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Posted on Oct 17th 2016 at 08:00:00 AM by (Disposed Hero)
Posted under Review, The Evil Within, Horror, Survival Horror, Action, Shinji Mikami, Resident Evil, Bethesda, Tango

Most people know that I am a huge fan of the survival-horror genre, particularly the Resident Evil series, so I was immediately intrigued when The Evil Within was announced back in 2013.  This was a brand new survival-horror IP directed by Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami, and it promised to bring the genre back to its survival roots rather than the action-oriented approach of more recent horror games.  While I still enjoyed more recent horror titles that have been given the label of 'action-horror,' the prospect of a modern title that recaptures what made the old-school games so unique and interesting was exactly what survival-horror fans had been hoping for.

The Evil Within, known as Psycho Break in Japan, was released worldwide in October 2014 for the PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Developed by Shinji Mikami's newly founded Tango Gameworks and published by Bethesda, it was met with generally positive critical acclaim from most publications.  Due to the mature nature of the game, gore-related content was removed from the Japanese release in an effort to keep its content rating lower and broaden its potential audience.  However, an optional DLC patch can be downloaded to restore said content.

I'm not sure what they replaced this with in the Japanese version.

The plot of the game follows protagonist Sebastian Castellanos, a detective for the Krimson City Police Department, as he and his two colleagues, Joseph Oda and Juli Kidman, investigate a gruesome mass murder at the Beacon Mental Hospital.  Things quickly go from bad to worse, as Sebastian is knocked unconscious and awakens hanging from a meat hook in what looks to be a human butchery.  You soon discover that a mysterious being known as Ruvik is behind all of the madness that ensues, and along the way Ruvik's scheme is revealed and it is up to Sebastian to hopefully put a stop to it.

The story, while unique and at times interesting, is not a particularly strong point of the game.  It is made clear early on that you are in someone else's world, and as such any number of bizarre things can, and usually do, happen.  The result is a plot that quickly and inexplicably thrusts you into new and unfamiliar locations and situations, and more often than not, you will have no clue what is actually going on.  I believe that a strong, cohesive storyline was sacrificed to strengthen the horror element of the game, ultimately making the story feel like more of an afterthought than anything else.  The story does come together more towards the end of the game, and knowing the cause of all of the bizarre occurrences helps it all make more sense in hindsight, but the player is left in the dark for most of the experience.  Despite being pretty farfetched, I personally didn't have a problem with the game's plot, but it is a source of criticism for some, and I cant argue that it is rather weak.

He's about as nice as he looks.

The gameplay is largely made up of the over-the-shoulder third-person shooting mechanics that have become associated with games such as the later Resident Evil titles and the Dead Space series.  However, the enemy count is lower in The Evil Within than in those games.  In an attempt to stick closer to its survival-horror roots, you will typically only be fighting off a couple of enemies at a time, although there are times where you will be accosted by hordes of enemies, particularly in the later parts of the game.  Ammo is also in shorter supply than in most action games, and carrying capacity is also limited, so it is advised to be efficient and resourceful when killing enemies. 

Primary weapons are limited to Sebastian's trusty revolver, a shotgun, a scoped rifle, a magnum, grenades, and the Agony Crossbow.  The Agony Crossbow is an interesting multi-purpose weapon that can fire a variety of different types of bolts, including explosive, freeze, shock, as well as standard bolts.  Bolts can be crafted using trap parts you find throughout the environment, as well as from disarming traps you come across throughout the game.  There are a couple of one-time use weapons, torches and hatchets, that can be found and used against enemies, and these are typically very effective.  Lastly, while technically not a weapon, matches can also be used to set fire to downed enemies, killing them instantly.  Flammable objects such as hay bales and oil patches can also be ignited and are often strategically placed for those sections where you are being attacked by multiple enemies.  All enemies in The Evil Within are extremely susceptible to fire, so any weapons or items that can be used to ignite them are invaluable.  There is also a melee attack in which Sebastian will strike the enemy with his fist or gun, but it does very little damage and rarely stuns or knocks back enemies, rendering it extremely ineffective.

Unfortunately, weapons are pretty ineffective against this beast.  RUN!

Stealth mechanics are present in the game, and, while stealth does seem to be encouraged, it largely feels like an afterthought.  You can crouch and attempt to sneak through the environment, which will allow you to perform an instant stealth kill on an enemy if you manage to sneak up behind them undetected.  There are also bottles littered throughout the environment which can be picked up and thrown to distract enemies, as well as various places that Sebastian can hide, such as in closets and under beds, in an effort to elude enemies.  I found the hiding places to be ineffective however, as the couple of times I tried to use them to hide from enemies, I ended up being found anyway.  Although it is advised to play stealthily in the early parts of the game before you've had a chance to upgrade your character and beef up your arsenal, you likely wont be using stealth after about Chapter 4 or so other than to perform the odd stealth kill here and there.

Speaking of which, there is also a character upgrade system at play, with the player able to upgrade Sabastian's attributes using a resource called Green Gel.  Green Gel can be found scattered throughout the environment, and it is also often dropped from dead enemies.  Maximum health, weapon damage, and item capacity are just a few of the many attributes that can be upgraded.  I sometimes feel that character upgrade systems are tacked on in certain games, but The Evil Within seems to have been designed from the ground up with this in mind, and it is a welcome addition to the game.  Each upgrade you earn feels like it makes a significant impact, and you will feel far more capable by the end of the game than you did at the start.

