The Evil Within – PlayStation 3
Platform: PlayStation 3
Developer: Tango Gameworks
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: October 14, 2014
Genre: Survival Horror
Nerd Rating: 8.5/10
Reviewed By: Steroid Gamer
Shinji Mikami is considered by many the father of survival horror games, mostly for his work on the Resident Evil franchise. The Evil Within is Mikami’s latest game where he attempts to bring back or bring relevance to the genre. Fortunately, I can say that The Evil Within is a helluva game (no pun intended) that not only brings some old and new features to the genre, but has plenty of Easter eggs and tributes to other famous franchises in the genre. However, it’s not perfect either as The Evil Within comes with its fair share of ugly blemishes, and I’m not referring to the in-game enemies.
One of the most important aspects of a horror game is the atmosphere and setting. Mikami and the rest of the team at Tango Gameworks know this and completely hit it out of the park with The Evil Within. This game is dark, tense, gruesome, gory, grotesque, brutal, and more. It’s great. This game is not for the faint of heart. Blood is everywhere. Guts and intestines (human, or not?) cover the ground you walk on. Enemy heads explode with emphasis and an accompanying “squish” sound each time you perform a headshot. Sebastian’s (our protagonist) death scenes are insanely brutal. Sebastian gets his head impaled, his head gets curb stomped, his limbs get severed in hundreds of different pieces, and there are plenty more gruesome scenes to see each time you die. Honestly, in a semi-sadistic way, it’s rather neat to see all the various ways your character can die. The soundtrack isn’t anything to write home about, but the tune that plays when you get near a “save room” is comforting and welcoming, that’s about it though. The sound effects pick up the slack for the lacking soundtrack. Enemies screech and squeal in pain when you set them on fire, gunfire feels like there is power behind your weapons, and you’re going to dread turning every corner when you hear an enemy shuffling in the distance. You’re going to not only fight for survival, but you’re going to want to. The Evil Within does a terrific job of making you want to get the “F” out of there.
The game’s story is all over the place, but it still has enough to keep you interested and motivated to continue on. The set-up is fairly simple. Detective Sebastian Castenellos, and his two partners Joseph and Kidman, head to the Beacon Mental Hospital where a bunch of murders have just been committed. As you can probably guess, once they arrive shit hits the fan and the game begins. There is the story’s main plot as well as a subplot that plays out through the game’s various collectible files. Both story arcs provide enough interesting points to keep you invested, the only problem is they ask a million questions along the way and never care to answer any of them. Yes, some of the answers are insinuated and one can figure them out fairly easily, but still nothing is downright stated. The sub plot doesn’t have a resolution and the main story’s resolution is such a head scratcher you’ll probably just waste time trying to sort it out. (There is some story DLC coming out where players will control Detective Kidman, so perhaps we’ll get some answers there, though I doubt it.) The voice acting is downright awful which will come as a surprise to some. Sebastian is voiced by Anson Mount (Hell on Wheels), Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen) voices the game’s antagonist, and Kidman is voiced by Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter). The craziest thing here is how awful Carpenter plays Kidman, which might come as a shock to Dexter fans considering her character on that show was a Detective as well. It literally sounds like she’s reading the script for the first time. Sebastian isn’t voiced quite as bad, but there are plenty of times where he comes off as “emotionless”. Personally, I’m not going to point the finger at Mikami here, but instead the Voice Director. Whoever that was didn’t do their job.
