The Evil Within finally released last week and it met with some pretty mixed reception. Despite what a lot of the reception has been like or all of the criticism I'm going to lob at it today, I found the game to be pretty enjoyable overall. While I had fun with it though, there is quite a bit that I feel should be addressed with it. As such, today I want to talk about what The Evil Within is, as a product presented to us, and also what it could have been based upon what the game offers.
The Evil Within is a strange game. In a time where the horror genre is in such a weird place, Shinji Mikami promised to bring it back to an era when it was well loved and received. What he delivered is essentially that, but it is also a game of two halves. Simply put, the game seems to be at odds with itself. Picture, if you will, two different types of survival horror games. In one hand you have Resident Evil 4; the action packed, tense game that still holds a place in many hearts today, while also begrudged by many others as the first step down the path that has slowly ruined the genre over time.
In the other hand, however, you have something new. A game that threatens to really break the mold, one that has the capability to truly revitalize the staling genre by taking the wonderfully psychological nature of Silent Hill 2 and giving it some old school Resident Evil tweaks, a Last of Us-esque stealth system, modern controls, and an incredibly cinematic look. What seems to have happened with The Evil Within is that these two games were mashed together to make a game that has all the pieces necessary to create something masterful, but chooses to hold it back by playing it safe and seeking to remind people of the other game that Mr. Mikami made that you probably loved.
It honestly feels like the creation of that second game was their intention, but they were worried that it wouldn't be received well; that people would cry for more action, because that seems to be what developers and publishers have decided that we want. If you have yet to play The Evil Within then you may think that I'm overreacting, that surely one would expect a survival horror by the man who created the award winning RE4 to play somewhat similarly, but no my friend. There are scenes in Evil Within, entire chapters mind you, that feel as if they were ripped straight from RE4. Not just similar, but legitimately feeling like you could replace Sebastian with Leon and you would not be able to tell the difference.
There are long sequences in run down villages with waves of zombie-esque villagers with torches and pitchforks climbing through windows and you using all the weapons at your disposal to fight off the seemingly never ending tide as your partner slowly unlocks a nearby door. Out of the 15 chapters in Evil Within I would say at least 3 or 4 of them feel like they take place in locations left over from RE4 development. Now, I thoroughly enjoyed Resident Evil 4 and I'm sure many of you did, but the issue is that these parts of the game are at odds with the rest of it.
The parts of Evil Within that don't feel like RE4 material are by far and wide the highlight of the game. There are fantastic sequences of you running for your life from one terror to find your self falling against gravity until you fall through a wall and end up in an entirely different setting. There are tons of great environments and monsters that mess with your head and make you wonder "just what the FUCK is going on here?!" and I LOVE those moments. Unfortunately, those moments are then broken up by the aforementioned action scenes or a fight in which you can easily get killed from full health in literally one hit.
These one hit kills are not rare either, they come frequently. The ones from traps can mostly be forgiven, as you can spot all traps if you're observant and careful enough, which should be expected of you. However, there are plenty of fights with enemies who can easily kill you in one hit and these can be painful. There is a many limbed, long haired enemy that you've likely seen in trailers or early demos who you have to face on multiply occasions and on any of these occasions if she so much as touches you then you will be locked into an animation from which you must watch your self get ripped apart, regardless of your health. I noticed in many reviews that reviewers felt that the game was unfair, but these one hit death encounters are probably the only times I truly felt like I was up against unfairly balanced odds.
If you want more proof that the game seems to work against itself and seems to be of contradicting ideologies then look no further than its presentation. The developers of The Evil Within went to great lengths to make this game as cinematic an experience as possible. The game runs at 30 fps, with a film grain filter, and a wide aspect ratio with incredibly large black bars along the top and bottom of the screen. When you're going through one of the more finely crafted chapters of the game you can really get into this immersive experience.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, these are quickly broken up. Once you've gotten in the swing of the game and you're wandering through the creepy mental hospital or mansion environments and you're really feeling into the experience, you'll then be pulled completely out of it by a large, ridiculous "CHAPTER CLEAR" screen with a big picture of the big threat from that chapter on a bloody screen with save and next chapter options. These screens serve no purpose but to pull you out of the experience. Nothing good is added to the game by these existing. It's there simply because it was in Resident Evil and that's not a good reason. Why would you go through such great lengths to make me feel like I'm having a cinematic and immersive experience only to rip me from it?
The Evil Within is both a very good game and also a pretty big disappointment, and no these two are not mutually exclusive. This game had all of the necessary pieces to create a new survival horror experience that could have been ranked among the best of the genre, but unfortunately those pieces were stitched together with RE4 threads and made in a way that feels like the safe way out. So many fantastic psychological and creepy moments placed adjacent moments that you feel as if you've already played through 9 years ago. I'd still recommend Evil Within to any fan of the genre, but just know what you're getting into. Thanks for reading.