The Evil Within Review

0
Posted October 13, 2014 by Sean Mesler in Video Games

The Evil Within

Developer: Tango Gameworks

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Available on: PS4 (version reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Release Date: October 14, 2014

_

Shinji Mikami is insane. He has to be. The thoughts and visions that permeate that man’s mind must keep him up many a night. This was my prevalent feeling when playing through the debut effort of Tango Gamworks, The Evil Within. Constantly bending reality, the twisted nightmare world he has crafted shows off an incredibly creative mind that is rife with pitch-black shadows around nearly every corner. While the game itself suffers from some glaring problems, I couldn’t help but be caught in its tense, gripping thrall by the time credits rolled.

The basic setup for The Evil Within’s story is Krimson City Police Department Detective Sebastian Castellanos and his partners Juli Kidman and Joseph Oda arrive at the Beacon Mental Hospital to the scene of a gruesome mass murder. Within minutes, Sebastian is confronted by a grotesque, hooded man, and rendered unconscious. When he wakes up, he’s somewhere he doesn’t recognize and must survive the horrors that await him as he tries to piece together where he is and what is causing everything going on around him.

To explain the plot of The Evil Within would be an exercise in futility—to go further than that would create expectations, and one of the best things I can say about The Evil Within is that it is, above all else, unpredictable—for the most part. Certain plot points are fairly obvious, but how you get there most certainly isn’t. This is a trip through a horrific dreamscape, and as such, Mikami has free-reign to throw anything he can think of at the player. I very much imagine that portions of this game would have made Italian horror filmmaker Lucio Fulci jealous. There are scenes that will change from dilapidated village to the interior of a mental hospital within a moment, then back again. Spatial logic gets thrown out the window, and it’s always as disorienting as it is seamless. It’s truly impressive and definitely one of the game’s strengths, if not its greatest.

Evil Within Sunflower

As a lifelong horror fan, The Evil Within’s pacing is nearly perfect; it’s a slow burn that peels back its layers at a pace akin to the very best horror films. It reveals its larger scope and horror by holding it back just enough, only to unleash its tension in fits and starts before settling back down again. Playing ten hours straight, I had sense of emotional whiplash in the best way possible. While The Evil Within is never truly scary, it is extremely tense at times and flat out insane at others until it becomes an amalgamation of both to the point of breaking. And it works wonderfully.

Another pleasant surprise is just how much variety there is to the gameplay. Yes, you will be shooting at all manner of nightmarish creatures, but there is also some light puzzle solving and part collecting for your Agony Crossbow. You can craft bolts which can either be shot directly at enemies or into the ground or walls to create traps, making it easier to fell enemies while not taxing your light supply of ammunition. These run the gamut of puncturing, to proximity mine bolts, and others in between. Running is also a great option when used in tandem with the traps; there were sections of the game where I didn’t kill larger enemies but simply used traps to keep them at bay while I made my escape through either pulling switches, pounding the “X” button to open a gate, or simply running towards a door.

Then there is also a fair emphasis on stealth as an option. In fact, the first section of the game pretty much shows players how to best avoid monsters when you don’t have anything but your wits to survive. Stealth killing has its value, and you can hide if your stealth approach goes south. No one mechanic overstays its welcome, and that makes the moment-to-moment gameplay feel fresh. There are even a few gameplay elements that only appear once in the game. This also extends to all boss encounters (save for the final one). Each boss requires a different strategy and all of the precious little ammunition you have. Good stuff.

EvilWithin1

Unfortunately, some of the controls feel a bit clunky. Shooting isn’t as responsive and accurate as I would have liked to be, even upgraded, and the camera zooms in so far that all that can be seen of Sebastian is his right hand and the gun. While this is ideal for targeting in theory, in practice it makes spatial awareness a problem. Since the aiming isn’t tight, while zoomed in you lose sight of enemies approaching from outside of your field of vision, which can lead to a load screen.

Thankfully, the game has a pretty interesting save system and is fairly generous with its checkpoints. Saving can only be done by returning to the hospital via mirrors that act as portals. Saves aren’t limited, but these portals are fairly sparse. I found a good tactic to prevent losing progress was to complete portions of a greater task, return to the hospital to save, and then return to the previous location to complete the next portion and repeat. It did break up the flow of the game, but as someone who can’t stand repeating progress, I accepted the trade-off.

While I try to judge every game on its own merits, it would be extremely hard to ignore Mikami’s lineage as it informs so much of The Evil Within as a whole—specifically Resident Evil 4. This game feels like the sequel Mikami wanted to make, for better and for worse. The good news, as we all know, is players can now move and shoot, and the game benefits highly from a more traditional third-person-shooter control scheme. By the end of the game, you’ll have a pretty decent arsenal, but most ammo, aside from basic pistol rounds, is reasonably scarce.

