Evil Within Mini-Review and Ranting

Finally got around to digging into The Evil Within. If you’ve been putting it off, it is down to $30 now, so might be worth poking at, if you’re the curious sort. Though, in all honestly, I wouldn’t say I’d recommend the experience.

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I’m playing on PS4. I don’t believe there are any significant differences on other platforms (other than a probable graphic downgrade if you go for 360 or PS3), and so far they haven’t done anything interesting with PS4 unique features, so your experience will probably be roughly the same regardless of platform.

If you’re not aware of what Evil Within is, it’s Shinji Mikami’s latest shiny. You might remember him as that guy who did Resident Evil 4, among other things. To some of you, that makes him a hero; to others, that’ll mark him as the ultimate in stupidity. I’ll start off by saying that if you enjoyed RE46, you will probably find things to like here. There’s quite a few ripoffs homages to his previous work and its successors to be found here, from the way the game thinks, to how combat works; it does move quite a bit faster than those, however.

Story-wise, the game seems to be fairly stereotypical of it’s “survival horror” roots. You play a dude (In this case, Sebastian Castellanos, a veteran cop with a tragic history, traces of alcoholism and an honor bound commitment to his partner(s) and defending the innocent, which gets him in all kinds of trouble, AKA Stock Character #1) who is thrust into a series of unlikely locales (in this case, a hospital that would give Gregory House wet dreams, a 18th century monastery/cult headquarters, an insane asylum and, let us not forget, the ever popular sewer) and forced to fight zombies, because reasons. Honestly, as of the 75% point (having been obsessively picking up diaries and other items which contain all the secret thoughts of anyone who might potentially be important which are left around for anyone to find), the story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. From the additional info gathered from message boards and Wikis, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to pull itself together into anything sensical by the end, either. It’s The Matrix mixed with Inception with a dash of Resident Evil thrown in, or so it appears. I feel almost bad for it, because there’s a number of things they could have done with the plot, that might have been way more awesome, but didn’t.

But who cares, because we’re going to go kill some zombies! Well, maybe. The “zombies” this time are things called “Haunted,” who are more like those (totally not zombies, just ask anyone at Capcom) Ganados in RE4. They’re quick, they’re occasionally capable of actual thought, and they like to cut you up with farm implements instead of just shambling after you and trying to bite you. Though sometimes they do that, too. Honestly, I don’t care what you call it. Are there hordes of them, do they rot, shuffle about, moan and at least occasionally attempt to eat your face off? Then it’s a zombie. Shakespeare and roses, people. But their sheer durability is rather ridiculous. Admittedly, it’s survival horror, which says you shouldn’t be blasting everything away, but if you’re going for that, then stop locking me in rooms with dozens of them and not letting me out until I kill them all, kay?

Later on they learn some new tricks, and there are assorted mutant variants with various additional abilities, but a Haunted is pretty much a Haunted. Add in some mutant giants, your Stock Monster #2 (IE: Hideously mutated animal, generally with an extra eye that is super huge and likes to roll in the socket at you), Stock Monster #3 (read: vaguely sex-related female thing that wants to rape your face with her fingernails and will be almost impossible to kill or evade) and Stock Antagonist #1 (somewhat effeminate guy wearing rags and/or cast offs from Final Fantasy‘s wardrobe department, who won’t do anything but look menacing for 95% of the game) and you have your general crew of beasties to fight. Oh, and a Pyramid Head ripoff. Because what’s a survival horror game without an object-headed, almost impossible to kill beast that supposedly represents the repressed desires of someone else in the game, these days? (Yes. I despise this particular trope. Almost as much as I hate that Pyramid Head has been in Silent Hill games other than 2, though I can almost make an excuse for him appearing in Homecoming.)

