A sort of review-ish thing about The Evil Within

Now I know this sort of thing doesn’t really fit in with the rest of my blog but I wasn’t quite prepared to write this up and then have it vanish into the depths of Tumblr after an hour either, so here we are. If it helps at all the next blog post is going to be about the gorgeous X68000 shmup Knight Arms just to try and balance things out, so normal service will be resumed shortly!

Everything below is based on my own experiences playing the PC version of the game “blind” on the default difficulty setting (“Survival”). I won’t deliberately spoil anything for the sake of it, but inevitably some of the points below are going to be in that sort of territory so do hold off on reading any further if you’re spoiler-sensitive.

Finally: if this all looks a bit TL;DR for you feel free to skip down to the score at the bottom.

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So, The Evil Within, eh? That’s the all-new survival horror game from Shinji Mikami; the clever chap responsible for the Resident Evil series, which you may have heard of (and you’ve certainly suffered through by proxy if you’ve followed me on Twitter for more than ten minutes). Players are cast in the role of Sebastian Castellanos, a detective with the Krimson City PD with the typical sad background/functioning alcoholic personality type as he heads off to investigate an incident at the local mental hospital which of course unravels into… into, well… something.

Is The Evil Within one man’s descent into madness? Or perhaps the cruel experimentations of an evil mastermind? Well, as with the rest of the game, you find out that it wants to do both but can’t decide on either, so you end up with a rather mild sampling of the two without any real direction.

The game suffers with this problem right down at the most basic level, constantly switching back and forth between Resident Evil 4-style “body horror” before abruptly changing tack and attempting something more along the line of Silent Hill’s symbolic psychological mind-twisters. Unfortunately the background to all this weirdness is so sparse you never feel any sense of dread towards the enemies because until the credits roll and the extras unlock you rarely have any idea what the heck any of them are in relation to Sebastian or the situation he’s in.

The locations suffer a similar fate, with a good part of the first half of the game having little real sense of claustrophobia or connection to the player beyond “Didn’t I see somewhere like this in Resident Evil 4/REmake?”, and the only place you ever keep coming back to is the one place you’re completely safe and can leave at will.

Now there’s nothing wrong with not having the entire plot laid out nice and neat before you, but The Evil Within goes so far the other way that for the first half of the game you’re just freewheeling through locations because you find yourself literally dumped into them and once that big plot reveal finally arrives those preceding chapters don’t suddenly unmask themselves as “hiding in plain sight” clues towards this moment or feel like anything other than a lot of filler.

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This disjointed feel equally applies to the combat: a game where enemies are sprinkled over the area like you have the speed and resources of Mr. Leon S Kennedy and his Ganado-suplexing ways, yet due to the high damage they inflict and the way they generally insist on coming back (very quickly) from the dead unless burned or thoroughly beaten to a bloody pulp it feels more like a fight with REmake’s infamous Crimson Head enemies, over and over and over again.

You do technically have many ways of dealing with enemies, but the scarcity of ammo and trap parts for the Agony Bow (your fancy-pants crossbow with the special-effect bolts) means that you’ll often fall back on the safest method – knocking them over with a few shots and then, matches willing, burning them alive.

The Agony Bow does offer the opportunity to experiment with many different ways of killing enemies in some clever ways, however many players will never dare “waste” precious trap parts on the bolts that have less immediately obvious uses due to the large number of parts required and the fact that the majority of your bolt-building supplies come from the rather risky business of deactivating bombs. Bombs that blow up in Sebastian’s face if you don’t disarm them correctly first time.

Stealth kills are also possible against certain enemy types but due to the sheer volume of them on the map it’s a hit-and-miss affair and with bullets being so rare that finding three shotgun shells is cause to crack open the champagne and do a little dance it’s not something that first-time players can simply shrug off as a technique to leave for the experts. If all else fails there’s always the “choice” to run away; although this is completely undermined by the fact that in certain parts you must run, while in others you must fight, artificially locked into a specific area until you’ve cleared out all the enemies.

As a final aside – melee fighting is absolutely not worth anyone’s time and for whatever reason the knife Sebastian happily uses to stab monsters in the brain with is only a part of his stealth kill animation – he otherwise and inexplicably prefers using his fists when out of ammo and confronted with hordes of fleshy aberrations. Melee fighting is not an option, it is the last thing you do before you die.

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So what about the bosses? They look weird and they’re all pretty gross but with the exception of the final boss it never feels like they’re out to get you, more that you were simply passing through the wrong place at the wrong time. Special mention must be made of chapter 5’s final boss monster – without wishing to sound like a petulant child a boss that can teleport at will, is incredibly fast, and has a strong tendency to instant kill you when close (via an irritatingly lengthy and unskippable animation) is plain not fair; add to that the fact that the boss must be killed in a very particular way and you have a recipe for… well, little outbursts like this.

I’ve been really quite negative about the game so far and that’s because it really doesn’t start off well at all, but things do start coming together in chapter 9 (of 15) – at that point the locations finally start to have some real relevance to the story. The sad thing is that once you finish the game a model viewer unlocks that also includes some very insightful text for each character and enemy – for the bosses and minibosses in particular this information really should have been included in files throughout the game as the significance of many encounters is greatly improved by this knowledge that you have absolutely no access to until after the final credits roll.

Overall The Evil Within really isn’t a bad game, in spite of my complaints. But it is a very disappointing one, especially considering Mikami’s previous offerings in the field. The Evil Within is ultimately a muddy attempt at being all-horrors-to-all-people, and as expected the result is a game that does a good enough job when it decides it’s going to be Resident Evil or Silent Hill for a chapter, but fails to meld them all into a convincing new whole and when presenting players with a new challenge it will take at least one death to confirm if this particular scenario is meant to be played gung-ho Leon S Kennedy style or avoided like Clock Tower’s Scissorman.

Looking at the information provided post-game and the as-yet-undescribed three DLC chapters it does appear that The Evil Within will eventually provide a complete experience; the problem is that that experience is not in the main game where you would reasonably expect it to be. Too much (barbed, bloodied) stick, and no where near enough carrot.

Final score: Reviewscoresarejustnumberswithoutcontext/10