This is where you'll be doing all of your character upgrading.

Boss fights in the game are a bit of a mixed bag, and I have a sort of love/hate relationship with them.  From a horror standpoint, the bosses are excellent.  Their visual designs are frightening and imposing, and their behavior makes them relentless and sometimes unpredictable.  However, from a gameplay perspective, these fights are often frustrating, and they sometimes rely on trial-and-error in order to figure out just how you are supposed to dispatch the boss.  Some of the encounters, such as the Sadist (a large humanoid enemy wielding a chainsaw) and the Keeper (another large humanoid with a safe for a head), actually worked out pretty well and were the more enjoyable of the fights.  Other encounters, such as Laura (a black-haired woman with four arms who crawls around like a spider), felt incredibly cheap, as these bosses are often capable of killing you in one hit, as well as other annoying abilities such as teleporting.  Boss fights are also surprisingly frequent, with some chapters containing multiple encounters each, so they can become rather tiresome to deal with after a while.

There were also three DLC episodes released for The Evil Within.  The first two DLC episodes, The Assignment and The Consequence, both follow the events surrounding Sebastian's colleague Kidman.  These episodes reveal what happened to Kidman during the events of the game while she was missing, and also reveal much about her backstory and her motivations as they relate to the game's plot.  The gameplay of these episodes has a much larger emphasis on stealth, as Kidman is unarmed and unable to fight the enemies she encounters most of the time.  Thankfully, the stealth mechanics have been fleshed out a bit to accommodate this new gameplay style, and it all works well for the most part.  Overall, The Assignment and The Consequence are a great adjunct to The Evil Within and are highly recommended to those who enjoyed the base game.

Enhanced stealth mechanics make the DLC episodes fun to play.

The third and final DLC episode, The Executioner, lets you play as The Keeper, one of the recurring boss enemies in The Evil Within.  This is a departure from the base game and the first two DLC episodes.  It controls from a first-person perspective and is more focused on action than actually attempting to scare the player.  As The Keeper, you explore the Victoriano Mansion, a location from The Evil Within, attempting to find your daughter.  Along the way, you will encounter and have to kill many of the same enemies you encountered in the base game.  I personally didn't spend much time with this one, as it felt like something that was slapped together pretty quickly, making it feel sort of cheap, and it didn't seem to add anything to the original story.  I wont say to avoid it entirely, but check out some gameplay footage first to see if it's for you.

The Evil Within looks great, with a dark and gritty aesthetic that complements its horror tone.  Most of the environments are suitably creepy, as you will be exploring rustic villages, abandoned hospitals, and underground caverns, among other locales, and there is a great level of detail as well.  It is also quite a gory game, with not only the enemies (and the main character, if you're not careful) exploding in a near comical level of red viscera, but many of the environments are decorated with it as well.  However, the star of the show is by far the lighting in the game.  The Evil Within has possibly the best use of lighting I've seen in a video game yet, and due to this being such a dark game, the lighting and shadow effects really stand out.  There have been some criticisms aimed at the game's technical performance, particularly on consoles where framerates have a tendency to drop dramatically, but I didn't have any problems playing on PC.  There was also an issue of the ultra-widescreen aspect ratio which forced black bars across the top and bottom of the screen, but the option for a standard 16:9 aspect ratio has since been added via a patch.

The great lighting stands out even more thanks to the game's many dark environments.

Composed by Masafumi Takada, the music in the game is mostly subtle and atmospheric, and while it is well done, it is mostly standard fare for this type of game.  Sound effects are generally well done, but other than a couple of enemy sound effects, there's nothing especially great here.  The voice acting is quite good for the most part, although a few of the characters can sound robotic and stiff at times.  Overall, The Evil Within is fairly average in the audio department, with nothing standing out as being particularly good or bad.

Despite its rough edges and a few frustrating gameplay segments, The Evil Within is a gruesome and intense experience that is worth a look, not just to survival-horror fans, but to fans of action games in general.  At its worst, it feels like a mish-mash of disjointed ideas that were all crammed into a single game, as if the developers had a long list of ideas they wanted to put into the game at any cost.  However, at its best, it feels like a blend of the genre's best, often invoking shades of Resident Evil 4 and the Silent Hill series.  While it doesn't quite live up to those aforementioned titles, and it doesn't quite bring the genre back to its roots, The Evil Within is still a solid game that any survival-horror fan won't want to miss. 

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I've been meaning to play this. I'm also a big RE fan. Like... I even forced myself to play Umbrella Corps. :\
Laura looks like a JU-ON spider in that picture...
I can't help but stare at the hooded figure in the image, and feel like it's slowly moving towards me...
@noiseredux:  Haha, even I haven't played Umbrella Corps, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't at least try it.  I did however play (and enjoyed) Operation Raccoon City.

@Shadow Kisuragi:  Yeah, I'm not very knowledgeable of Japanese horror films, but Laura is clearly inspired by Japanese horror tropes.

Thanks for reading, guys!
I got this for Christmas the same year it came out, played it for 5 minutes, haven't played it since. Not because it wasn't fun but because I got distracted by other games. 😊 Also, I am bad at stealth games, so it made me "afraid" to pick it up again.  I still can't seem to finish Alien Isolation due to the stealth aspect.

I should really start it up again and give it a better try.

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