Time To Go Our Separate Ways?

Monday 25 September 2023

There is a weird thing going on with almost all main DLC's from the latest Resident Evil games, including Resident Evil 7, Resident Evil: Village and the latest Resident Evil 4 remake, that makes them feel and look like alternative versions of the main games with different protagonists. But in the specific context, this is not always a good thing: they give the impression that most of their parts had been considered as possible episodes of the core games that were then sort of reduced for whatever reason to be included in the downloadable content chapters. "End of Zoe" from Resident Evil 7 might have been a slight exception, and I say "slight" because even if it was very good, it had us play with a protagonist who, albeit fairly cool and fun, had never been mentioned or appeared once in the main game. "Not a Hero", again from Resident Evil 7, was a frustrating race with Chris Redfield as a lead struggling in almost every step, with never enough items to go through extremely difficult areas and battles, in the end fighting against an enemy who should have been part of the main game anyway. "Shadows of Rose" from Resident Evil: Village had some interesting elements, but it lacked a believable plot base, resulting in giving strong "what if" vibes instead of being a solid, independent story. And now the highly anticipated, new and revamped "Separate Ways" from Resident Evil 4's remake is one more addition to this bizarre list of DLC's.

"Separate Ways" was initially an extended side game stemming from the original Resident Evil 4, with Ada Wong as the protagonist, where we followed our favorite lady spy in her own mission in the hostile Spanish countryside where the main game also took place. Ada would arrive in familiar areas of the core story, either before or after Leon, and she would sometimes offer a helping hand, even without him knowing. In spite of Ada's spy status, which by the way could have been put to even better use by applying stealth mechanics to her gameplay, the original mission moved in a similar pace with the main game, feeling at times a bit too much for Ada and her way of dealing with things. But this was part of the challenge anyway; the mini game was very well set up and executed, and never felt repetitive or dull although we were called to battle the same kinds of enemies and the same bosses (albeit in different forms, in Saddler's case).

The revamped "Separate Ways" is a different story, however. After a promising and intriguing entrance, with Luis performing flamenco in a prison cell and Ada rescuing him from execution at just the last minute, things start to progressively change. An annoying mysterious enemy makes his appearance, infecting Ada with his claw and we are forced to fight him at that extremely early stage with our very limited and weak resources. Ada begins to experience weird hallucinations caused by the infection, that severely affect her battling skills. We understand that this enemy, called for the time being 'The Black Robe' (because he is sporting a fancy black robe literally, and by the way it turns out he is a familiar "face": he is the other guardian, besides Verdugo, who, in the main game, accompanies Salazar in his dramatic appearances), will be stalking us for quite a while, because he is not exactly dead after that first fight is over. 

Either alone or with Luis for very brief segments, Ada goes through several familiar environments of the main game, but we are also introduced to new areas, an addition that is, in fact, the best and most memorable part of the DLC. The Castle, in particular, is a fantastic stage, what with its new puzzles and treasure-packed rooms (although said treasures are just for admiration, and we cannot take them with us), but unfortunately this does not last for long: the Black Robe appears for a last time, now as a boss in full swing, and it is revealed to be the infamous U3 from the original main game, an enemy that was left out of the remake and now we get to know why. Then Ada, having freed herself from the infection by putting her attacker to sleep for good and spitting out its germ, rushes for the island, now for a new mission that Wesker who, incidentally, shows up in person in the side game's remake, assigns to her. Wesker intends to blow up the island, but Ada disobeys his orders and instead of setting up the fatal explosion, just like he told her, she instead prepares a series of blasts that will not happen at the same time (or at all), so as to give Leon time to escape with Ashley. While on the Island, Ada discovers a secret experiment base and a fierce monster - another impressive addition which also links Wesker to the story even more. Thankfully we do not have to fight this monster, "just" run for our lives the few times that it appears, but we get an idea of what was really going on there under Wesker's all-seeing eye.

Although the revamped side game is well made as a whole and has its fair share of interesting and challenging moments, after a while it starts feeling rather sluggish and forced. Sometimes it looks like Ada cares more about how to pose herself and much less about what is happening around her. The boss fights are quite stressing and weird-looking, especially those with our known enemies. The Gigante sequence in the village and the U3 battle in the Castle feel like diminished, toy versions of the ones in the main game's remake and the original Resident Evil 4 respectively. Not that they are easy, because they are not; especially the U3 fight requires a lot of skill and cunning, but because they are relatively toned down and somehow limited overall, they seem like the treats that kids are offered in order to be tricked into believing that they are being given a fantastic present. 

