Sometimes, when a great video game is released at the beginning of the year, downloadable content can bolster its recognition at the end.
It does that not by adding much to the game, necessarily, but reminding you of what made it such a great experience in the first place.
Other times, however, DLC can forget or just abandon what made a game great, and try to deliver a different experience altogether.
A new expansion for February's "Horizon Zero Dawn" does the former, while two new episodes of January's "Resident Evil 7: Biohazard" do the latter:
"Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds"
If you thought the main landscape of Guerrilla Games' open-world action role-playing game could get wintry, wait until you reach The Cut.
Aloy's new adventure takes her to a densely snowy northern mountain range where she meets more of the nomadic Banuk, the former tribe of her mysterious guide, Sylens. One of the only sights breaking up the dusty white infinity are the Banuk's colorful cliffside markings, which are part of another fantastic showing by Guerrilla's art design team. The Banuk's chieftain, Aratak, stands proudly armored by thick fur on his shoulders and bony scrap on his head, and his tired eyes convey countless battles with the land's fellow tribes and predatory machines.
New PlayStation 4 action-adventure exclusive "Horizon Zero Dawn" is set in a post-post-apoca…
After finding Aratak's sister, the shaman Ourea, and proving herself to the chieftain, Aloy helps the Banuk face its machine threat by journeying to a mountain known as Thunder's Drum. It won't be long before you're reacquainted with the thrill of battle in "Horizon." Upon reaching The Cut, Aloy is immediately confronted by the new Frostclaw, a bearlike robot as quick as it is resilient. Slaying it will take the same mix of strategy and spatial control, pinpointing its weak spots with elemental projectile shots while dodging its ursine swipes.
Aloy meets Frostclaws a few times during the main campaign of "The Frozen Wilds." Even without them, though, Guerrilla keeps up the ferocity. Aloy has to stay aggressive during an early time trial against several challenging arrays of Watchers, Grazers and Scrappers. And she has nowhere to run and recover during the finale, which is wisely set in a labyrinthine Cauldron. The futuristic dungeons were a highlight of "Horizon Zero Dawn," and for all the impressive squalls and snowdrifts in The Cut, the gleaming synthetic heart of Thunder's Drum is a more compelling battleground.
Though Aloy's encounter with the Banuk and Frostclaws may seem like a standalone episode at first, it quickly proves essential to "Horizon's" burgeoning post-post-apocalyptic mythology. Not only does it trace more of Sylens' self-serving history, it once again hints at a darker power for Aloy to hunt in the sequel. And after "The Frozen Wilds," more "Horizon" can't happen fast enough.
"Resident Evil 7: Biohazard: Not a Hero" and "End of Zoe"
"Biohazard" reinvigorated Capcom's "Resident Evil" series by pivoting from shooter action back to heavily atmospheric survival horror. But these two codas pivot back to action yet again.
With "Not a Hero," it's to be expected: You once again play as longtime series protagonist Chris Redfield. His return at the end of the Baker family massacre was the firmest connection yet between the series' established canon and "Biohazard's" otherwise unfamiliar swamp world. "Not a Hero" sheds some more light on that connection, but its main focus is "Biohazard's" loose end, Lucas Baker.
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As Redfield, you hunt the aspiring Jigsaw into the depths of the Baker compound with a pistol and a powerful shotgun that almost never runs out of ammunition. Plenty of the shambling Molded are there to eat it, though Capcom makes things interesting with the introduction of a new regenerating type that can only be killed by separate bullets you have to load on the fly. Still, Redfield's return is a straightforward rampage to the end of its 90 minutes. It channels some of the creepy mood of "Biohazard," but little of the vulnerability that made that mood so powerful.
"End of Zoe" fares slightly better. A bow on the story of Zoe Baker, the daughter who helped Ethan Winters escape the family's Louisiana home, it casts you as a new Baker: Joe, Zoe's uncle and Jack's brother. Like his brother, Joe's a hardass, albeit one uninfected by whatever bioweapon has possessed the rest of his family. So Joe sets out to save his niece with only his wits and his fists.
They're powerful fists: Joe can pummel a Molded to death in seconds. But a lot of them stand between him and Zoe's cure, as do oversized crocodiles that can chew him up on first contact. So he also has to use stealth and makeshift weaponry, like spears, to save his niece. And a ludicrous tech upgrade leads to a fitting final showdown back in the Baker home.
Between its one-hit kills and its cramped spaces, "End of Zoe" can feel cheap. And like "Not a Hero," it's decidedly unscary, though it does give Joe far fewer resources than Redfield. Both are satisfying narrative conclusions to one of the best games of the year, but by caving to "Resident Evil" fans who wanted action again, these episodes mostly lack what made "Biohazard" great.
If you play
GAME: "Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds"
GENRE: Action adventure
CONTENT RATING: Teen for alcohol and tobacco reference, blood, mild language, mild sexual themes, violence
DEVELOPER: Guerrilla Games
PUBLISHER: Sony Interactive Entertainment
PLATFORM: PlayStation 4
PLAY: Single player
DISCLOSURE: I received a review code for this content from Sony and completed its main quest in about eight hours.
GAME: "Resident Evil 7: Biohazard: Not a Hero" and "End of Zoe"
GENRE: Survival horror
CONTENT RATING: Mature for blood and gore, intense violence and strong language
PLATFORM: PlayStation 4 (also available on Windows and Xbox One)
PRICE: Season pass $29.99
PLAY: Single player
DISCLOSURE: I received a season pass code allowing me to download this content, and completed it each episode on normal difficulty in about an hour and a half.