Shinji Mikami is back to terrorize gamers! Does his latest (and probably last) thriller stack up to his previous classics?
by Baker McDonald
I'm actually quite awful at video games, which is why when presented with the chance to play and review The Evil Within, I jumped at it. I say video games, but honestly I mean survival-horror as a whole. It is quite common for me to end up purchasing them, then hoisting off the responsibility to play to one of my (braver? more horror-inclined?) friends.
The Evil Within is Shinji Mikami's first foray back into directing horror in almost a decade, with new studio; Tango Gameworks. In a broad sense, the game works. It does exactly as is prescribed, which is to scare the hell out of you. However the story fumbles over itself, our lead character Sebastian Castellanos is entirely unbelievable (unless he is seriously stoic as f**k--I don't think he succeeds in this), and the difficulty/resulting deaths along with excessive load times quite often break tension and lead to brute force tactics in order to proceed in story. I often found myself walking away from the game, not because I was scared, but because I was pissed off about dying multiple times in a row.
"I heard you been talkin' shit, and you didn't think I'd find out..."
Setting and tone are handled extremely well throughout the entire game. Whether this be twisting Bach's Suite 3 BWV 1068 - Air into something truly terrifying as you're trying to cut yourself free from bondage, or associating another classical piece,Claire de Luneby Debussy, with safe haven. Traces of sepia signify the enemy free zone 'the hospital', and I can not help but be reminded of NBC's Hannibal when color and lighting get the opportunity to play center stage. I feel like the real champion of this game are the environments. Often, I found myself backpedaling through a level once I had cleared it of traps and enemies just so I could explore. I'm quite tempted to pick up the PC version just to take advantage of God Mode so I can spend time tinkering around a level with foes still active!
Embellishment, while good, can also sometimes be distracting. We as a consumer base KNOW this is a next-gen platform, but that doesn't mean you have to go overboard. The first time you enter the hospital, there is a sink in your cell with bugs writhing out of the drain. This is just an overlay texture and honestly does little to add to the atmosphere--if anything, it's slightly confusing as you come to expect this place to be a respite from the onslaught of horror that the rest of the world contains.
I'm sure this was done to save assets, but I found it slightly distracting
Where gameplay is concerned, there is absolutely nothing new in The Evil Within. Quite often it's unclear if you're meant to stealth your way through an area, or just duck your head and run screaming while a horde of bad guys chase along after you. It feels like Mikami went for the best parts of the original Resident Evil, along with the best from Resident Evil 4, and had JUST beaten The Last of Us so he had to pull heavily from that too (which I'm fine with because that was a great game).
While problematic, the camera controls did have a strange secondary effect of making the game -completely- claustrophobic because of how awful they were. And along with excruciatingly slow load times upon a death, once you do pop back into existence it is unclear exactly what resets. At one point I paused the game and ducked into my little library of paper clippings and map pieces only to find that several things I thought I had were now back in the wilderness... it was a gigantic pain in the ass.
As a side note, I am glad that matches are only made in books of 5 so that way you're not overencumbered when you find more than that. This brings me to something I really did like: throughout the game hidden here and there are little vials of green goo, which you collect and can then use to level up at the hospital. Being very cautious (which was noted in the dialogue just by my popping back in every five seconds) I tended to go for health and sprint speed before I started working on weapons and damage output... give me a way to level up and I am a happy camper! The flexibility in level-up structure lets you play your way, which I appreciated.
I could continue on, but I'd rather leave you with a few gems from my experience.
*Dialogue from our leading man Mr. Castellanos, "You're Leslie, right? I'm a police officer, maybe I should help you." (I thought he was a detective?) [Editor's note: "Detective" can be a class of police officer, like SWAT or traffic.]
*Dialogue from another character "Itches, it itches." (Hooray for RE references!)
*Hints from the Loading Screen "Invisible enemies can be tracked when they step in puddles." (No, how about we can just see them, plz.)
*Quote from me "Oh my god..." (seconds later) "OH MY GOD!!!" (I was a regular Dana Scully.)
*Quote from a friend I hoisted this off on so I could watch someone else play, "If you're going to die this much there should be no load times..."
Goat Simulator: Evil Edition
+ Flexible level-up system via green goo (this made me really happy)
+ Excellent use of color and tone
+ Actually quite scary--a great game to play this month
+/- Camera is kind of awful so game can be extremely claustrophobic
+/- Lots and lots and lots of blood/gore
- Leading man is about as interesting as a stump
- Load times are horrendous
- Very slow-progressing/convoluted story