That said, although the U3 part in the original was one that I loved to hate, it was an iconic and highly challenging sequence in Leon's story, and therefore not a good idea to take it away, let alone to put it in Separate Ways as one more boss fight for Ada. I also didn't like the fact that the title of the achievement that you gain for defeating U3 is one of the most characteristic lines that Saddler directs at Leon in the original. Which reminds me of the emblematic laser corridor that, again, was one of Leon's shining moments in the original game and not only it was left out of his story in the remake but it too was given to Ada. And unfortunately these are not the only instances of iconic moments / sequences that were part of the original main game and now were included in Ada's mission. The gondola part, the pounding pistons, the insect-inhabited flooded waterway in the Castle that you need to unflood so as to proceed, Bitores grabbing Leon from the neck as he opens the door in his mansion (I know there is a similar sequence in the remake, but the one in "Separate Ways" is literally a replica of the original's scene with Leon), even a couple of Leon's iconic one-liners, all so deeply connected to the classic game's plot, were now lightheartedly left out; which we knew already of course since we have already played the remake, but now we see they were not just left out, but they were also implemented in Ada's story. While at the same time a unique segment from the original "Separate Ways", the sequence with Saddler's battleship, was completely left out of its remake.

In her revised standalone mission, Ada seems a bit lost and, at times, out of place. She relies on Luis to get her the Amber, she relies on Leon to keep insanely strong enemies busy and away from her, and although her own path is filled with danger and challenge, most of the times she is more of an observer and less of someone actually doing something to push the action further. This was expected to happen in the main game, but not in her own adventure. What she does mostly depends on what other people have done before her, and with her overall "ennui" kind of attitude she gives the impression that she is not 100% there and focused on her mission, although her determination does shoot up in the final scene, where she appears to completely disregard Wesker's plans by ordering the pilot of her helicopter to change course at gunpoint. The fact that Ada is bored and eventually not as effective is highlighted by Wesker's obvious dismay and disappointment every time something doesn't go according to plan. We know our beloved arch-villain is a paranoid perfectionist, but to be fair, he is not exactly overreacting in this case. 

From a technical and structural point of view, the revamped "Separate Ways" has a lot of good moments, with flowing gameplay and nice surprises. Ada's grappling attacks are fantastic and it's a pity we don't get the chance to make use of them more often and not strictly in specific and prompted quick time events and moves. The search for the three ingredients in the Castle and the puzzles involving them are among the highlights of the whole mission and the full game as well. Luis's inclusion in the story as an active partner is a great plus, although I still wish an extra episode with him as lead was released, showing his path in the adventure, possibly including an earlier encounter with Krauser in the Castle grounds.

Speaking of Krauser, Ada has no interaction with him in this new version, which also means there is no boss fight with him in her story. This was kind of expected, since in the main game's remake she doesn't encounter him at all, and it is Luis instead of her who is present in Leon's knife fight with his former mentor, and the one who subsequently saves him from a fatal hit from Krauser. It is a change that not only makes more sense, as Luis is far more connected to Leon's story in the game than Ada, therefore his role in how Leon's encounter with Krauser plays out is far more important and determinant, but also aids the plot in that, as we see in the end, Wesker leaves the island with Krauser's infected body so as to examine the virus that it carried and see how he could possibly take advantage of the strain's potential, like he did in Antarctica, where he escaped with Steve Burnside's infected body in "Code Veronica". That scene could also imply that Krauser is not really dead for good or that maybe Wesker had the means to "resurrect" him somehow. This is Resident Evil, after all; death is never that simple in its universe.

The revamped "Separate Ways" is an averagely good side game with some fairly nice moments but also marginally disappointing at times, with several weaknesses that have to do, on the one hand, with the fact that so many iconic elements from the original main game were implemented here, as if in an attempt to make "Separate Ways" look more grand because it would probably feel inadequate on its own, and on the other with the limited development of its lead character. The road that Ada takes in this new version of her story is so distant that she nearly separates herself from the whole plot. But maybe this was done on purpose; her solitary path fits her spy persona and helps her watch things from a distance and plan her moves accordingly. Maybe this is how she should have appeared from the start, and in this sense her mission's remake was what her story needed to be properly narrated. I have said it many times in the past and I will say it again: Ada needs a game of her own. She has been in the shadows for too long. But something completely her own, not comprised of great moments from other characters' storylines.

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