Welcome back to our review of The Evil Within! In Part One we spent a lot of time discussing the game-play and mechanics, so now I’d like to focus on its other elements. The Evil Within is a game that turns out to be more than the sum of its parts, but we’ll start with discussing it’s story before moving on to the visual and design elements.
Dixon’s Thoughts: You are Sebastian “Seb” Castellanos, a tough, take-no-prisoners type of guy who is so hard boiled that he might actually be on loan from John Woo.
You have embarked upon a strange journey through, as it turns out, the mind of a serial killer/brain surgeon/cenobite/all around mad scientist guy. Or not, because as it turns out, the ending of this game is completely ambiguous and wraps up both jack and shit equally. As far as other cast members there are you two partners, Juli “My first name is not a typo” Kidman and Joe “The Guy with Glasses” Oda. There’s also the Nurse we mentioned in our last review, a very irritating mental patient named Leslie, who might also be the game’s antagonist, and a greedy, self-serving scientist. Two of them, actually. They all ostensibly have a part to play, but the game does not explain what that part is in many cases. Kidman is constantly talking about her “orders”, which are never explained, while Joe’s sole purpose in life seems to be to get lost and then randomly show up later to endanger people and make things difficult.
The game opens with you in a car with both partners, heading to the Beacon Mental Hospital to investigate reports of some serious murdering. Within a few minutes, your partners are gone, and what ensues is a relatively simple plot involving rich landowners, barn burning, some guy named Ruben who is also named Ruvik, and brain surgery. At face value, it’s a typical, uninspired video game story about loss and revenge, with a heavy helping of the old “Resident Evil Megacorporation doing Evil Things” thrown in at the end. The problem is that this does little to explain what you, the player, are actually doing at any given point. The game is obsessed with throwing backstory at you, yet you are continuously faced with a never-ending barrage of blood-and-guts horror that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the events that you’re being led to believe have unfolded. The game does not explain why there might be zombies, or giants with chain saws, or massive human rendering plants. As you progress through the game you are witness to a multitude of atrocities, implied or otherwise, including giant vats full of body parts boiling in their own blood, a huge industrial facility that appears built for the sole purpose of processing human bodies and rendering them into more vats of boiling blood, and various other shock-value set pieces that, while totally bad-ass looking, are ultimately just confusing as they lead nowhere and have no explanation.
After several hours of being barraged with confusing (yet badass!) level design, monsters, and plot, I eventually came to the conclusion that The Evil Within is not actually scary. It’s not even a little bit scary, outside of a few times where there were Jump-scare setups. The environment was designed to be creepy, and it accomplished that goal as long as you are not curious about your surroundings. Instead it’s generally confusing and gross, a maze of questions and prop pieces meant to shock you into moving on to the next room. Shock value is the name of the game, and the “why” has clearly taken a backseat. It’s also pretty obvious that large sections of the story have been left out purposefully, to be explained later in the assuredly multi-part DLC. This is what we at FYMFB call “fucking horseshit”. For your enjoyment, edification, or simply to save time, here’s the last hour of the game, including the last level, Boss fight, and end game dialogue.
Visually, The Evil Within is extremely good. This may be actually be its strongest area, with excellent lighting and particle effects, gorgeous environment texturing, and very little noticeable lag. Crappy-shitty-no-good story aside, the game is quite fun to either play or watch as an observer. One of the most annoying features of early survival horror games is that they all lean heavily on backtracking, especially when it comes to save points and storage crates. Hardware and design have both come a long way since those days, and as a result Evil Within doesn’t rehash a lot of content. This is refreshing when compared to past installments in the genre. Forced backtracking can be a good element to storytelling if it serves a purpose, but often it’s just extra padding.
On top of being mostly original, the environments and chapters or levels of the game are all very good at portraying emotional tension, or downright creepiness. Again, almost in spite of the story’s vague hand waving, the design stands on its own as a decent storytelling device. You’ll find yourself stopping to check out the environment more often than not, as the eye-catching details are often just too tempting. The only problem with the game’s visuals is that certain areas are left intentionally dark, for atmospheric reasons. Lantern or no lantern, often it’s impossible to see the detail, which is unfortunate. While the game’s color palette isn’t exactly stimulating itself, most survival horror games are dark and claustrophobic on purpose, and this game is no exception. It moves past the dark atmosphere with its excellent and often subtle lighting and shading, and some very good overall direction. The different worlds feel fresh and interesting, and a minimum amount of level recycling means you look forward to each new chapter.
The Evil Within, as mentioned earlier, is a game that is more than its individual components. Its fun to play, enjoyable to watch, and offers a solid difficulty curve that feels correct in the context of both the genre and its predecessors. It is not, sadly, very well written, and this combined with the seemingly intentional decision to leave out key story elements for “later” only further weakens it’s overall impact. On a personal note, I was really looking forward to multiple endings, but as it turns out this game doesn’t do that. While it’s not a required element for the Survival Horror genre, the fact is that most of the major players in this sandbox DO have multiple endings, specifically games previously created by this game’s director. It’s interesting and a little disappointing that the endings are static, as this again feels like something that wasn’t possible if they wanted to sell DLC season passes. This, and the game’s decision to focus heavily on the first person shooter aspect combat, would normally completely kill a game for me. In this case, however, I feel like the game’s good components are so good that they make the game not only playable, but enjoyable. I just wish they had focused more closely on cohesion within the storytelling, instead of providing a flawless graphical performance.