Back in 2005 I played this great game called Resident Evil 4. It would be the last time an entry in the main Resident Evil canon was really cool. The game became a precedent for how to rebuild a franchise that was running on fumes in terms of ingenuity. Drop the tank controls (which I kind of miss) to expand playability while maintaining a tense, dangerous environment. Smart people were in charge at the time, so it worked. Problem. The survival horror genre has been spinning its wheels since. Then The Evil Within appeared with its first gameplay demo, Sebastian being viciously stalked by the creature known as the Sadist, and I felt, “Cool. This could be a transcendent title.” I felt I was mislead.
I knew going in, with this being a Shinji Mikami game, sort of what to expect, but I purposely feigned naivety in hopes of some surprises. Like maybe shifting the tone of the game and how things involving the puzzles are left to the player’s discretion, not scripted events. It also didn’t help that I played P.T. a week before Evil Within came out, which did everything I felt survival horrors should strive to become, not the run and gun style that plagues these games. Rifles and ammunition were never supposed to be a means to an end, they were to guide you through. Like when you’re hungry, and you have the rice and the bowl, so you cook with the stove. There’s no way to get to a drive through and you don’t have enough to order delivery, so you make due with what you have until the outlook is better. Now that analogy doesn’t apply to boss fights, and I used that more so to illustrate that these games do the cooking for you buy letting you buy weapons. I love RE4, but when the strange merchant provided me with extra guns, including a sniper rifle conveniently when I would need it, I did a double take. So what does this apply to The Evil Within? Well, EVERYTHING, since it’s the same damn concept! It’s like Mikami left to start his own company and said, “I’m going to start a new horror franchise that will change the industry. I’ll call it Resident Evil Within!”
I’ll get into technical aspects shortly, but I can’t believe not only how similar these games are, but that some locations and scenarios are lifted from RE4.
I guess the only thing it’s missing are the quicktime events and Hunnigan calling you. Well, okay, two creepy, old-time styled villages and zombies seem to be married to each other, much like criminals and bad guys are magnetically drawn to construction sites, but you tie in the spacious, looming mansions in the distance, the fact that enemies are making cameos…
And to top it all of, your main antagonist is a deluded lunatic who speaks in riddles and floaty dialogue every time he appears on the screen!
C’mon, he’s even covering his head, for crying out loud!!! It’s one thing to reuse elements or ideas from your previous works and maybe reshape it to some degree, but this is just lazy!! This sounds like nitpicking and I’m looking for a reason to dig into this game, but when I’m allegedly playing a cutting-edge PS4 that promises to elevate gaming to the next level and I play a game that feels and plays like a clunkier version of a game I played nine years ago, you’re DARING me to do this! Even breaking away from Capcom doesn’t do enough to escape Capcom’s 16 year shadow its cast over itself. Unless you’re Hideki Kamiya.
GRAPHICS & ANIMATION 6.5/10
The Evil Within’s better attributes is a lot of the visual tricks it pulls off throughout the course of the game when Sebastian gets pulled and yanked around in various locations.A lot of psychedelic filters, even grainy filters are added to further try to sink the player into its twisted world of madness and carnage. It does look cool for a while, but it starts to get old and takes you out of the game for seemingly no reason other than to show off how impressive it looks. You go from a sewage drain full of blood and sinew to a clean lit hallway, and then out in the woods with your lantern as your only light source. Perhaps I would care more if these locations meant anything more than trying to shock the player since nothing you do initiates them. It just hops you around when the game wants you to, so I’m temporarily jarred before I reset myself and press on. Nothing sinks in, nor is it given time to, so nothing matters.
Character models are decent, but close-ups really reveal some weaknesses. The face mapping looks off and the lip flaps (especially on Joseph) sometimes don’t match. The zombies and monsters suffer the most. Some of the bosses, again, look like recycled Resident Evil ideas. They fail to capture the twisted imagination of the being behind this. Unlike Silent Hill, where the mangled, unspeakably horrible beasts look legitimately disturbing, The Evil Within just parades glowing-eyed Las Plagus-styled minions that occasionally carry guns (eeeearrgh!!). There are variations, like some two-headed, bigger zombie, and this really cheap monster with grappling hooks, they lack the personality or memorable moments that the first appearance of a Licker provided, or being pursued by Nemesis. Oh it’s trying to establish some iconic creature designs. Like BoxHead…..BoxHead……Yeah, you and your creative team are sitting in a room for hours, and the time comes to search for a creature design the players will remember. You toil over concept drawings, redesigns, tweaks, suggestions on what scares them (which leads somehow to a safe deposit box) and the final product…was a fat blacksmith/butcher with a safe on his head, swinging a bag of spiky meat!!??
