The Evil Within: Review

tew1I never thought it would have ever been this hard to review a survival horror game of this magnitude.
As a videogame consumer who has played and enjoyed games from Resident Evil 1 to 4, Silent Hill 1 to 5, Outlast and Fatal Frame on the PS2, I can safely claim to be able to rate a survival horror game properly when I see one. Thus, The Evil Within has challenged my intellect in a very eerie manner.

The-Evil-Within-AsylumWhile playing it, I was stricken by its resemblance to other survival horror games I have played before. It is reminiscent of the times when I used to exclusively play survival horror games, and this went heavy on nostalgia. Different aspects of the game linked my mind to mechanics and techniques used in some of the games mentioned above, and I was pleasantly surprised seeing everything compiled under one title.

Let’s put this straight, right from the beginning, because I need to have everybody know a few facts, before starting throwing eggs at me:

  • I have waited for The Evil Within ever since I’ve heard of it for the first time. Right around December 2013, I looked up on Youtube the most anticipated games of 2014. The Evil Within was on the list and it captured my interest from the very moment I heard its title.
  • Subsequently, I never expected The Evil Within to deliver something original. I didn’t demand, want or need it. At all. All I wanted was the revival of the old-school survival horror genre that engaged me when I was younger.

The day the game finally got released, I snatched the First Day Edition from Steam and the striking facts began.

I never anticipated that the game would occupy about 40 GB on my hard drive. To this day, I don’t know what for, but this is just a minor issue, but it’s noticeable, for you don’t install 40 GB games every day.
Once this was done, I eagerly waited to see the title screen and browse through the menus and options. I had promised myself I would leave no stone unturned. But the menu of the game doesn’t consist of too many rocks to turn. The graphical customization and options are scarce, and other features are close to non-existent. It’s a shame, but I at least expected to be able to change the aspect ratio of the game. One upper and one lower black bar is limiting the surface of the screen the game is actually displayed and played on, which feels like a waste of resources. Personally I don’t see any good reason behind it and I cannot explain what they wanted to achieve with that.
This is the biggest issue I have with The Evil Within.

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The game plays in the modern view of the action-horror genres, using a relentless over-the-shoulder camera. This greatly reduces the field of view, leaving you exposed to the dangers that lurk around the corners. This made me associate The Evil Within with Resident Evil 4 right on spot. For some of you, it might be the first survival horror game played in an over-the-shoulder perspective.
Unfortunately, I am not a huge fan of this, and for some reason I liked the Resident Evil 3 and Silent Hill 4’s camera perspectives better. During this review you will read me referring myself and raging about how the camera hinders your from enjoying the full potential of the game.
Tango Gameworks succeeds at introducing the player in a horror movie-like world, thanks to the adjustable screen grain option, which can also be disabled, but in my personal opinion it adds a certain amount of value to the gameplay.
The graphics look absolutely stunning. I have nothing to complain about; apart from occasional texture popping that draws me out of the game’s immersion surprisingly fast.
The character models look good, especially Sebastian Castellanos, the main protagonist. I felt like the secondary characters lack graphical details. But what strikes in the best possible way, is the scenery. It is absolutely breath taking, rich, complex and it reminded me about the scenery of The Last of Us in some way.

There are many elements that confer a unique feeling to the game, both inside and outside scenarios. Probably so many, that some of them can easily be overlooked, even though the player can interact with them.
One can break barrels, move objects, block ways, kick gasoline barrels to bring them in a more strategic position, in order to ignite them later.
In this stunning environment hide many sorts of traps that can be disarmed and dismantled for parts. The fact that they are somewhat obscure and hard to see is part of the game, although it contributes to the frustration build-up, started by the camera control and field of view.

Sadly, the horrible field of view hindered me from enjoying the beauty of the scenery as a whole and leaves me craving for more.
Every single detail screams for attention. Every haystack, every sickle stuck in a plank seems to be yelling at you to admire it, even though many graphical elements are useless.

It literally boggles my mind and I can’t stress enough how frustrated I am over the fact that the game restricts my access to admire it the way I wanted.
I would even go that far to say that a Photo Mode feature like the one in The Last of Us Remastered would have come in handy for creating masterpiece wallpapers and screenshots.

Moving on to the sound and music, the usage of classical music is not odd, at least from my point of view. As a fan of classical music composed by J.S. Bach, hearing Suite no. 3 in D minor in game was a pleasant surprise. If I was to pick the best classical composer and ask him to create soundtracks for horror games, that would have definitely been Bach.
It’s a great relief to hear the calming piano sound when you are close to a safehouse, just because saving progress is a very important part for the game economy.

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Gameplay. I could write many pages about The Evil Within’s gameplay. It’s intriguing, frustrating, challenging and rewarding at the same time.
It has all the ingredients of a survival horror, hands down. From sneak kills, to open field chaotic combat, to “oh shit run for your life” moments, to “stand back, I’ve got this” moments.
It’s versatile and allows you to approach either a stealthy play style, or you can lure the enemies out of their nests and open fire, if you so desire, but don’t judge me when you suffer severe consequences. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to go full out on enemies, but the game doesn’t fear itself from openly encouraging the stealthy play style, especially on harder difficulties where ammo is a previous resource.
I feel again force to refer myself to The Last of Us salvaging for resources, because that’s exactly how The Evil Within does it. And to be fair, it nailed it properly.
You don’t loot cupboards and drawers for your own wealth, but it really feels that you are forced to explore the map, in order to survive. And by exploring the map, you reveal to yourself the delights the game has in store for you, like abandoned cabins, hanged corpses, spooky farmhouses and many more circumstances you will find yourself in.
If you like death cams, The Evil Within is second to none. Shinji Mikami is well known for creating gruesome ways to be killed, and even though the camera is obnoxious while playing, it shows you the “in your face” moments in detail.
The death moments are varied, surprising, blood, fleshy and it makes you wonder what it would feel like to have your arm cut off by a chainsaw and your head chopped off with a butcher’s cleaver right afterwards.
Or how would it feel like being blown off into pieces by having triggered a trap.
Personally, I love death cams and I often let enemies kill me on purpose, in order to find out what inventive way to be killed they have come up with at Tango. It’s delightful, in a very dark manner, of course.

