This year's Resident Evil 4 is one of the greatest remakes of all time, but purists — or at least those who had already played the PS2 version — will tell you it was still missing something. When the Nintendo GameCube original was ported to Sony's second home system, it came bundled with new campaigns all about side character Ada Wong. Separate Ways was the most important of the bunch, and six months after the PS5, PS4 remake's release, it's back as DLC for Capcom's newest masterpiece. 18 years later, it has the same effect: Separate Ways meaningfully expands the Resident Evil 4 story and provides a tantalising reason to return to one of the best games ever.
Told from the perspective of the mysterious red-dressed character, Separate Ways reveals what Ada Wong is up to while Leon S. Kennedy is busy saving the president's daughter. She's there on a mission from Albert Wesker to steal the Amber from the clutches of Osmund Saddler, with Luis acting as sidekick. Seven chapters fill in the gaps when Ada is off doing her own thing, which broaden the base game's village, castle, and island locations with new areas and features to make them look and feel fresh for a second visit.
It plays like a "Greatest Hits" take on the original experience as Separate Ways moves at such a breakneck pace there's little time to take a breather. Already familiar with the controls and the incredible, action-focused gameplay loop of the PS5, PS4 remake, Capcom cranks things up a notch with more enemy density and tougher boss battles in amongst many of the same spots from Leon's campaign. Mostly forgoing the explorative nature of Resident Evil 4, the expansion is more condensed and linear to make conflict its main draw. You'll follow a similar structure as the base game (starting in the village before heading inside the castle and then offshore to the island), but new gadgets give Ada's narrative its own feel and style.
Her trademark grappling gun is what sets Separate Ways apart the most, allowing Ada to quickly traverse the environment and avoid danger or reach new areas. With grapple points indicated by circular in-game icons, you can swing about the map and get the drop on enemies should they be in range upon landing. The gizmo is just as useful during standard combat encounters: upon staggering a Ganado, you can follow up with a ranged melee attack that uses the grappling gun to pull Ada towards an enemy and finish them off with a swift kick to the head. While the weapon is only usable when the game says so, it ties into the more agile nature of the character.
This is demonstrated best by the fact stealth is a much more viable approach in the DLC. While it is possible to avoid a fight or two as Leon, the original title never really feels purposefully designed to support covertness and firefights at the same time. In contrast, Separate Ways lets you quite comfortably clear many of its scenarios without firing a bullet, instead relying on Ada's knife to do the dirty work. And when she does go loud, new weapons like the Blast Crossbow and a sawed-off shotgun diversify your loadout beyond the pistols, rifles, and sub-machine guns of the base campaign.
There's even a new puzzle-solving mechanic called the Interactive Retinal Inquiry System. Letting Ada scan footprints and keypads, she's able to track characters or work out what numbers must be pressed to unlock a door. With its own little HUD to accompany tracking, it's an extra layer to Separate Ways that leans into Ada's spy-like tendencies.
It all makes for a story that ties neatly into the overall plot of Resident Evil 4, while feeling distinct enough to make Ada very much her own character. Cutscenes reveal how Ada affects some of the events in Leon's campaign, but then Separate Ways goes above and beyond with neat, context-sensitive touches. For example, it's revealed Ada is the one who rings the church bell at the start of the game to rescue Leon from the Ganados horde attacking him in the village. However, if you explore the church area a bit as Ada, you'll hear Ashley crying inside as she waits for the blonde-haired heart-throb to rescue her.
Small details like this really elevate the experience, especially for fans. In fact, the expansion brings back a handful of scenes from the 2005 original that didn't make it into the full remake. It was a pleasant surprise to learn these fan-favourite sequences hadn't entirely fallen by the wayside even if they didn't appear in their original context.
Another highlight is the boss battles. Ramón Salazar's right-hand
man monster, the Black Robe, gets its due across multiple encounters that explore a more supernatural side of Resident Evil 4 — perhaps a nod to a direction Capcom considered for the 2005 original during development. Meanwhile, fights with El Gigante and Osmund Saddler play very differently to their base game counterparts, making each brawl a pleasure all over again.
The only issue Separate Ways runs into is a sense of disjointedness, which comes from the fact it has to plug in the gaps of a separate campaign. Particularly when Leon is involved in a cutscene, the DLC will suddenly fade to black and a time skip will take place. You'll regain control in a different area with a different objective, lacking an explanation of what got Ada to that point following the cutscene. It feels a bit awkward in the moment, as if Separate Ways is a series of standalone scenarios stitched together rather than one cohesive narrative.
That said, it does at least manage to offer an impressive amount of content. Your first playthrough will take up to six hours to finish, and then you can go for better ranks and unlock special weapons in New Game+. To put that into context: a piece of DLC for Resident Evil 4 is the same length as the entirety of Resident Evil 3. That statement is probably more damning for Capcom's Resident Evil 2 follow-up than anything else, but to get the same amount of playtime out of an expansion is still impressive.
Separate Ways is about as good a DLC of this size can get, filling in narrative gaps and expertly tweaking a sublime gameplay loop. Playing as Ada Wong feels different enough thanks to new gadgets and weapons, while expanded areas provide fresh scenery for a second visit. A sense of disjointedness frays the edges, but Resident Evil 4 feels whole with Separate Ways by its side. A worthy expansion for one of 2023's greatest titles.