It’s that time of the year again, when publishers rush to get their games on the market in time for the end-of-year holiday season. Among this year’s releases is The Evil Within, the newest game from Shinji Mikami, the creator of Resident Evil. Having such a big name attached to a game naturally leaves expectations high, and The Evil Within rightfully oozes ambition. Ultimately, however, the game left me feeling unsure whether it ever will be able to meet the lofty expectations people have of it.
To elaborate, horror games of late are often criticized for their controls being too responsive, or the combat mechanics being too much of a focus. Earlier games in the genre were quite notorious for lacking precise controls, and it is retroactively thought to enhance the horror experience, as it serves as a way to depower the player. With that in mind, it’s somewhat strange to me to see that The Evil Within falls smack dab right into the trap of having controls that empower you a little too much.
In fact, I can honestly say with full sincerity that the game did not scare me one single time. It is a horror game that lacked any horror. Or at least, it did for me.
Don’t get me wrong—all the elements that would theoretically comprise a good horror experience are all here. The tragic story, the grotesque monsters, the zombies, the violence with over-the-top gore, the small claustrophobic spaces, the dark barely visible passageways, fat ugly guys with chainsaws who totally aren’t Leatherface… the list goes on. Pretty much any horror cliché you can think of is thrown together into one big stew here. And yet, no matter what the game threw at me, I just didn’t feel it. The combat was really well done, and honestly a lot of fun. Sometimes too fun, as I found myself fighting enemies just for the heck of it, rather than being scared of them. Minor issues aside, combat is very satisfying, and your weapon arsenal has a good variety to it, including one very unique weapon in the form of your crossbow, which is rather creative in how it can be used.
The elements of traps as both a hazard and a form of aid to you is also equally creative, and one of my favorite aspects of the game. Walking into the traps can kill you, and it takes a keen eye to spot them up ahead, and disarm them. It makes for smarter play, and discourages you from running around without paying your surroundings any mind. At the same time, you can also lead your pursuers into traps, thus saving your limited ammo, and giving you the satisfaction of leading monsters to their death like rats in a maze. It doesn’t end there either. You also have a lot of variety with how you can approach the earlier chapters with options to hide in furniture and under beds, and commit stealth kills almost out of Assassin’s Creed. Alternatively, the direct approach is often effective, too. Having the same experience twice is rare, especially since you can customize Sebastian to increase his many different attributes, almost like an RPG. Aim, load time, health, endurance, physical strength, they can all be tampered with.
And that’s really the problem here. The Evil Within is a great action game, and not a great horror game. In fact it really didn’t feel much like a horror game at all, and came across to me as just another action game that just so happened to have horror elements in it. At times, there were some moments that really rekindled memories of the old Resident Evil games of the past, but that promise just never came to fruition in my experience, especially in comparison to Kojima Productions’ “PT,” a playable teaser for the next Silent Hill game, which is genuinely unnerving. The story in The Evil Within doesn’t really manage to be very interesting either, and trying to unravel Sebastian’s inner demons just didn’t have the impact that more famous games in the genre have had… especially the earlier Silent Hill games.
On the technical side, there are a few issues that prevent The Evil Within from being a masterpiece, but for the most part, the mechanics make for a very solid action game. However, one should point out that the fixed camera perspective does leave a lot to be desired in some situations, and the slower load times, while not unreasonable, are still a pain to sit through. In fact, at the risk of sounding needlessly snarky, these load times may actually be the only horror I experienced—the horror of dying a lot at certain parts of the game, and being forced to look at a load screen repeatedly.
I’d like to end on a positive note, since, again, The Evil Within isn’t a bad game—it just isn’t a good horror game—so, let me talk about how it looks and sounds. It must be said that the lighting in this game is stellar. The shadow effects, and the way the lights are used to emphasis certain emotions is beautiful. You can tell real thought was put into the position of each light for each scene, and I love how your shadow moves and stretches. Meanwhile, the musical score deserves fair recognition, too. Somber, restrained, and never too overpowering, the music is capable of compelling a lot of emotions without a lot of big booms, and loud crescendos. The score gives off a perfectly eerie vibe, and a few songs even managed to get stuck in my head, especially the theme to the mirror world/save room.
Artistically speaking, The Evil Within is a homerun. It’s obvious that there was a vision here. A cohesive vision is never easy to pull off in big budget, AAA games, but it is definitely present here. When you consider how many different locales there are, it’s even more impressive. From hospitals, to medieval Europe, to shoot-outs on a cliff, with underground sewers and forests in-between—all these environments you visit have their own unique look and feel, and help keep the game feeling fresh.
Food for Thought:
1. The title screen with Sebastian’s face in barbed wire just brings up vivid memories of some old Persona 2 artwork with Tatsuya.
2. I like to think the ooze you need to upgrade yourself with is the same ooze from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. Super Shredder, watch out… Sebastian Castellanos is on the case!