The Evil Within
When Bethesda sent over our review copy of The Evil Within, their newest survival horror title from Tango Gameworks, they recommended I play on the “Casual” difficulty setting while setting aside “at least” 15 to 20 hours of play time to complete the game. Being the expert at survival-horror that I am (ha, yea right), I decided to ignore their suggestion and played on the “survival” (normal) difficulty mode. I died 110 times.
Perhaps it’s that I suck at survival-horror games. I admit, I’m not the best at sneaking around when the situation calls for it. Or maybe, The Evil Within is finally the survival-horror game we’ve all been waiting for -- the one that doesn’t hold your hand, offering you real scares and intense moments of action where instead of blasting away at hordes of enemies, you’re left with little choice but to run for your life. Truth be told, it’s a little of both.
Though developed by Tango Gameworks, the big selling point with The Evil Within is that it’s directed by Shinji Mikami, the “father” of survival-horror, best known for the Resident Evil series. Elements of his past work are definitely noticeable while playing. It’s not that The Evil Within is an exact clone of any particular game, but what it does -- and it does this very well -- is borrow particular aspects of games from the Resident Evil and Silent HIll series and combine them in way in which The Evil Within revitalizes the survival-horror genre. This game doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the table, but it does give the genre a dose of terror we haven’t experienced for a while.
The Evil Within isn’t necessarily the scariest game I’ve ever played, but it does have its moments. While there are a few cheap scare tactics employed, it mostly does a good job of building up tension. Roaming the narrow corridors, there was a constant fear that something bad could happen at any moment. There were a few parts that caused me to jump, but mostly it was the creepy, skin-crawling environments that kept me on edge. Adding to the tension was the fact that Survival difficulty offers less ammunition and supplies, while ramping up the enemy health.
Unfortunately, The Evil Within suffers from the same problem as most survival-horror games. Once you die once, twice, 110 times, it starts to lose its scare factor. Even though the game does a mostly good job at introducing new enemies and concepts, it’s still a very difficult game. Mistakes are often unforgivable, resulting in plenty of frustrating deaths. Granted these deaths were mostly caused by user error, but they still cause a break in immersion. When you start to play the same section over and over again it becomes less about being in this creepy environment and more about how you can beat this particular section. It stops becoming a creepy story and becomes a game that you’re aware you’re playing. I don’t mind the difficulty, but I wish a developer would figure out a new way to handle death. On the bright side, checkpoints are frequent so you aren’t replaying entire chapters over again.
Gameplay is a nice mix of puzzle-solving, stealth, and action, though at times the shooting sequences seem a bit excessive. Again, The Evil Within does a great job of building tension. Even during the shooting sequences where ammo is frequent, I found myself scrambling to survive. Puzzles, for the most part, are fairly straight forward, but it harkens back to my days of playing the original Resident Evil game for PlayStation. It’s nice to see that style mesh nicely with today’s demand for in-your-face action. And The Evil Within definitely has plenty of that. What this game does well, though, is give you the option on how to approach a situation. In most cases, playing stealthy isn’t only an option, but the recommended approach. Me being the horrible survival-horror player that I am, often ended up in a shootout. Thankfully, The Evil Within has a fairly robust leveling system in which you collect jars of green goo (experience) to spend on improving different aspects of Sebastian.
In most survival-horror games, it can be argued that these sort of blockbuster action sequences take away from the scariness of a game. That’s simply not the case with The Evil Within as most of the tension is built up throughout the level and then unleashed usually at the end with a boss fight. It becomes predictable, but the game does a nice job of introducing new types of enemies.
Much of what makes The Evil Within scary is the environment. From the grainy filter to the eerie ambiance, Tango Gameworks simply nailed it. What’s more, the paranormal setting allows for tons of creative freedom when it comes to creating environments to scare you. Crumbling city environments, blood-soaked sewers, abandoned mental hospitals are just a few of the places you’ll visit on this mind-bending adventure which, at times, admittedly does drag on.
There is a story in underneath all the gore and horror, but even now I’d be hard-pressed to tell you comfortably what it’s about in great detail. On the most basic of levels, you play as Detective Sebastian Castellanos who, along with two other detectives, is called to a murder scene to investigate. From the moment you enter the mental facility things get crazy. The Evil Within wastes no time sending you into this fun house of blood and gore, but it does take its time setting you free. I enjoy value as much as the next guy, but there were times -- particularly towards the middle-end portion -- where I was ready for it to end. I think a lot of this stemmed from a muddling plot that became overly complex.
Technically, The Evil Within does suffer a bit from framerate issues, though it was less noticeable after I installed an update. Load times were a bit long which was somewhat surprising given the game is divided into separate chapters. For the most part, though, it was a smooth gameplay experience. The controls are a big heavy and the free-aim takes some getting used to. But after an hour-or-so of hands-on time, I quickly became used to the controls. And towards the end, I couldn’t imagine playing the game any other way. In a sense, the free-aim adds to tension of the game as my nerves sometimes got the best of me during intense encounters. You know, when you’ve got one bullet left in the chamber and a giant Boxman heading your way, the trigger finger can sometimes slip.
The Evil Within doesn’t revolutionize the survival-horror genre, but it is a welcomed addition to the family. It’s not necessarily in-your-face scary, but there is a sense of dread and constant tension lingering. Again, there were few moments where I jumped, but I definitely felt uneasy throughout my playthrough.