Thursday, October 8, 2020

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard DLC (Banned Footage Vol. 1 and 2 + Not A Hero + End of Zoe)

When I first played Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, I was aware of the additional Banned Footage DLC that came out after the game’s launch. However, I wasn’t willing to spend $25 at the time to play them and wouldn’t get a chance myself until the Gold Edition re-release had them, plus End of Zoe, on the disc. As part of my deep dive into Resident Evil 7 for a proper review, I naturally revisited the game's DLC, but did so in rough chronological order. Since this was a second playthrough, it actually worked out pretty well.

In Nightmare, the player must survive several waves of Molded and keep Jack Baker at bay until 5AM. As this is a survival mode, you start with only a knife and some scrap metal to craft weapons, items and upgrades. You gain more scrap metal over time from a compactor in the room you start out in, but you must wait to manually gather what it makes. It’s possible to turn on more compactors for more scrap metal, but you’ll have to craft a Corrosive to access the door required to do so. Traps can also ward off Molded, though they won’t last forever.

From my experience with this mode, I learned that you can’t lean on one gun for too long, since it gradually costs more scrap to craft additional ammo. Also, while waiting for the Molded to come to you works for maybe the first hour, moving around and risking your safety is necessary to stay on top of things. It’s also easy to get sucked into this mode for hours, since your cumulative score across all sessions grants increasingly better rewards. As a side note, I also briefly thought of Five Nights at Freddy’s due to a combination of having to hold out until a specific time and starting out in a small room with a desk fan.

As for the story, there isn’t much plot outside of the setup where Jack Baker locks Sewer Gators cameraman Clancy Jarvis in the basement to die to the Molded. For those who care about continuity, however, this takes place after the events of the Kitchen demo.

After the events of Nightmare, Clancy is caught by Marguerite Baker and handcuffed to a bed. As he struggles, Marguerite comes in with some of her “home cooking” and tells him that to become part of their family, he just has to eat. After she leaves, Clancy devises a way to escape without alerting her.

This DLC is set up like an escape room, as there are a limited number of objects in the room and interacting with them a certain way and in the right order ensures Clancy’s safety. If you inevitably make too much noise, however, Marguerite will make her way up to the bedroom. When this happens, you have a little time, starting from one minute to as little as 40 seconds, to put everything back the way you found it. If Marguerite senses something is different about the room, you’ll take damage, but can only take three hits before it’s game over.

What makes Bedroom interesting is how it puts your puzzle-solving and memory skills to the test while also doubling as a VR escape room if you choose to play that way. Staying locked in a small room also maintains a level of tension that heightens the sense of urgency to escape. However, once you figure out the one solution to the room, the replay value is lost outside of maybe going for a speedrun.

Banned Footage Vol. 1 caps off with the non-canon Ethan Must Die, a high-difficulty game mode where you must survive by your wits until you can defeat Marguerite Baker in her mutated form. The difficulty of this mode comes from not only starting out with just the knife, but also the randomized nature of the placement and contents of items boxes, as well as enemy spawn points. From further research, the item and enemy placements are pseudo-random, since players have mapped their potential locations, but the uncertainty of what you’ll get keeps you on your toes.

Another complication is the lack of checkpoints. If you die, you have to start all over from the beginning and a statue is left at your point of furthest progress. Should you reach this statue and destroy it, it will drop one random item from your previous inventory.

When I revisited this mode, I realized it wasn’t really my thing, but I could see the appeal for those who wanted more of just the action side of Resident Evil 7, since this captures it perfectly. It also provides even more of a challenge, which encourages players to keep playing and continually improve their survival skills for when they return to the main game.

In 21, Clancy has successfully escaped from Marguerite Baker in the events of Bedroom, but it isn’t long before he’s knocked out by Lucas Baker. He later awakens to find his hand strapped in a finger guillotine. Another victim, Hoffman, sits across from him, but before Clancy can process what’s going on, Lucas appears on a TV and tells them to play a round of 21 with their fingers at stake. While Clancy simply wants to escape the Baker house, Hoffman wants to see his wife and daughter again.

Unlike every other game mode, 21 doesn’t feature the standard Resident Evil 7 mechanics and is, instead, a turn-based card game. The rules are similar to Blackjack, but with one main difference. Rather than a full 52-card deck, this deck only features cards numbered 1 through 11 with no doubles. Starting from the second round, Clancy and Hoffman also have access to Trump Cards, which apply special effects such as drawing certain cards, discarding cards, destroying Trump Cards or increasing the opponent’s bet. Additionally, the bet for each player increases incrementally by one between hands.

21’s setup and presentation strongly reminded me of the Saw series, which still fit the nature of Lucas’ character. As such, however, this mode was gorier than the rest of the Banned Footage modes and, at least on my most recent playthrough, was a little nauseating. The story was also very twisty and gets you to hate Lucas even more through his increasingly over-the-top methods to extend the game and attempts to kill Clancy no matter what. Just when it seems it’s all over, however, the ending throws in one final twist to hammer home just how messed up the whole situation is and hints at Clancy’s ultimate fate within the main game.

