House Castle has been on a bit of a horror binge this month, what with it being Spooky Season and all. Not because we're die-hard horror buffs - if anything, we're both lifelong wimps when it comes to this stuff. But buoyed by a growing resolve to tackle our collective cowardice head on, October has seen us watch, play and read several of the big horror classics we've been too chicken to attempt in the past. Over the course of it all, though, there's been a gnawing, slightly dreadful realisation slowly bubbling away beneath the surface. Far from being scared by these horrible things, I've often come away feeling no emotions whatsoever. I have remained unmoved, neither frightened, unnerved, or creeped out. Just plain, simple indifference. The Japanese Ring? Nothing. I Saw The Devil? Nah, mate. Lake Mungo? More like Lake Yawngo.
I was beginning to think I'd lost the capacity to feel anything at all. Heck, the real horror show this month has been the collapse of the entire UK nation state, and yet I still cannot bring myself to muster anything beyond a tired sigh. Then I got to the second act of Resident Evil Village's Shadows Of Rose DLC and, oh yes, hello fear. It's been a while, hasn't it?
It's not often I find myself saying things like, "No, oh no, don't do that, don't you even dare. Nope. Uh uh. That is not even funny," to my PC screen. In fact, the last time that happened was probably when I was playing Resident Evil Village the first time round last year and got to the total nightmare fuel sequence that is the Beneviento dollhouse mansion. But Shadows Of Rose, the new expansion for RE Village that launches later this week on October 28th as both a standalone add-on and part of the game's new Gold Edition, had me parroting back exactly the same words to my monitor during that second act, because man alive, it just kept getting more and more horrifying as the minutes slipped by.
It's not long, Shadows Of Rose. My playthrough on its standard difficulty mode came in at just over three hours, with each of its three acts taking roughly an hour apiece. That might not seem like much for a £16 / $20 add-on, but let's not forget that the "Winters Expansion" as a whole also includes the third-person mode for the base version of Village, as well as the addition of three new characters for its free Mercenaries mode, including everyone's favourite (slightly less tall) vampire queen, Lady Dimitrescu.
Taken altogether, it's a moderately more convincing package than just a three-hour DLC adventure, especially if you've been looking for an excuse to go back to Village for a second time. As I said in my Shadows Of Rose preview last month, shifting the camera away from first-person to back over the shoulder in the style of Capcom's more recent Resi remakes does bring an extra frisson of tension to Village's dread-filled locations, and I've been enjoying revisiting them from this new perspective. If nothing else, I can at least pretend I'm sort of playing the upcoming Resident Evil 4 remake for a few seconds, thanks to Ethan's floppy blonde mop cutting a startlingly similar profile to old Leon Kennedy.
But even if the Winters Expansion didn't have the third-person perspective mode, I reckon that second, middle act of Shadows Of Rose is more than strong enough to recommend it on its own merit. Unfortunately, I cannot go into the specifics of it, but let's say this. If you've been craving more Resi horror in the style of what you encountered in the Beneviento mansion, then just go and play Shadows Of Rose. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
For the fence-sitters out there, though, Shadows Of Rose is very much a miniature version of Village proper, its frontloaded scares and climatic action beats crushed down into an evening's worth of play - which is perhaps fitting, considering whose shoulder you'll be peering over for the duration. Set 16 years after the end of Village, this expansion stars Rose Winters, the now-teenage daughter of Village protagonist Ethan and his wife Mia (the latter of whom was also captured and experimented on in Resident Evil 7 as a potential host for some supernatural mold). Rose is now trying to get rid of her inherited mold powers because, let's face it, being a teenager is hard enough without also having weird white veins on your hands and neck. Unfortunately, she discovers the only way to do that is by diving into the consciousness of the mold itself, the last remnant of which is being kept securely in a BSAA lab.
The mold retains the memories of those who died near it, you see, setting the scene for a remixed medley of Village highlights as Rose delves deeper to find what she's looking for. As such, there are no new locations in Shadows Of Rose, which may come as a disappointment. After all, the best DLC doesn't simply retread what's come before, but also offers something new for players to wrap their head around. Shadows Of Rose is partially successful here, as while the set dressing is the same, the route you'll take through it is not. Castle Dimitrescu, for example, has now been daubed in undulating patches of 'liquid void', a hypnotic jam-like gore from which its new, ashen mold men enemies will bubble up from to chase Rose down its newly encrusted hallways. Bar a couple of still locked doors, the castle is now a much more open space than it was in the base game, giving you almost free run of its various wings, attics and basements.
Of course, there are still plenty of obstacles standing in Rose's way, and she'll first need to embrace the powers running through her veins before deciding to shed them for good. The first trick she learns is how to focus her powers to dispel and unravel the bloom-like cores blocking her path, while the second is a targeted slow-mo blast that lets her counter grabs or bring enemy movements to a crawl. While the latter is handy in a pinch, particularly when it comes to crowd-controlling large swarms of molders, most of the expansion's puzzles revolve around the aforementioned core removal: mostly to de-gunk pathways, but also sometimes to reveal hidden items and ammo caches in suspiciously voided-up vases. It occasionally spices up the formula by making you do this under duress while fleeing some of its more horrible nasties, but that's about as advanced as her powers get for the majority of the expansion.
In some ways, it's a shame Rose's powers aren't developed further here. By limiting them to just regular old traversal tools, it not only makes exploration feel a bit rote in that opening hour, but it also rather takes the sting out of that slightly veiled threat hinted at during the final moments of Village's conclusion. Indeed, to actually fell the mold monsters standing in her way, Rose must still resort to some good old-fashioned gun play which, together with the third-person viewpoint, makes this expansion feel pretty much just like another modern Resi game rather than its own thing.
That's the harsh way of looking at it, at least. In other ways, though, I'm actually quite glad Capcom chose not to go full-on, gung-ho action girl with Rose's mold abilities. Indeed, by restricting her firepower to just a handgun for most of the game (though this is later livened up by the addition of a shotgun), Rose feels noticeably underpowered here compared to her battle-hardened dad, and thanks to another clever second act rug pull, her heightened sense of vulnerability really lets the horror of the expansion rise above the action. The ending is still quite overblown, as all Resi games tend to be these days, but I'd argue it resists that descent into an action-fuelled power fantasy far better than Village ever did - and that's despite a very potent callback to the end of Village during its last section.
Really, though, it's all about that second act for me, the hour I cannot talk about - nor would I want to, as it's definitely best experienced on its own terms. Instead, I will leave you with this. Thanks to its main conceit of diving into the mold's memories, Shadows Of Rose puts a nice cap on the Winters' family saga, tying up a few loose story threads, but also not shutting the door so firmly that it's closed forever. Its short run-time also just makes this a great Halloween snack of a game, as it's not only best experienced in a single sitting, but it's got some properly good scares and creepy bits in there as well. It is the game that reminded me I still have a pulse, after all, which is really the best treat of all.