The Evil Within: Review

Horror is not an easy genre to get right, Whether it be in the format of books or films, scaring the crap out of the audience is a lot tougher than you might think. It is, arguably, easier to do with video games, because the player is so much more involved with the activity, actually providing feedback rather than just receiving information intended to get their heart pounding.

The thing is, though, that a few years back horror stopped being horror. It became gratuitous, rather than subtle, with over-the-top ideas and plots taking away the really scary, creepy stuff and substituting it with graphic violence and gruesome scenes. I personally blame the early slasher films, oh so popular in the ‘80s, for the death of real, nail biting, gut wrenching, cold sweat horror. Because ninety per cent of what you get these days simply isn't scary. It's just shocking… and that’s not what horror should be. Have of the scare of good horror comes from what you’re not being told or
shown the personal realisations of the person that is experiencing the entertainment can be so chilling that they are far more effective than any hockey masked, chainsaw-wielding, blood drenched antagonist ever could be. Real horror is insidious. It creeps behind the scenes, under the skin, and chills from within.

At least, that’s what I think.

I am not much of a fan of what is considered horror these days, because it simply doesn't give me what I want from a horror experience. That cold uncertainty, those sneaky suspicions and awful “oh-oh” moments simply aren't there anymore. And that goes as much for games as it does for any other form of modern entertainment media.

See, most games particularly lately depend more on frights than actual mind numbing horror. It’s the quick fix of a society that is becoming more focussed on instant gratification. There are a few games out there notably titles like Alien: Isolation which use techniques and tactics to keep the player mentally off guard, which is the real secret in horror. But those games are few and far between. So when it was announced, with no small fanfare, that The Evil Within, from the mind of acclaimed horror game director Shinji Mikami, would be returning to the roots of the survival horror genre, I got a bit excited even hopeful.

But here’s the thing… apparently the roots of survival horror, in this case, are to make the game so punishingly difficult that it stops being fun to play. Sure, The Evil Within has frights aplenty, and manages to put together a cast of sometimes awesome villains to face off against, but the essence of survival horror shouldn't be dying a lot. It should be more subtle.

Not that The Evil Within can be accused of subtlety. Just like the Japanese horror that has heavily influenced the game, it is as subtle as a brick to the face. The characters, based on the expected stereotypes, are over the top, the plot is over the top (until the point that it seems to lose itself and become a bit of a rambling mess) and the villains are over the top. So is the gruesome, gratuitous violence and the collection of almost standard settings these are all set up for shock value and maximum frights, rather than to dig down into the depths of the human psyche and tickle the fight or flight gland.

The plot kicks off with a group of detectives setting out to investigate a mass murder in a mental asylum. We won’t mention originality here… Anyway, inexplicably the player’s character, a cardboard cut-out called Sebastian Castellanos, gets dumped into a world of weirdness, and he has to fight his way through to the end of the game’s numerous, linear chapters in order to survive. He never has enough ammo, and even when he does, the combat feels clunky. That’s fine and well if you use the excuse of an inexperienced protagonist (like they did in Silent Hill) by this guy’s a detective. Surely he can shoot a bit?

But this is the way of it in The Evil Within; the game hobbles that player in every way possible, using what could easily be called cheap shots to create a “scary” experience that really is more frustrating than terrifying.

The game also plays inconsistently. Whether this is to try and unsettle the player or not is moot the fact is that if I do something that works in a game, it should work every time. It should not be rendered useless all of a sudden, for no apparent reason. Yet The Evil Within will do this to you, particularly where the AI is concerned. The bad guys can be daft as brushes one moment, and then razor sharp the next. That’s simply annoying, not scary.

With all this said, The Evil Within can provide an entertaining experience for those who don’t mind many deaths and few checkpoints. The game does provide its challenges, and an upgrade system does make getting though the later stages a bit more bearable. In addition, some of the characters the player will face off against the ones that don’t feel overly generic are truly interesting visually, and show a decent application of the developers’ imaginations. This can also be said for a number of the settings, and the developers have managed to inject a good level of unease into some of them. They’re good looking, too The Evil Within manages to be very pretty, considering.

The Evil Within is a mixed bag. It doesn’t get truly scary, but rather resorts to frights and cheap shots to create unease in the player. It features some great settings and villains, but mixes them up with generic stuff we’ve seen tons of times before. It punishes the player mercilessly whenever it can, with inconsistency and simple extreme difficulty, not to mention very scarce resources. The controls sometimes feel great, and then get all clunky without warning. And while it has a decent premise, its
plot manages to stumble and falter before long.

It is a step in a few better directions, yes, but there is still a way to go for games to get to where they need to be. You can wring enjoyment out of The Evil Within, but it is a masochistic experience, overall, and one than many people may simply walk away from in frustration. It needed a better balance right off the bat, rather than keeping the player weak and powerless against brutal foes. After all, we play games because we want to be heroes, whether they are horror games or not, and
heroes aren’t helpless. Even Alan Wake got that bit right.Perhaps the next instalment of this game will be more in the direction that fans of chilling horror crave. For now, though, this will appeal more to the fans of shock horror. And they’ll need to be patient and forgiving at that, with possibly a little masochism thrown in for good measure.

7.5/10

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