Capcom's Resident Evil 4 remake takes one of the greatest games of all time and rebuilds it into a masterpiece that stands right alongside the original. Helpfully, Capcom had excellent source material to work from, which isn't the case for the original's add-on, Separate Ways. Don't get me wrong, Ada Wong's solo outing was a fun excuse to re-enter the dilapidated world of RE4, but the original add-on did little to differentiate its gameplay from the main campaign and didn't make itself essential to the overall experience from a narrative perspective either. The remake of Separate Ways, however, is the opposite, adding several new tools to its core gameplay, shaking up familiar environments with completely new set pieces, and fleshing out the story. Far from being a throwaway add-on, Resident Evil 4 remake's version of Separate Ways makes an already phenomenal game feel even more complete.
The foundation of Separate Ways' premise remains the same as in the original: You step into the high heels of antiheroine Ada Wong and act as a spy to hunt down a biological weapon for longtime Resident Evil antagonist Albert Wesker. Her allegiances, however, are ambiguous, with Ada playing multiple sides in the story, sometimes working against Wesker and assisting Leon on his mission to save the president's daughter Ashley Graham or partnering up with suave biologist Luis Sera. She has a dual motive for nearly everything she does. But this time around, the stakes have been turned up a notch, as Ada is also infected with plagas--the same parasitic disease that's infected the villagers, Leon, and Ashley in the main story. This additional layer gives Ada a stronger motive for working alongside Luis, who is the answer to finding a cure. This, in turn, merits a whole lot more welcomed screen time for our charismatic and ever-charming Spanish biologist too.
As a spy, Ada is equipped with many gadgets that transform the core gameplay, most prominently her grappling hook, which she can use to zipline to higher ground and over obstacles, or to pull herself toward enemies to deliver a badass swirling kick. Additionally, she has access to an augmented-reality implant that allows her to see footsteps or fingerprints, both of which are used to track characters like Luis or reveal button presses, acting as mini-puzzles to bypass locked doors. It's a bespoke gameplay system for Ada that adds an extra wrinkle to her campaign and emphasizes a detective-like quality that we haven't seen in any previous Resident Evil. The inclusion of these mechanics adds much-needed texture to Ada, painting her as the capable and resourceful spy we've always been told she is, but have never seen firsthand. Usually, she appears at the most convenient moments to help another character out or provide a weapon, but now we get to see how she uses her own skills to track characters down and complete missions from the shadows.
As a result of the extra gadgetry, the tone of the game leans unabashedly into its spy aesthetic, using Sean Connery-era Bond twangy guitars to underpin Ada's mission--it makes everything feel cool and suave, which Ada Wong is. Contrary to Leon's one-liner-action-hero demeanor, Ada is reserved, serious, and calculated, which voice actress Lily Gao nails in her performance. There's a dryness in her tone and an imperious air to her delivery. It's a grounded representation of the character that stands out among the melodrama of its other cast, especially Albert Wesker, who seems to be carrying the weight of the franchise's theatrics in every airy line he delivers, and somehow it still works.
Naturally, the emphasis on espionage also brings with it a lot more stealth. Familiar levels from before, like the castle walls, have been redesigned to encourage the player to sneak around and take down ganados methodically. However, at times, its encouragement to employ stealth felt more like a means to bolster its spy-like vibe than serve any purposeful challenge. Too often, enemies were positioned conveniently facing away from me or simply walking in circles, with an obvious blindspot I could enter to take them down. It felt like stealth-on-rails and was unrewarding as a result. But stealth is optional, so you don't have to play it cool and quiet, and you can jump in, knives swinging and guns blazing. The game feels better with that approach, too, as it's where Ada's new abilities shine.
Ada's new ability to grapple toward enemies, which appears as a button prompt when staggering enemies, makes combat feel punchier, more dynamic, and more damn stylish than before. There's an added risk/reward when closing the gap between you and a crowd of ganados, followed by a waltz of gunfire, knife parries, and melee violence. Additionally, the zipline allows for quick traversal out of claustrophobic encounters via prompts scattered all around you. This also opens the door to pitting you against familiar enemies in unfamiliar environments. The hedge maze, for example, was a new combat arena where I could zipline over walls while trying to hunt down one enemy and dodging the grasp of others. The last major addition to Ada's zipline is the ability to yank shields from enemies, which is a skill that comes in the form of a charm that can be purchased from the Merchant. It's reminiscent of Batman's grapple gun in Rocksteady's Arkham games in its ability to rob enemies of their defenses.
Separate Ways also tells a story not explored in the original at all and serves as its biggest achievement in defining itself as an essential extension to Leon's campaign. While the original was similar in showing how Ada assisted Leon, this remake creates deeper connections and new plotlines that make it vital to understand the full scope of what's at stake. Ada's infection is used as a throughline to establish Pesanta, the black-hooded foe from Leon's campaign who mysteriously disappeared, as a relentless antagonist who stalks Ada throughout her mission.
Separate Ways takes significant liberties in fleshing out its story, often by reintroducing iconic scenes from the original's main campaign that were omitted in the remake. Some of these iconic scenes, like the infamous laser hall, actually fit better stylistically within the context of Ada's Mission Impossible-esque story. In some ways, this DLC serves as a nice love letter to longtime fans more than the actual remake does because of the inclusion of these scenes. At times, though, it can also feel heavy-handed, with some moments being reimagined less successfully than others.
Where things like the aforementioned laser hall fit with Ada's gymnastic prowess and high-tech abilities, and the drilling spike wall works nicely with the pulpy spy tone, the U-3 fight felt wedged in. Separate Ways does a far better job of contextualizing U-3 as a throughline in ways I'd rather not spoil, but it doesn't quite find its footing in the execution, resulting in the campaign's most bland boss fight and the omission of the scariest part of its original. It is reduced to a languishing and uninspired arena fight. Still, it's a minor misstep in comparison to the many excellent boss fights Separate Ways manages to fit into its modest but action-packed four hours, some of which outshine even the main game's fights. Ada's showdown with Saddler, for example, is particularly memorable due in part to some cutscene badassery in its final moments.
Separate Ways isn't just more Resident Evil 4. It's a meaningful expansion that delivers a new story through a distinct tone and with new mechanics. It is an essential extension of an already remarkable game. Although its nods to the past can feel a bit overt, it still packs a punch that'll have me playing it many times over again.