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The Evil Within Review - Psycho Babble

Jim Sterling | 14 Oct 2014 00:01
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It's sad to have to criticize The Evil Within this harshly, because it's so obviously trying hard to provide a nostalgic survival horror adventure. It just seems to have drunk the Kool Aid when it recalls fallacious positive attributes of the genre. For example, many people claim that "bad controls" in Resident Evil and Silent Hill made them scarier, but I'd argue that more modern scary games, with competent and intuitive controls, exist. You can remove a player's confidence and power for effect while still having a comfortable, workable user interface. The Evil Within, however, has taken the fallacy to heart, and so Castellanos aims like garbage and can't run for shit. There are ways to make a game terrifying by stripping a player of strength, and there are ways of attempting it that simply exasperate. All too often, this particular horror game does the latter.

All that said, there are a number of stand-out moments that make the game more enjoyable. Visually, it's a treat of macabre imagery and genuinely gruesome scenery, even if some of the enemies appear more like a thirteen-year-old's idea of "badass monster covered in barbed wire n' stuff." The slower-paced, more open areas of the game's early levels are particularly memorable, and there's a lot to the upgrade system that makes exploring each stage valuable. Ostensibly, you collect green jars of "gel" in levels, then bring them back to a hospital hub world (accessed via mirrors in each stage) in order to improve health, sprinting, and all manner of gun attributes. Upgrades get expensive quickly, and weapon improvements are required to make most guns simply useful, but gel is plentiful enough that moderate explorers will get what they need.

There's also the agony crossbow, an implement more comparable to a harpoon gun. It fires bolts of varying properties, from a standard impaler to a blinding flash, an exploding bomb, a paralyzing lightning trap and a freeze blast. By disarming traps in the wild (simply getting close to them and holding a button), one can use parts to built more bolts - a vital component of surviving many of the boss encounters.

The Evil Within's unwillingness to stick to a single formula is also admirable. While there are common zombie-like enemies that appear throughout, most levels feature unique monsters and hindrances that keep things shaken up. There are dimly lit corridors full of whirling steel blades, and then there are open-air daytime sections set in flooded cities. The eclectic locations and their specialized challenges ensure the game feels fresh, with a narrative justification that lets it make sense ... kind of. It's also something of a relief that the game's most aggravating sections are almost always fully behind the player once they've been traversed. Don't worry, those invisible enemies in that one stage won't be showing up regularly after you've cleared them. Thank Christ.

That sense of relief is indicative of a major issue with the game. For anything that might be delightfully horrifying, there will be at least one area I got through that I simply never want to experience again. Those invisible enemies aren't scary, they're just a pain in the ass, and if I never have to fight the one-hit-kill final form of the mutant in the parking lot again, I'll be happy. A sizable chunk of The Evil Within comprises elements that harry, punish, and irritate, and not in a fun, intense, Dark Souls kind of way - just a "How was I supposed to avoid THAT?" kind of way.

As a long-time lover of horror across all mediums, I have to say I'm somewhat let down by what The Evil Within has to offer. It does enough to be worth looking into for obsessive horror fans, but it isn't the outstanding example I'd have expected from Mikami and his crew. It's archaic without feeling nostalgic, it's harsh but not entirely fair, and while it tries its hardest to evoke classic survival horror, it lives in the shadow of the games it draws blatant inspiration from.

Still, on those few moments it hits home, it does hit pretty solidly. Just not enough to be as great as it could be.

Bottom Line: The Evil Within is a noble attempt at bringing back classic survival horror, but it could have learned a thing or two from games that aren't almost ten years old. It has its moments of brilliance, scattered through periods of antagonizing design.

Recommendation: The console space is starved for even acceptable survival horror, and in such a market, The Evil Within at least provides a taste of what we've been missing.

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