The Evil Within: Review - Games Weekly

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Evil Within: Review

Sid Meier is supposed to have said (nobody can source the quote) that video games are a series of interesting choices. In The Evil Within, it’s more like a series of harrowing choices. Do you burn the zombie and waste a precious match or leave it to rot and risk it coming back to literally bite you in the arse a few minutes later? Do you leave your lantern off and risk bumbling into a trap or turn it on and become a beacon for whatever twitching horrors wait drooling in the dark?

The most common kind of choice you'll need to make is how to deal with hostiles.  Playing it stealthy and avoiding combat as much as possible is generally the safer option and has the added bonus of conserving precious ammunition, but whipping out one of your six (that I’ve found) weapons and going to town is often easier and more fun.

Picking the right gun for the job is crucial to your survival, but it can be hard to think straight when you're fending off throngs of monsters clutching hungrily at your throat. The game’s most versatile weapon, the unfortunately named Agony Crossbow, comes with five different kinds of ammunition (spike, ice, electric, explosive, and flash) and is a decision tree in itself.

Speaking of ammunition, there isn’t a lot of it. In the game’s bleaker moments each flashing box of bullets or shells is cause for minor celebration. In order to preserve as much of this precious, literally life saving resource as possible, you’re strongly encouraged to explore alternative, and occasionally way more effective, approaches to self defence, the majority of which you can learn about in loading screen messages.
Tripe wires and bombs are the most effective ways to deal with enemies but present a dilemma in that they’re pretty effective at dealing with you too. Whether or not to leave them armed is a damned if you do/damned if you don’t kind of situation, especially when you factor in the fact that, although trip-wires are easy to disarm safely, bombs are a different thing entirely and it’s very easy to blow yourself up fiddling around with them. But then if you do successfully disarm a bomb your
reward is valuable trap parts that can be used to make crossbow bolts, so there’s that to think about as well.

See what I mean? Choices, choices, choices choices as far as the bulging bloodshot eye can see.

As I progressed toward The Evil Within’s overwrought climax (the whole story's a bit overwrought, honestly protagonist Sebastian Castellano is basically a cartoon, but a very self serious one) I became increasingly exasperated with how often certain tropes kept popping up. I’ve honestly lost count of how many times I’ve been chased awkwardly around small rooms by large monsters, or how many times I’ve been instantly killed, at full health, by something I didn't even know was lethal. 

It’s vintage Shinji Mikami, really: a bit like he's deliberately harkening back to the glory of Resident Evil 4. But as much as I love Resident Evil 4 and I love it a crazy amount it wasn't a perfect game by any means and The Evil Within could do without some of its more stubbornly old fashioned qualities: e.g. the archaic controls, which, while not tank controls per se, are still awkward and unresponsive and a source of everlasting annoyance. Knowing that Castellano is a cumbersome, wide-circle-turning oaf on purpose doesn’t make it any less frustrating.

There are some concessions to current game design wisdom, though, and as far I can see th game is better for their presence. Stealth kills are a particularly welcome addition that are as empowering as they are dangerous to execute. If you pull it off, fine, that’s one dead zombie and no ammo spent. Mess it up, though, and chances are you’ll end up dead or at least very badly injured, depending on exactly what it is you’ve disturbed.

Fortunately, autosaves are doled out on a frugal but not completely stingy schedule, so when you die and you will, a lot you generally won’t be set back more than ten minutes. Long enough, in other words, to feel like a punishment, but not quite long enough to dissuade you from trying again.

Built with the ageing but not-quite-obsolete-yet id Tech 5 engine, The Evil Within was
developed simultaneously for previous and current gen systems, so it’s not surprising that the PS4 version is often hideous to look at, and not in the good spooky way. Bizarrely, the cut scenes are by far the ugliest parts of the game, with most looking like they were recorded on the PS3/360 and plopped unchanged in the current gen versions. Why Bethesda/Tango would do this is a mystery. Maybe it was more cost effective? Who knows.

But I guess it’s appropriate that a game as stubbornly traditional as The Evil Within (and that’s the nice way of putting it) would look a bit dated. “Vintage Mikami” is how I described it above, which I think sums it up pretty well. And to be honest, “vintage Mikami” is exactly what I wanted from it. I like the recent Resident Evils but have wanted a “real” sequel to Resi 4 for ages and this is pretty much it right here, warts and all. If that’s what you want too, then hook in. You won’t regret it.


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