The pacing in The Evil Within is practically perfect and it’s all thanks to the game’s combat system. The game feels like a finely crafted song playing the right tunes at the right times. When you want the game to pick up a little, it does. When you want it to slow down it does that to. Since this is survival horror game ammo is fairly limited, as is health packs (syringes to be exact). Sebastian has access to a pistol, shotgun, rifle, Arcbolt (crossbow) and a couple other weapons as you progress through the game. The best part, and what makes the experience so much fun, is the freedom you’re given during most all of the combat scenarios. Want to sneak up on each enemy and knife them with a stealth kill? Go for it. Or would you rather gather the enemies’ attention and get them to group up, only to shoot them with an explosive arrow killing multiple enemies with one stone….err arrow? Maybe instead you want to avoid the enemies all together? Well, all the above is not only fine but encouraged. The freedom to play how you want is super rewarding. Saving all your ammo and moving through a creepy dungeon at a snail’s pace and coming out alive makes you feel like a badass. The same can be said for when you fail. Maybe you just started blasting away with your handgun, got overwhelmed, and became monster food. If that’s the case, you won’t feel like the game cheated you, but instead it honestly feels like you failed to survive. Your actions have consequences. This is the big key to making a survival game feel like a survival game. Knowing your actions are going to have consequences.
Unfortunately, there is a huge asterisk to the combat that can’t be ignored. There are far too many sections of the game that force you to play a specific way, and at first you probably won’t realize it (I didn’t). Instead you will die in these sections over, and over, and over, until the lightbulb goes off letting you know that you have to play a certain way. It sucks. Now these scenarios taken by themselves are actually pretty fun. The problem is they aren’t separate, but are a part of a larger whole. When they are compared side to side with the rest of the game they clearly stand out as not only inferior but frustrating. If you want to save ammo you can’t. If you want to group up enemies, good luck. These combat scenarios take away The Evil Within’s greatest strength, its freedom, and squash it to hell.
There are a couple of boss battles that are pretty tense and provide some classic “sweaty palms” gameplay, but there are also a few fights that are just freaking weird. The game features a pretty expansive upgrade system that can hinder or drastically improve your odds of survival. The games currency (green gel) can be used to upgrade a variety of things such as Sebastian’s stamina and health, weapon power and accuracy, amount of ammo you can carry, and more. The locations have a ton of variety so visually you won’t get bored. From a technical standpoint the game holds up well with only two issues. There is a lot of texture pop in on objects in the environment each time you respawn from death (it also happened at a lengthy opening cutscene), but other game’s have done this so it’s not a deal breaker. In two other instances I noticed that the shadow my character was casting on the wall was downright bad. You could literally see the polygons that made up the shadow just sitting there. It looked like a bunch of black boxes got together to have a family reunion. This isn’t noticeable unless you specifically look for it, and I only recall it happening in two locations. I’m not even sure if it was a fluke, or if that bad shadowing could be recreated, but it’s worth mentioning.
The survival horror genre hasn’t been the same in recent years compared to what it once was. The Evil Within does a tremendous job at mixing in the old elements as well as some new ones and proves that the survival horror genre still has its place in video games. The game is terrifying, nerve-wracking, and would make anyone with a blood obsession ecstatic. The freedom that comes with the combat is super rewarding but also shines so bright that it makes more restricted combat encounters less fun. The Evil Within is going to test you. If you want to survive you’re going to have to fight for it. You will never feel safe, never feel confident or comfortable, and that’s exactly how a horror game should be. The story has some shortcomings but they are common for this genre and easily forgotten. The Evil Within is a terrific game, and one every horror fan should play.
Is It Scary?
A good question to ask in any survival horror game is “Is this game Scary?”. Well, I will say this. First off, I’m 24 years old and I’ve watched a ton of horror films and played a high amount of horror games. I don’t know if I’m just desensitized to violence and horror at this point, but I didn’t find the game to be that “scary”. There were two chapters back to back that scared the living crap out of me and had me on the edge of my seat the entire time, but that was only two out of fifteen chapters. Don’t get me wrong the game is super tense, and I never ever felt “safe”. The Evil Within does a terrific job at making the player feel vulnerable and stuck in a constant battle to survive. So while I don’t’ think I would use the word scary, I would call the game nerve wracking. Then again I think this sort of thing just depends on the individual. So it may or may not “scare” you, but either way expect to have your heart pounding at some point or another.
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