You can also level up Sebastian at the hospital through finding green gel from fallen enemies as well as in mason jars throughout the environments. At first this may seem like an artificially inserted mechanic for a survival horror game, but it soon becomes clear that it plays directly into the unfolding premise of the game: As Sebastian spends more time in the nightmare world, he also learns how to overcome it. Pro-tip: Invest in your life bar, sprint, and anything involving syringes. You can thank me later.

Evil Within Eyeball

And while Sebastion does level up, he’s by no means a superhero. There are several enemies in the game that aren’t even bosses that can kill you in one hit. Remember that advice about investing in sprint? These enemies are where it comes in handy. When your sprint meter drains, Sebastian will bend over to take a breath, leaving you vulnerable. And even the lesser enemies can drop you in a few hits.

All of this sounds great, and it is, but where it does disappoint is that The Evil Within also feels like Resident Evil 4’s greatest hits. The Haunted (the base level enemies) feel and act an awful lot like the Ganados from Resident Evil 4. They use bladed weapons, guns, and a few even have heads that explode into an even more hideous, lethal creature. You’ll even encounter several chainsaw-wielding enemies that are considerably harder to drop. There are a handful encounters and set pieces that will give the player a sense of déjà vu. Whether or not you find this as a plus or minus depends on you.

I personally found it disappointing, but only because of the stark contrast of what new enemies Mikami does bring to the table. There are some truly inspired monsters on display here, but they’re relatively few and far between. One standout is Laura, whom many may remember from the original trailer. She’s evocative of Sadako from Hideo Nakata’s film adaptations of Koji Suzuki’s Ring series and Japanese folklore, only with four arms and crawls on the ground like a spider. She is truly terrifying to behold. Another standout are the Keepers—tall, lumbering behemoths with safes for heads.

Evil Within Laura arrives

Visually the game is a mixed bag. Environments are varied, as I mentioned earlier, and look fantastic in their detail. The character models, however, are all over the place. The enemies, Sebastian, and two other characters got the most attention, but Kidman and Oda look like they were pasted into the game from their last gen models. The Evil Within is presented completely in a 2:35:1 aspect ratio (there will be black bars at the top and bottom of the screen) which helps the game look and feel more cinematic for sure, but I would have liked seeing a bit more detail and care put into all of the characters so they weren’t immediately distracting every time they appear on screen. Oddly enough, the framerate stutters in the earlier portion of the game but becomes much more fluid and stable as it goes on.

When it comes to the voice acting, I don’t know if it’s a language barrier for Mikami and his team, but geez, The Evil Within contains some of the worst in recent memory. Nothing feels organic or that the characters are even in the same room together. It doesn’t help that the dialogue is either boilerplate or just makes no sense. I suppose the latter could be chalked up to the game being a nightmare, but that doesn’t excuse its wooden prose and delivery.

It also doesn’t help that Sebastian isn’t really much of a character. There are police journals that give you an insight into his past, but none of this information plays into the story at all. As someone who isn’t a fan of ancillary fiction inserted into a game, these journals feel like they were added after the game was finished to give Sebastian a false sense of depth. Instead, Sebastian is merely the cypher we experience the game through. At times, that can be good, most Valve games for example, but considering the leaps videos game writing has taken over the past generation, it feels like a vestige of a best forgotten age.

The final complaint I can level at the game is that the final boss isn’t much more than a QTE. Considering some of the intelligent, skill testing boss fights that preceded it, it was definitely a let down.

Evil Within Bland

Completing the game unlocks New Game + as well as a few new weapons to use which makes cleaning up collectibles and trophies/achievements that don’t require difficultly level much easier. Speaking of difficulty, as recommended by Bethesda, I played the game on the lowest of 3 settings, Casual. The final difficulty, Nightmare is unlocked after completing the game, leaving Survival as the highest difficulty available from initial launch. On Casual, it took me just over 17 hours to complete, which is probably lower if you don’t approach it like I did by OCD saving. I also died 64 times, so this game is no slouch even on the easiest gamemode. Between unlocks, New Game + and the difficulty levels, I can see this providing a lot of replay value.

Admittedly, my initial impressions of The Evil Within weren’t exactly warm. Taken as individual pieces, the problems present could cripple a lesser game. However, The Evil Within managed to win me over through smart design decisions, varied boss fights and gameplay, and its insane unpredictability. Ultimately, The Evil Within is a worthy successor to Resident Evil 4 – it’s been a while since we’ve gotten a survival horror game this good.


About the Author

Sean Mesler

Sean is a semi-retired hardcore kid, semi-grown up and transplanted from his original home of New York to Los Angeles. A lover and critic of movies, music and video games, Sean is always quick with an opinion, a heaping dose of snark, and a healthy dose of pragmatism. PSN & Live Gamertag: N2NOther