I don’t know what to make of The Evil Within. There is no doubt that it has sprung its own following and people are freaked out by this game.
I am not one of those people.
I restarted the game three times. I played with headphones. I played without headphones. I played during the day. I played at night in the dark with headphones. At the beginning of Chapter 13, I tapped out.
Do you like the shitty Resident Evil games but wish they were a tiny itty-bitty less action like? Wait, let me try this again.
The Evil Within is greater in its attempt to be scary than it is in execution. It has a story that will capture your curiosity before you stop caring about it completely. When enough clues are revealed and you begin to anticipate the twists the game takes, you wont care. The monsters are freaky and grotesque machinations of a disturbed mind but they very rarely instill a sense of dread or fear. Once you figure out the formula, nothing is scary. The formula is: If you can’t kill it, run away.
The Evil Within starts out by dropping you in the middle of a mass murder scene. There is a giant fan and dookie all over the walls. The world goes to black. You wake up in a slaughterhouse, upside down with nothing but your wits to get you out of this situation. You spot a machete and cut yourself down. The first thing the game teaches you to do, is sneak. The game efficiently drills the idea of sneaking into your head by making you completely vulnerable and pitting you against The Sadist.
The Sadist is a “One hit kill” so your only option is to avoid him for now. After sneaking by him, he notices you have escaped. He is immediately on high alert and he will chase you if he sees or hears you. Luckily there is usually a bottle or two hanging around which you can toss and use as a diversion.
By combining diversion techniques (think The Last of Us or Manhunt) with sneaking (think Last of Us or … Manhunt) you will make your way past The Sadist. If you are unlucky enough to cross his gaze and make him give pursuit, you have the option to hide.
This is a freaky encounter because you have no weapon and know you cannot defeat this thing. Your only weapon is your wits. It is not simply a matter of diversion or luring this beast away from you by throwing a bottle. You constantly hear that thing, through walls and on the other side of doors. The sound moves around you. You don’t just simply hear him, you can feel him around you. But then sneaking gets abandoned as a concept when they give you a gun and then the game goes to absolute shit.
Before we get to that, let me also talk about “Brain Juice” and “The Chair”. Brain Juice or Green Gel, is used to upgrade various aspects of your character when you sit in the chair. The upgrade system feels like a great idea if you think this game is shit-your-pants scary but if you don’t, the system only allows you to feel more powerful moving through the space.
Sneaking quickly becomes a forgotten mechanic. The game will constantly force you to blast your way through level after level completely abandoning any sense of vulnerability you may have felt. Instead feeling nervous or tense when a monster appeared, I could never have been more relaxed. I knew what I had to do. Kill it. That is the answer at least 90% of the time. It quickly becomes an action horror title full of nothing more than attempts at jump scares as you point shoot, kill and move on. You will fight a zombie-like monster wielding a chainsaw in the middle of a village like you did in Resident Evil 4. You will wander around a mansion finding objects and keys and “solving puzzles” like you did in Resident Evil 1. These problem solving situations are rare and rarer than their appearances is their ability to add to the atmosphere of fear. Except on one occasion.
HIGHLIGHT: The Brain Puzzles
In the mansion, there is an actual “brain teaser” (heh-heh). You have to insert probes into a brain. When you do it, you’ll notice that the people you’re inserting the probes into are still alive.
Even though these puzzles are not extremely difficult to solve, they are indicative of the world you are in a great example of environmental storytelling. But this technique and mechanic does not get utilized much, if at all for the remainder of the game.
The Evil Within constantly makes promises of being scary, fails to deliver upon them and then shoves a gun in your hand to shoot at monsters. Monsters which become increasingly difficult to kill but if you are able to efficiently upgrade your weapons, you wont notice the increased difficulty.
My point through the 800+ words I have written so far is that this game:
- Is not scary.
- Is an action horror game.
- Introduces neat concepts and almost immediately abandons them.
- Forced combat.
The Evil Within’s story aspires to have the twists, turns, highs and lows of a Christopher Nolan flick like Inception but bumbles around in the dark like a later M. Night Shyamalan film. It lingers with too much self importance as if it is telling you one of the most chilling stories of all time but it has the gravitas of a 10-year-old’s campfire story.
The voice acting is not terrible but quite often it reminded me of late PS2/early PS3 era voice acting. I can’t quite put my finger on it but a lot of the dialog seems as if it is being read off a page without emotional references. The speaker never knew whether the character was scared or excited when reading the lines so a lot of the readings sound monotonous while echoing through a tunnel.
As an action game, The Evil Within serves a better purpose. It is a pity I did not want to play an action horror game. The gunplay is just bad enough at first to make you nervous every time you pull the trigger. The crosshair always seemed to drift at the worst possible time making my heart skip a beat every single time I missed a single bullet. In fact, I will go on the record as saying that the scariest thing in The Evil Within is running out of ammo. The reason it is the scariest thing is because murder progresses the game and not just reaching a checkpoint. You probably have to clear the area of enemies to set off the checkpoint.
Finally, the graphics are slightly wooden. This game appears as if it was finished in 2008 but couldn’t get distribution until now. The motion capture movement is very Japanese making English speakers appear foreign on their own soil. As the story unfolds, it appears as though it is being told by the best impersonation of humans an alien could muster. The motions are jerky and weird. The eyes on sprites are constantly dead. There really is nothing special graphically going on.
In closing, this is not a “bad game”. It is a bad “survival horror” game because it is not that scary and not *that* hard to survive. Progression relies heavily on killing or trial and error. Most of the sense of dread or fear is gone as focus shifts to murder and upgrades to help you murder more efficiently.
The strategy shifts from “how to escape” to “how to utilize ammo for mass murder” and then stays that way. I was very disappointed by this game and how it presented horror to me with self awareness.
Final Grade: Try it…
C+ … 1 Thumb…. 2 of 4 stars… 6.5ish out of 10. One word review: “Meh”
Even though this game promoted itself as a “survival horror” title. The redeeming quality of the game is that it is a competent action title. The story is forgettable but it is no less fun moving from A to B than it was in Resident Evil 6. (And that is a low bar to begin with)
The Jaded Gamer (IamFN2K@gmail.com)