My Definition of “True” Survival Horror Must Be Wrong Because The Evil Within Just Isn’t It.
The Evil Within
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, Xbox one
Developer: Tango Gameworks
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
In a year I played Game Party Champions, I thought there would be nothing remotely as terrible. That was, of course, until I finally got my hands on The Evil Within. In our previous coverage of the much-hyped horror title, I’ve floated between excitement and concern.
Unfortunately The Evil Within misses so many of the notes that could have made it memorable and over-emphasises combat. There are two ways to look at this: as a game and as a horror game. If we pretend all the marketing about being “true survival horror” never happened, The Evil Within is just below average.
Otherwise, it’s downright terrible. Quite honestly, this is the most disappointing game of 2014.
As far as gameplay goes, at least the controls all sort of work well together. The player has a choice between sneaking past the zombies and tackling them head on. Except that much of your time is spent in narrow hallways that don’t allow for much in the way of stealth.
Even the early areas that encourage the stealthy approach lead the player towards combat. In order to balance the ammunition restrictions, you can sneak kill enemies from behind. This, combined with the Agony Crossbow’s various bolts, means you could replace the zombies with terrorists and end up with a Splinter Cell game.
The game either refuses to or is incapable of making up its mind when it comes to enemies. One chapter is spent slaughtering huge amounts of basic zombies and the next is dealing with a boss that kills you in one shot. Which, okay, that’s fine. It conforms to the typical pattern of level-boss.
It does, however, undermine the lethality of the bosses and, consequently, detracts from the horror experience. For example, the loading screen often tells you that you should never fight the long-haired beast. At the end of one chapter, you are forced to combat her. It makes the player feel powerful. You stop taking the game’s threats of menace seriously. By the time The Evil Within introduces The Keeper, you just don’t care anymore. It’s too hard to be scared of something you know you can kill.
Much of the game feels trite. Doors at the end of a hallway with red light pouring through windows, disused hospitals, decaying churches. I know that so many horror games rehash the same locales but there is nary an original note in The Evil Within.
You spend a great deal of time trying to find your partners, a doctor, and his patient. Each time you find them, something happens to separate you again. The only way I could keep going was to pretend it was some weird game of tag.
These random ‘somethings’ that continually separate you from your group usually come through cutscenes. Notably at the start of the game, I was sneaking around and saw a tripwire. Naturally, I stopped. Then a cutscene took over, triggered the tripwire, alerted the enemy, and started a chase through the spike-walled underbelly.
This has no place in a horror game. There’s a reason games such as Amnesia have no cutscenes: everything that happens, happens to you.
Movie sequences such as these diminish the player’s autonomy within the game. If there is no autonomy, there is no responsibility. There is no doubt about whether or not the spinning blades will hit me because the game needs to progress. When the situations Sebastian finds himself in were through no action of mine, there’s no tension.
A lot of what the game makes you do feels asinine. At one stage, you and your partner get involved in an honest-to-God firefight with a group of zombies. Other stages of the game have their own foibles. “Hold A to disarm traps” was the instruction given in the second chapter. How Sebastian decided to ‘disarm’ the trap was by walking into the wire and blowing himself up.
When it comes down to it, the art design is decent. It does look like you’re stuck in a constant state of flux between Silent Hill‘s normal and underworlds. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but does get a little old after a while. The zombies are sufficiently gruesome and there is a ton of blood on everything.
The Keeper’s killing animation is wonderful. His land mines with barbed wire are a delight as well. One of the few times of tension in the game are when you’re being chased by the long-haired spider woman beast.
The Evil Within tries to tell an intriguing story but it tips its hand too early and shoves blatant metaphors down your throat. All the broken mirrors and such. Between these symbols, cutscenes, and general personality of the characters, there’s not much to like about them. If I wasn’t looking for reasons to be scared, hoping some horror would show its face, I’d be skipping every possible cutscene. This would be forgivable if there was something compelling to keep the audience interested. But The Evil Within is lacking here too.
Look, if you find zombies scary and killing them fun, The Evil Within is probably the game for you. It’s highly reliant on the gore to unnerve players. This doesn’t work for me but maybe it will for others. I’m still trying to work out why the female police officer came to the emergency call in heels.