The Evil Within review

Posted: November 6, 2014 by ryanlecocq in Reviews

The-Evil-Within-logo

It was a serious ordeal to finish this game.  Not because it was unusually difficult.  Not because it wasn’t fun enough to keep me playing.  Because it was such a bad PC port that I literally reinstalled it half a dozen times and made multiple fixes, while it still crashed constantly.  I already went over that in the technical review though, so let’s move on to how it fares as a game.

I should start by saying that I am a huge survival horror fan.  For the developers to claim this game was a “return to the roots” of the genre, they have to impress fans like me to back up this statement.  I have to say I’m pretty impressed.  I’m a big fan of the core mechanics and elements that make survival horror games survival horror games.  So I was very pleased by all of the combing of creepy environments to find much-needed supplies.  At its’ core, The Evil Within (or Psychobreak in Japan) is everything a true survival horror game should be.  It has very creepy areas.  It has some interesting boss creatures that pursue you through multiple levels.  It has upgradeable weapons that can perform a variety of functions.  In all of the most important ways, this game is everything I imagined it would be.  The flaws are all in the more subtle aspects and while they keep The Evil Within from being as good as Mikami’s last horror game (Resident Evil 4), they in no way stop it from being a blast to play.

The first thing that will jump out at you when you fire up this game is the quality of the graphics and sound effects.  You are introduced to your characters in a very classic cop drama intro, where they speed onto the scene of a crime.  The game then wows you with first its’ outdoor lighting and water effects, then immediately afterwards its’ realtime shadows and visual filters.  I especially love the way the film grain effect is reduced in the lighter areas where your view is focused and intensified in the shadows and at the edge of the screen.  Everything from firelight to the way flickering shadows are cast from an arcing electrical conduit add to the game’s creepy atmosphere.  The sound effects are exceptionally crisp and clear as well, something I don’t normally notice in games.  At one point I was in a tense moment and accidentally kicked a bottle.  The noise was amplified in the enclosed space and I winced like Pippin Took as it clattered around the corner.  I think waiting to see if the creature hunting me had heard that noise was one of the scariest parts of the game.  It just goes to show how much graphics and sound do actually matter to gameplay if executed well.

The controls and gameplay functions are pretty standard.  While the scheme is completely different than Resident Evil 4, you will immediately feel at home if you have spent many hours with that game.  The running, shooting, picking stuff up and interacting with the environment all feel very reminiscent of past Mikami games.  So this means that they are rock solid, but it also means a shallow learning curve if you have mastered these tactics.  I quickly found that my old RE4 tactics of using one or two gimmick weapons, mixed with a series of cheap shots (matches and stealth kills in this case) was more effective than going to the effort of actually shooting anything besides bosses.  Once you grasp all of the game’s concepts, it actually becomes a little too obvious how to use the clearly provided environmental traps and advantages to make quick work of your enemies.  There always seem to be multiple traps built into the environment that are right where I want the enemies to go, making it a matter of rounding them up or stunning them and then deploying something that does my work for me.  Overall though, I enjoyed it a great deal, as gimmicky gameplay is a cornerstone of the survival horror genre and I felt this game indulged me thoroughly.  Nothing like killing a boss by shooting it in the face with a magnum, causing it to do a backflip into the forest of explosive mine darts I have laid.

The story was kind of a love/hate for me.  I really liked the whole ‘dream within a dream within a dream” aspect, but the actual story of my character took the backseat to it.  Though I will admit, “what the #$%& is going on?” was much larger on my mind while playing than “where is my family?”  I don’t want to spoil too much, but if you watched the trailers than you know this is one of those ‘villain has mind powers that let him control reality’ kind of games, much like several Silent Hill entries.  Since you spend most of the game in this altered reality, it’s important that it feels fleshed out.  That is done very well, down to there being movie posters in the city areas that advertise the movies that inspired the villain to create the boss monsters.  You really get the feeling that you are in his twisted world, much like in the movie The Cell.  In fact The Cell and other recent horror hits are a lot of the inspiration in this game.  The game makes light of it with the movie poster concept I mentioned above, which neatly explains why the bosses resemble monsters from real world horror movies of the last 25 years.  It does feel a bit like a plot that was conjured mostly from horror tropes though, as I was never really blown away by any of the things it showed me.  It definitely tickled my fan-bone by referencing properties like Ringu, Jacob’s Ladder and The Hills Have Eyes, but this also left me expecting things to turn out much like they did.  In the end, the only thing left out was the protagonist’s resolution.  You can assume what happened to his family, but there are several possible variations of this as laid out by the plot, so I was kind of like ‘huh?’ at the end.

As far as length and difficulty, The Evil Within has a lot in common with Shinji Mikami’s past games as well.  Completion falls somewhere between the 10-12 hours of Resident Evil and the perfect feeling 20 hours of RE4, depending on your playstyle.  It took me about 17 hours to complete and I was fairly thorough in my exploration.  The challenge is much like RE4; if you are well prepared with gear, you will breeze through until you run into a boss or challenge room.  Then you may die a few times before completing it.  Most of my nearly 50 deaths were caused by the arbitrary sequences where you basically use trial and error combined with quick reflexes to avoid instant deaths.  The rolling rocks and such of RE4 have been replaced with stalker monsters and other things that can kill you instantly if you turn the wrong way or explore one step too far.  While I felt that there were almost too many of these, they did add challenge that I could not ovecome by just stockpiling explosive bolts and grenades.

Probably the most important thing to a lot of people is: Is it scary?  In some parts, definitely yes.  Especially early in the game, there are a number of parts where you are sneaking around or being pursued and it can be pretty scary.  Overall though, it’s more creepy.  Like Resident Evil, a lot of the horror is you exploring the environment and wondering what creepy shit has been done there.  The lighting, sound and level design come together to create truly disturbing environments that will gross you out at least a little just traversing them.  The gross factor overall is pretty high if that sort of thing scares you.  Many a blood pool or pile of body parts will be crawled through in a single playthrough.  I was actually pleased that there were very few jump scares.  Most of the terror was inside my mind and of the “what the hell is happening?” or “it’s coming to get me!” variety.

In conclusion, I think The Evil Within is a great, but not legendary survival horror game.  In the pantheon of games directed by Mr. Mikami, this one falls somewhere in the middle.  It’s better than Dino Crisis, but not as good as RE4.  I still haven’t played a horror game as good since RE4, so I guess I’m not waiting for anything new.  I definitely enjoyed my time with this game, when I wasn’t fighting just to keep it from crashing.  Since that was mostly only the PC version, I’m not holding it against the game’s design.

8.5/10

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