The Daughters campaign is set before everything else related to Resident Evil 7, showing Zoe’s first night in the Baker house after Eveline is recovered by her parents on the farm. Though the experience is rather short and mostly scripted, it does a great job at maintaining the atmosphere of the main game and showing a normal family’s quick descent into complete insanity. Replay value is also encouraged through the two different endings, with the True Ending requiring some additional steps and paying more attention to the environment. Resources are also quite limited and where you choose to use the lone Lock Pick in the house is crucial.

If there’s only one complaint, however, it’s that the timeline is inconsistent with the main game. In Resident Evil 7, you can find files that explain the gradual transformation the Bakers went through as they went mad, hinting that it took at least several weeks. However, Daughters implies that it happened in only one night, which only raises further questions about the infection.

Like the previous DLC set, Banned Footage Vol. 2 ends with an extra non-canon game mode, this time the decidedly more light-hearted Jack’s 55th Birthday. The setup is that it’s Jack’s birthday, but he wants food instead of presents and has Mia Winters go get him some from throughout the house.

There are six stages, which are set in different areas of the Baker house and have food placed in pre-determined locations. In the starting room is an item box where Mia can equip various guns, ammo, med kits and skills to help defend herself. As you go to collect food, you can also shoot Molded that spawn in each room to temporarily stop a timer that counts down. However, Mia can still die in this mode and has a visible health bar in the lower right corner. When you successfully bring food back to Jack, a meter at the top of the screen will fill up a certain amount depending on the quality of the food.

One additional complication is that food takes up inventory space. While this means food items can be crafted, it also means that it takes up the same inventory slots as other items. As such, success depends on how well you can balance bringing enough to survive with leaving enough room for food. If you’re good enough to get a high grade, from C to SS, you’ll also unlock additional stages and rewards to help make increasing your grade easier. Though I only played enough to get the gist of it, I recognize that it’s rather easy to sink in at least a couple hours trying to see everything while also obtaining the best times and equipment.

Banned Footage Vol. 1 and 2 add a good amount of variety to an already fantastic game. Not all of these new modes really hit it out of the park, but some of them still contribute to the story and it’s interesting to see Capcom experiment with the core style of Resident Evil 7 while having a little fun with it. If you already liked the main game, you’ll certainly find something to like here.

But wait, there's more!

Around the release of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Capcom released two final pieces of DLC, Not A Hero and End of Zoe. Of the two, Not A Hero suffered major delays, originally scheduled for a Spring 2017 release but then launching on December 12, 2017 alongside Resident Evil 7: Biohazard Gold Edition. This delay wouldn’t be as significant, however, if the main game didn’t originally end with an ad featuring the original intended launch window. Though it did release for free, as promised, it didn’t make it onto the Gold Edition disc, unlike End of Zoe.

Right after the events of Resident Evil 7, BSAA agent Chris Redfield is sent by the reformed Blue Umbrella into the Abercrombie Salt Mine to apprehend Lucas Baker and thwart an attempt to send critical intel to The Connections. However, Chris’ mission goes from bad to worse when he has a surprise run-in with Lucas and has a bomb strapped to his wrist. Chris stays determined to complete his mission, but must survive Lucas’ deadly traps to do so.

In the span of about 90 minutes, Not A Hero ties up a major loose end of the story, the disappearance of Lucas Baker, while introducing Blue Umbrella, the Umbrella Corporation reformed as a PMC, and the group The Connections, who were responsible for Eveline from the main game. The story doesn’t do much else, however, so it feels like more of an epilogue. Considering the DLC was free, however, I suppose that’s as good as anyone could expect.

Unlike the main game, this DLC also features more overt ties to the Resident Evil timeline. There’s enough material to take a step forward in the overall story while also setting up the background for the next game, which will likely expand on both Blue Umbrella and The Connections.

Gameplay is similar to the main game, though it’s noticeably more action-oriented, feeling more like an FPS than a survival horror. It doesn’t help that Chris’ weapon selection is rather small, with one pistol, one semi-automatic shotgun, a knife and three types of grenades, nor the fact that you start off with all weapons already equipped. There’s even a much slicker HUD courtesy of the Umbrella OS installed in Chris’ helmet, where interactions with characters are also projected. This makes sense from a story perspective, since Chris is a heavily-armed agent even before he starts his assignment, but it can certainly feel like a departure from the main story’s emphasis on finding everything you need to survive.

The HUD is much slicker than the main game.

