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DLC Review – Resident Evil VII: Banned Footage Vol. 1 & Vol. 2

First, a disclaimer: The following might contain minor spoilers for Resident Evil VII, and will definitely contain some major ones for how I feel about the video game industry’s lecherous DLC practices. Mere weeks after the main game’s release, Capcom are already groping in your pockets for more cash, whispering sweet nothings in your ear about how much cheaper it would be to simply buy the season pass and have done with it. They’re probably right, but savvy gamers know that shelling out for such things ahead of time is a bit like bobbing for apples in a pool full of shark fins – you might come up with something tasty, but you’re more likely to get your face bitten off.

Still, here we are. Banned Footage, after a period of purgatorial PS4-exclusivity, is now broadly available as either two individually-priced three-part volumes, or, if you’re a daredevil, for free as part of the season pass. If you were hoping for a purchase recommendation, no such luck. Both are hit-and-miss enough that they’re equally worthwhile or worthless depending on both your disposable income, and which parts of the uneven vanilla game you found most appealing. Sorry about that.

Banned Footage Vol. 1

Nightmare

Presumably aimed at the incredibly niche demographic who thought the main game’s mediocre third act was the best part of the experience, “Nightmare” bolts a wave-based survival framework onto that final third’s routine monster-splattering. At first it seems like a tokenistic attempt at adding something with pure replay-value to a game that sorely needs it, and I suppose it is that, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find the mode oddly compelling on its own terms. Essentially a hybridization of Five Nights At Freddy’s and Call of Duty’s “Zombies” mode, “Nightmare” tasks you with surviving a night in the Baker’s basement as the long-suffering cameraman Clancy Jarvis, who you’ll remember from the original demo and the best of the vanilla game’s VHS tapes.

Each wave takes place over an in-game hour, adding gradually tougher enemies as you frantically dash between scrap-generating machines which spew out the odds and ends you’ll need to assemble upgrades for weapons, items and, weirdly, yourself. It’s full of remarkably gamey conceits like that, and clearly isn’t intended to be finished in one attempt; how well you do determines how many points you receive, and you can invest those points into permanent upgrades for subsequent playthroughs. Once you figure out exactly when to purchase the bottles of lock-melting corrosive to open up the map, and once you’ve figured out an efficient zig-zagging path from one scrap-generator to the next, “Nightmare” will probably lose most of its appeal. It’s perfectly fine until then, though, and it feels like the kind of thing the game should have included in the first place.

Ethan Must Die

“Ethan Must Die” is a masochistic roguelike remixing of certain sections of the Baker plantation, complete with the combat focus of “Nightmare” and the difficulty turned up to a degree that’s going to be completely unreasonable for all but the hardiest YouTube challenge-run dorks. Success is dependent on scavenging for randomly-generated resources without getting puréed all over the carpet. In a typically Souls-y twist, death transports Ethan back to the beginning with only a knife to his name, and his previously-collected gear contained in a statuette wherever he died. The Bakers themselves would probably be into this.

Bedroom

Easily the standout episode of the first volume, “Bedroom” finds Clancy, for our sins, fastened to a bed in one of the upstairs rooms as the maniacally-grinning Marguerite tries to force-feed him some unspeakable broth. Once she leaves, Clancy must poke and prod at the bedroom’s cryptic clues, suspicious artwork and hidden objects in order to facilitate a creative (and distinctly Resident Evil) escape.

“Bedroom” is immediately reminiscent of Resident Evil VII’s best bits – the Saw-style torture-puzzle rooms of Lucas’s chapters, and the thumping menace of those early hours you spent being chased around the dining room table. The scope is much tighter, but that same sense of dread permeates the whole thing, particularly in how certain actions involved in your escape trigger Marguerite’s return, giving Clancy a small window in which to conceal all the evidence of his attempted breakout.

There’s nothing here that isn’t a tremendous idea. It’s all the fun of those old-fashioned memory games but as envisioned by a psychopath. It doesn’t lend itself particularly well to multiple playthroughs (once you’ve figured out the puzzles the tension evaporates) but those moments you spend lying in the bed, watching Marguerite suspiciously examine the room for anything out-of-place, are as tense and terrifying as anything in the main game. A few more vignettes like this and any price tag attached to the season pass is going to seem a lot more reasonable.

Banned Footage Vol. 2

Jack’s 55th Birthday

There was nothing funny about Resident Evil VII, and thus far the Banned Footage episodes have been humourless as well. But here, in the second volume, we’re starting to see a vein of comic mania creeping into the proceedings, and its best exemplified here, in “Jack’s 55th Birthday”. As Mia, players are tasked with frantically exploring the Baker house against-the-clock, fighting off the usual fungal zombies (this time in novelty party hats) while finding food for a starving Jack, who gobbles up whatever you bring him like a cartoon character, bangs his fists on the table and asks for more.

It’s absurd, clearly. And outside of the appeal of seeing the game’s most menacing figure reduced to a farcical slobbering rubbish bin, it isn’t much more than that. The time-attack gameplay is relatively standard and unchallenging, while the comedy wears thin remarkably quickly. It’s okay as throwaway fluff, but as one-third of a paid collection it’s vaguely uncomfortable.

21

It’s Blackjack. But it’s Blackjack as the core moving part in another of Lucas Baker’s Saw-inspired games, and as such it captures the sheer dread of trying to beat the house at 3am in a dingy local casino. In my experience that only ends one way – with the smirking dealer watching you drunkenly stagger outside, staring in disbelief at your empty wallet.

It’s similar here, but instead of your wallet you end up staring at the bloody stubs of your fingers. It should come as little surprise that Lucas’s version of Blackjack involves tiny finger-guillotines, electrocution and spinning blade-traps. In “21”, you once again reprise the role of the ill-fated Clancy as he duels another character, Hoffman, whose bag-covered head is reminiscent of Dr. Salvador and whose constant begging for his life lends a common casino game a real emotional component. Maybe it’s just me, but I thought this was great. It’s nail-bitingly tense and, eventually, quite legitimately unsettling. I won’t spoil, but if the cards end up in your favour you’ll get to witness the darkest round of Blackjack in the history of humankind.

Some things undermine it. Once the game introduces “trump cards” you can find yourself at the mercy of a few incredibly unfair hands, and Lucas’s inane wittering doesn’t have much of a shelf-life. You’ll likely only want to play it through once, too, but you’ll almost certainly enjoy it for as long as it lasts.

Daughters

Like the first volume’s “Bedroom”, “Daughters” is clearly intended to be the centrepiece of not just this second bunch of additional content, but arguably all of it thus far. It’s a short prequel detailing the fate of the Bakers, and a snapshot of their warmth and humanity before dragging Eveline and her corruption out of the swamp.

You’d think this kind of content might have better served the main narrative, perhaps as one of the VHS flashbacks, because while it repositions the Bakers as the front-and-centre menace, it also, for the first time, has them feel legitimately tragic. Still, even here, it feels much more justified than some of the other slapstick fluff on offer, and if you care about this story and its characters at all, “Daughters” is as close to mandatory as you’re likely going to get.

It’s a short sequence – perhaps 15-20 minutes – but there’s some replay value there in the form of multiple endings, even though the better one is only accessible through the finding and using of specific objects in a specific order, which is a bit irritatingly esoteric. Perhaps more importantly, it recaptures the hide-and-seek gameplay of Resident Evil VII’s opening hours, sweetening the aftertaste that the main game’s third act left in most players’ mouths. It’s not worth £20 on its own, but if the next batch of free content is even half-decent, “Daughters” will make the season pass look like a worthwhile proposition.

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