In terms of difficulty, the game is relentlessly hard, even on Casual Difficulty. Why ? Not because the ammo is limited (which it is), but because of the horrendous camera control.
Stealthily approaching an enemy piercing its skull with the knife is just as rewarding as blowing packs of zombies up with the explosive bolt. There are quite a few ways to kill your opponents, and it all comes down to your strategy. Should you take time to explore the environment first, you will be surprised by how many strategies reveal themselves.
But beware. Some enemies are stringer than others. Like in Resident Evil 4, some of them have ranged attacks at their disposal and they can even use firearms.
What do you choose ? Blow a full clip of a pistol into the head of an enemy, or weaken it by shooting it in the leg and subsequently stomping its head with the boot?

The levels are quite ambiguous. There is no map to guide you and it’s easy to get lost in villages of zombies. It gets frustrating, because you can never have a wide enough view over whatever you would like to see. Again, field of view issues.

The game features an interesting upgrade system. It’s straight forward. You go to the safehouse, a hospice where Sebastian Castellanos has been admitted and access the upgrade interface.
The currency for that is a goo-like substance called “Green Gel”, which can be salvaged from the main game. You get to pick and choose what you upgrade and what is more important to you at a specific point of the game. Would you rather hold more bullets in the clip of your handgun, have more health or be able to run for longer ? The choice is yours. The more you upgrade a feature, the more expensive later upgrades get, mind you.  It’s nothing that we haven’t seen before, nothing original, but again, Originality is the very LAST thing I expected from The Evil Within.

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The characters left me with no special impression. Just another brave police detective fighting monsters. Sebastian Castellanos is no hero; he is just here on duty. The problem is that he doesn’t communicate with the player enough and doesn’t express his emotions. He is bland, boring and straight out not interesting. One question is haunting me? Why doesn’t the player have access to his feelings and consciousness? I believe we’re missing out on so much and the game has wasted the chance of creating a memorable character to stay.
Remember Alan Wake, Joel, Booker DeWitt, or Cheryl Mason? In their respective games, they related to other characters on a spiritual plan as well. From this point of view, the Evil Within lacks heart. No character seems naturally bonded to others and their personalities feel artificial.
They transmit the feeling of not believing in themselves.
At least they redeem themselves with decent voice acting. What I would have loved seeing is more cohesion, because many circumstances don’t make much sense, and neither does the story. Sebastian Castellanos and his crew are off to investigate a mysterious massacre at Beacon Hospital for mental illnesses. Having arrived there, an eerie man by his name of Ruvik, or Ruben Victoriano, reveals himself as a ghostly, unexplained figure with supernatural powers. The player encounter him multiple time during the game, when weird things happen.

I was truly impressed by the cutscenes, and I think that they nailed it in this department too. They come in like a breath of fresh air after a tense level, and they are just well created.

The game controls are not excessively bad. They are responsive, the aiming is allright. Again, if you played The Last of Us, you should already have an idea. What interferes with the allright controls is the camera. Sometimes you just don’t know whether you should be running left, right or back and you cannot make a decision on how to approach a certain scenario due to the limitations of the camera and of the visible environmental details on a single screen.
The controller is fully supported. For me, that’s the way this should be played. A console port doesn’t necessarily have to be bad, in no way, shape or form, but it should be played like a console game is supposed to be played. Again, The Evil Within delivers in that department.
I haven’t played the game on a console before, but I played many other similar games.

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Conclusions

tew6The Evil Within is far from being original. It would be an injustice to require originality from a game that is not about something new, but on the contrary; it’s here to revive the nostalgia of the fans who love the classic survival horror genre, who played the old-school Resident Evil and Silent Hill games. It’s like a portal in time, through the eyes of the Next Gen.
Whether there is a game that describes the Golden Ages of Survival Horror through the Next Gen flavor, The Evil Within is that game. It’s something I waited for, as a fan of the genre and I am glad that Shinji Mikami hasn’t shown the last of him with Resident Evil 4.

Is The Evil Within worth picking up ? YES. Is it the perfect game? NO, absolutely not. It has the critical camera and field of view flaw I personally cannot get over, but in general, the game is a good package, especially if you are a fan.
Did Shinji Mikami succeed in reviving the classic survival horror? Yes, with more accent falling on the word survival rather than horror.
The Evil Within is a horror game through its scenery and graphical content to the point of saturation. It doesn’t require a bloodbath to create a proper horror game.

In my opinion, The Evil Within was ashamed of itself to become more and it feels to me that it’s afraid to show more.
If only I could keep myself 30 centimeters further away from the shoulder of Sebastian Castellanos…

 

Final Verdict for The Evil Within PC Version: GOOD (shite, cash grab, mediocre, good, excellent).


My real name is Mihai Voicu (using the nickname of Mihai Krieger almost everywhere). I'm a 24 years old casual gamer living in Bucharest, Romania. I've been gaming for as long as I remember, but only on a casual, relaxed basis. I started back in the 90's on a Famicom console, moving on to PSX in 1998 and to computer in the early 2000's. Back then, I was playing mainly Real Time Strategy games, moving on to RPGs and Survival Horror genre in mid 2000's. I've been into World of Warcraft for almost 7 years now, raiding no more than three days a week.

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