Oh yeah, people are gonna forget Pyramid Head ever existed once they lay eyes on this menacing brute!! People will be cosplaying him for the next decade!! Get the fruck out of here with this nonsense! Overall, come for the seizures. Stay because you can’t move, due to the fact that you’re having a seizure.
SOUND & VOICES 7.5/10
The voice acting is pretty good, while it won’t blow anything else out of the water. Ruvic and Sebastian sound way too alike for my tastes. While listening to the various recordings of a doctor’s research, I assumed that Sebby was talking. The music is eerie and kind of the only thing that will keep players on their toes. Hey, you know what has become an easy trick to lure audiences into a state of unrest these days? Play some soothing Victrola music. Seriously, why has horror/slasher movies and stuff been doing this lately? I don’t get it.
While I am mostly disappointed that Evil Within failed to break any kind of new ground I imagined it would, you pick a pretty safe bet by emulating the modern Resident Evil games. People are more familiar with them, so there isn’t this huge learning curve to master in order for some novices to combat the odds. But that’s where I get pissed off.
The game’s opening scenario, where you are pursued by the Sadist, feels like tactical misdirection in hindsight. As he’s chasing Seb, he slices his Achilles tendon with the chainsaw, hindering your movement. The only thing you can do is limp helplessly away as your pursuer shows no sign of relenting his attack. He even goes as far as turning on some vicious blades that close in on you once you immediately escape his reach. Tension picks up as you don’t seem to be sure if you are fast enough to survive this ordeal! This is where I figured something; suppose this game went as far as retaining lingering damage to the point that it hampers your movement? You would have to constantly find antibiotics and bandages to not only recover your health, but keep your injuries from seriously hampering how agile you are. Perhaps a Psyche Meter, like in Betrayal At House on the Hill, that slowly deteriorates as Sebastian gets warped around (Psycho Break is a much better name, BTW) these manic locations. It begins to crush his mind and he loses control of himself, making him slightly less responsive and throws his aim off, harder to recover health unless you can find items that remind him of better days and who he really is in life by finding keepsakes, lockets, and whatnot. It would keep you intuitive to your surroundings while maintaining an eye on Seb’s health in more than just HP. Despite the fact that this game a character study of sorts, or at least a psychological thriller, it does absolutely nothing to capitalize on this, and this is the biggest drawback of the game for me. Than again, a character study wouldn’t work since there is no reason at all to give a damn about any of the characters in this game. They’re all underdeveloped and what we DO learn it exposited in goddamn notebooks.
*SIGH* So, like other games that came out before it, you follow a linear path, collecting green goo that is EW’s skill points that you use to buy upgrades to your weapons, which is done in the most convoluted safe zone I’ve ever seen. You have to enter 3 rooms just to get to a save state, an extra room with goodies found by locating keys in statues, and the other room where there is a lobotomy chair. This gets old quick. Get back to the main map and fight off various hordes of zombies, occasionally using the sloppy stealth controls (combined with this horrible camera) to conserve ammo while avoiding traps. Get to a gate where you rapidly have to tap X……wait for it to open before proceeding into the next room where you are anticipating another expository(ish) cutscene… …to be hit in the face with the Stage Clear screen. Huh, that was jarring.
This is easily the most disappointing game I bought this year, as it was quickly outclassed by Alien Isolation in every degree. If this is the start of a potential franchise, then there is definitely room for improvement. First off, establish your own identity. Borrowing from great games of an era gone by (and not even doing it all that well) immediately dates your product. Secondly, please come up with better characters! These flat, lifeless, uninteresting pieces of drift wood make silent dude in GTA3 look like Charles Foster Kane! And thirdly, try a story that makes a lick of sense, not mindless psychobabble! I still have no clue what happened, why it happened, how Seb, Joseph, and Kidman are involved, and if it was good or bad ending!! Either way, now I need therapy. Go play Bayonetta 2.
FINAL SCORE 4.5/10
PROS: Plays like RE4, but not as good. Kidman and her tight pants.
CONS: Crap story, crap characters. Too much of a bare-bones approach in 2014, especially from a directing veteran. HE HAS A FUCKING SAFE ON HIS HEAD!! WHAT IN THE HELL WERE THEY THINKING??! Wait, I gotta see it again to be sure… AAAAAAAACCCKKGGGKKK !!!!