Just because Not A Hero changed the approach, however, that doesn’t mean it didn’t add anything new. When Molded are staggered, Chris can now get up close and follow up with a punch, which won’t waste any ammo (a good move considering it’s mapped to the Fire button). At times, the player may need to keep an eye on Chris’ oxygen levels, which deplete quickly without a special filter. Speaking of which, there are three areas Chris can explore off a central hub, each requiring or providing special equipment, like an Oxygen filter or night vision attachment, to proceed further. There’s also a new white Molded variant that requires special RAMROD pistol ammo to take down, or at least allow you to damage it with regular weapons.

As a free add-on, Not A Hero retains the same graphical quality as Biohazard. However, total darkness is now a thing and both Chris’ helmet HUD and night vision are easy to look at. Environments also still look great and are easy to read, not to mention the white mold looks impressively detailed, though minor texture loading is still an issue, most noticeably on the bird cages in the central hub area. Facial animations also still looked slightly off.

One final piece of DLC, End of Zoe, launched on the same day as Not A Hero and was included for free on the Gold Edition release of Biohazard.

After Ethan Winters saved his wife, Mia, Zoe Baker is calcified by Eveline, but survives. Weeks later, Blue Umbrella arrives to aid Zoe and cure her infection. However, Joe Baker, Zoe’s uncle and Jack’s brother, finds Zoe and knocks out the soldiers, believing they were responsible for her condition. Now it’s up to Joe to find the cure while preventing the mysterious Swamp Man from taking Zoe away.

Though not too much happens in the grand scheme of things, End of Zoe finally caps off the Resident Evil 7 storyline while firmly establishing that saving Mia during the main game was, in fact, the canon choice. Introducing Joe Baker and his past with Jack Baker adds more worldbuilding and the remaining loose ends from Not A Hero are fully resolved. More specifically, Zoe’s fate is finally shown, Ethan has kept his promise to her and Jack Baker’s side of the story is resolved once and for all. Unfortunately, the plot only occurs because Joe accidentally screwed up Blue Umbrella’s rescue mission, meaning the entire scenario is his own fault.

Joe Baker is protective of his family.

End of Zoe is also more action-oriented than the main game, as well as linear to point there are no branching paths, but doesn’t feature any firearms (outside of an unlockable shotgun). Instead, Joe Baker’s primary weapons are his bare fists, which prove more than capable of taking on Molded through building quick combos. He can also perform stealth kills by sneaking up on unsuspecting Molded and there’s even a prompt that pops up when he’s in range.

Naturally, Joe can find plenty of items and other weapons to increase his chances against the Molded. Boxer Effigies and Champion Effigies increase the power of Joe’s punches by 1% and 5% respectively, plus the effect stacks for each one you collect. Instead of Herbs, Joe finds grubs, centipedes and crawfish, collectively listed as Critters in the inventory, that he can eat to regain health, though the player can combine these with Chem Fluid to craft First Aid Meds that otherwise aren’t too plentiful. Throwing Spears allow Joe to snipe an enemy from far away and he can craft more by combining Scrap Metal with Tree Branches lying around. The last item is a Stake Bomb that fires explosive shrapnel when detonated, which Joe can craft with Chem Fluid and Scrap Metal. Though there aren’t too many items, Joe starts off with all 20 inventory slots, leaving plenty of room for collecting what you need.

Joe also gets to fight two new regular enemy types. One, a Double Blade Molded, replaces the Blade Molded from the main game but isn’t obviously stronger. The other finally fulfills an expectation from playing in Louisiana swampland, infected alligators. Gators lie in wait in the muddy swamp water and can easily kill Joe if he’s unprepared, but Throwing Spears work really well against them.

At last, an alligator in Louisiana!

Notably, this campaign is also on the short side, clocking in at just around 90 minutes total. As much as I liked the catharsis of punching Molded in the face, I’m not sure how much the admittedly thin experience could be stretched without including some obvious padding. There’s probably some missed potential in there somewhere, but what we got is just enough to wrap up the story and move on.

As for the audio, I liked that End of Zoe, as well as Not A Hero, maintained the ambient noise angle that the main game strove for. However, End of Zoe saw a noticeable increase in background music, culminating in a more constant triumphant track after Joe obtains a powerful weapon towards the end. This didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the game, but it’s a departure from the atmospheric style that made the original game so terrifying.

Before I end this review, however, I’d like to mention that for whatever reason, accessing the on-disc DLC from Resident Evil 7: Biohazard Gold Edition seemed to hinge on (re-)downloading the free Not a Hero DLC that launched at the same time. Considering that this came out about three years ago, at the time of this writing, I’m amazed this hasn’t been fixed, as it could pose a problem with accessibility in the future.

Not A Hero and End of Zoe aren’t perfect from a gameplay perspective, but they tie up the loose ends from the Resident Evil 7 storyline in a mostly satisfying way. If for no other reason, both pieces of DLC are still worth playing just to see what happened to Zoe and Lucas Baker after they disappeared in the main campaign.

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