The “evil” is within the makers of this survivor horror indeed. You will be chased by horribly disfigured undead monsters in nightmarish, haunted environments most of the time with only a few bullets left to defend yourself. Shinji Mikami of Resident Evil fame really knows how to scare you, so we were curious whether his latest survivor horror will live up to his name.
With my leg cut by a chainsaw, I can barely walk, while a horrible looking, chainsaw-wielding butcher is chasing me. I have no weapons and no real hope to get anywhere from the crazy butcher. Of course, I get saved at the very last moment by an elevator, only to find myself in an even more horrific place.
This is only one scene of The Evil Within which tries to get back to the roots of what’s best in the genre of the survivor horror. While it mostly succeeds, there are some serious drawbacks as well.
Silent Hill overdrive
While Shinji Mikami is best known for Resident Evil 4 and he was never in the development team of any Silent Hill, The Evil Within still mostly reminded me of the best episode in the series: Silent Hill 2. The whole setting and unsettling visual world, the surreal, very David Lynch-like story and ambiance of the whole game took clearly some cues from Konami’s excellent survivor horror.
Detective Sebastian “Seb” Castellanos, the main hero of the game is also a somewhat typical Silent Hill-like character: throughout the game we find out, how he is ridden with remorse and a feeling of guilt because of a personal tragedy. While being a detective, he’s actually not much of a sharpshooter and walks moves and runs awkwardly. Controlling him made me think also of James Sunderland from Silent Hill 2.
There’s an important difference however this time around: in a rotten and dreadful hospital, we can level up his abilities gradually. We need to collect a kind of greenish goo for that, which seems to be some kind of a drug. We can find those either just lying around in the game or by killing undead people. This slight RPG feature is actually very well done at challenges you for some thought-provoking decision making: “should rather upgrade the impact of my gun, my health, or rather my ability to run”?
Die-hard? Not really… You will die pretty easily
Whether you upgrade your character in a smart way or not, The Evil Within is still a hard game – especially on the harder level. While aiming and moving around with Castellanos is pretty hard the purposefully wonky camera doesn’t make your life easier either. You need to shoot a lot of bullets in some of your bigger enemies and headshots are advisable with the other kind as well. Your undead enemies are somewhat unpredictable: they walk at a zombie-like, slow pace, but if they spot you, they can get to you very fast.
Ammo is, of course, scarce and if you are out of it, and don’t have a hand weapon in your hand you better run for your life. You have the option to fight the undead by hand to hand combat, but of course, you’ll get hurt in the process.
Castellanos isn’t much of a runner either. He can only run for a few seconds (we can upgrade this ability) and if he needs to catch his breath, he just stops panting and bending himself for a moment, no matter how near is the monster chasing him. It can get actually pretty infuriating to get killed because this 35-40 years old well-trained police officer can only run so much as a crippled old man before stopping to catch his breath.
You can get pretty frustrated as well with some enemies which are not meant to be killed, but it’s not always clear, whether it’s the case or not. After shooting all of your ammo in them the only option is to simply reload the game, since all you have done is waste your ammo. There are also many areas where it isn’t clear either, what the heck you are supposed to do. You just run around in circles, occasionally with a big monster at your tails.
Silent Hill and David Lynch on drugs
The Evil Within is the same kind of “roller coaster” when it comes to visual quality. The art department has done a fabulous job to provide a very creepy and highly artistic visual experience at the same time. Visual effects not only disorientate you but truly fuck up your mind.
Some areas also look very detailed but I wouldn’t call the graphics “pretty” on the whole. Tango Gameworks choose to use the id Tech 5 engine which seemed to be a logical choice since the publisher Bethesda owns it. The problem is that Tech 5 isn’t really fit for this kind of game nor the developer done a really good job upgrading it. Yes, we have seen that in Wolfenstein it looked good, but while MachineGames actually did bother to upgrade the basic engine, the same cannot be told about Tango Gameswork’s art department. In many places, the game looks very dated and the texture pop up glitch, which plagued Rage three years ago on both older consoles and the PC is clearly present here as well.
But the most annoying “feature” is the “cinematic” black bars, which are present during the whole game. We’ll never know if it indeed present for “artistic” reasons, as Tango Gameworks claims, or just for keeping the framerate up (which is fixed at 30 FPS). One thing is sure: they cannot be removed and they are pretty irritating for a while. I have actually restarted the game on the PC because they can be removed with a workaround here and the games looks a lot better without it.
Love and hate affair
The Evil Within is truly an unequal experience. Sometimes the game looks and plays great, sometimes it’s really frustrating, but you still persevere because you want the know the end of the story and sometimes it’s simply a big let-down. I had the impression that different teams worked on the game and some of them weren’t really up to the task. It’s a shame because my favourite survivor horror game is still Silent Hill 2, and The Evil Within was close to delivering this kind of experience. Unfortunately, it failed to reach this level of perfection. To sum it up: it’s a rather good game with an excellent story and great ambience but it’s let down a bit by unnecessary frustration and some poorly designed levels and designer decisions.
+ Great story
+ The impressive, artistic visuals provides a movie-like experience
+ Many levels are well designed…
– … but some them are really poor
– Uneven graphical quality, looks dated at many places
– Frustrating difficulty spikes
– It’s not always logical, whether you have to kill or avoid an enemy
– The black bars
Publisher Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Tango Gameworks
Genres: survivor horror, action, adventure
Published: 2014 October