares because the emphasis had shifted away from incessant combat and onto the hunter and hunted syndrome that epitomised earlier Resident Evil games, but here it adds to the overall sense that this is little else but more of the same.
You’ll spend the first few minutes battling through a series of short confined areas, collecting keys and weapons and, in opposite fashion to the mansion visit, fighting an almost ceaseless wave of zombies with some of the more formidable variations arriving to the party early on. A fight with two of the chainsaw Majini evokes memories of some of the finer moments from the main game but by now they’re too familiar and the ominous coughing of a revving chainsaw is lost with that sense of all knowing. You know, shoot them in the face a few times. Far from the tension and psychological menace haunting the Spencer Mansion, brought about largely due to the new and inventive creature, the relentless gunplay and characterless backdrop of Desperate Escape is far less absorbing.
The main crux of the episode is spent in an expansive compound that, fittingly, blocks your getaway. It’s riddled with huge doors that require explosive force to open so you’ll brawl your way up to the usefully placed rocket turrets taking advantage of the plentiful supply of explosive barrels and ammo. Did I mention there’s plenty of shooting? I played through with a friend and had the achievement for cutting 150 lives short before the finale, that doesn’t take into account the kills my partner clocked. While that leaves plenty of room for a flamboyant menu of bullet fodder, there’s none of the shock-factor that arrived with the lumbering giant from Lost in Nightmares.
There’s fun to be had though and it begins when you reach the rooftop evacuation point; it’s the only moment of true desperation in the hour-long chapter. You’re pitted against an overwhelming onslaught – a greatest hits of Resident Evil 5 enemies in a sort of primitive attack and defend scenario and you’re definitely on the defensive. There are a couple of elevated areas and a lift that serves up a delicious offering of face-pounding foes, the chainsaw Majini and the executioner to name a couple. With ammo in limited supply it’s Resident Evil doing what it does best, that fretful desperation (aided by the timer), the sense of just hanging on and that death could be at the climax of the next frantic slow-motion reload. Frequent quips from the helicopter pilot who’s always ‘almost there’ exasperate the situation and with deranged enemies pouring into the incisively cramped building-top from every angle it is to Desperate Escape what the cat and mouse labyrinth was to Lost in Nightmares.
Unlike that offering though, Desperate Escape’s finest moments are over in just seven minutes, seven minutes that are considerably more gratifying than the tenuous journey beforehand but ultimately, the lightning-paced finale can’t support the entire hour.