Also toss in your favorite ineffectual partner characters who don’t do much except get into trouble, make you waste your precious resources to dig them out of trouble, and turn any segment of the game where they appear into extended babysitting sessions where you wait for their AI to figure out that the coast is clear and they can go stand where they need to to activate the next scripted event – or that there’s only one enemy, and he’s across the frickin’ room and not looking at you, and you could easily just, oh, I dunno, go around him, but they won’t come in until it’s dead or will charge it first thing –  or where you have to go face certain death to go fetch their glasses, or their gun (that they don’t use anyway) or maybe just a cup of tea and some more scones, please.

Long story short, there isn’t really anything in this game that you haven’t already seen a few hundred times before. Now, does that make it a bad game? No. It’s… acceptable. It’s just that, really, that’s all it is. It’s nothing spectacular. It’s nothing you can’t live without. It’s just there. An amusing way to spend a couple afternoons while you wait for Silent Hills to come out, or while you stare at Dying Light and wonder if you might have been happier with it. Or maybe that’s just me.

But here’s my real bitch – or two – about the game. The first goes true for almost every survival horror game that’s come out since RE4. What the hell is up with the bloody camera? I am sick to death of games where the camera appears to be mounted on a ten foot pole that is extending at a 37 degree angle from the character’s right hip. Sorry, I don’t need to spend all my gametime with the left side of my screen filled with either my character’s ass or the intricate detail of his crossbow. I’d like to, oh, I dunno, actually see what the hell I’m doing? This isn’t immersive. If it was immersive, I would be able to see where I was aiming that crossbow, not be admiring the bolt design or the crossbar (or the 800 sparks its throwing off.) And I most assuredly wouldn’t be having an extreme close up of my ass and nothing else – and I mean that literally; there are times where the camera crawls right up your butt, and you can’t see anything at all – while attempting to sneak past some zombies or traps. I am sick of this particular trend. Evil Within and RE6 are the worst offenders, but Dead Space 3 was heading that way, RE 4 and 5 were getting there. If you’re going to use a third-person shooter control scheme, and enemies that move like they escaped from a third person shooter, then give me a third-person shooter camera so I can actually deal with the game effectively. Shoddy controls and camera angles are not part of the horror experience. They’re called frustrations. And when the frustrations such as that get you killed more often than the enemies’ attack patterns or your own stupidity, you aren’t increasing the difficulty, you’re just being a dick.

Which leads nicely into problem #2. I’ve said before there is a difference between a hard, difficult game and a cheap, bullshitty game. God of War and Devil May Cry have it nailed down on the hard and difficult side. Ninja Gaiden(Black/Sigma/Yaiba included) has a lockdown on the cheap side. The difference? A difficult game has the tools in front of you. You can win, and look awesome doing it, and a skilled player who knows how to use the abilities in his character’s position is going to. A cheap game is one where you’re going to die, a lot, because of factors that are completely outside of your control. Like a randomly spawned ninja putting a throwing star in your throat with no way at all to know that it was going to happen, no way to prevent it from happening, and no guarantee that it’s going to happen that way when you return to the checkpoint. Cheap games are also prone to inescapable, unavoidable one-hit kills, infinite enemies with no purpose behind them, and moments of “Oh, you didn’t buy that upgrade that was useless through the 90% of the game, but you will absolutely need for this one, single moment but that we gave no indication of? Better restart your whole save file, pal.”

Evil Within does that. Aside from the hit detection being asinine and glitchy, aside from pretending it’s a stealth game sometimes, but one where every enemy has automatic cop radar regardless of things like line or sight or logic, it has invisible enemies. Oh, yes indeed. Now, sometimes there’s ways to tell that’s going to happen; there are puddles that you can see splashing, or stuff that gets bumped around by the invisible zombies as they come for you. Now, that’s a cool idea. I’m all for using the environment this way. But there are at least two places where there are no environmental cues where these guys show up. Nothing at all to indicate that one could eat your face unless you already died there before (or are totally OCD about wasting your explosive crossbow bolts laying traps in the middle of big rooms for no reason and you got lucky and it stepped on one). And, even on easy, two hits pretty much kills you. So, you’re trudging down a hallway – or sneaking, or flat out running, depending on your preference – and then “Oh, oops, QTE time. Did we mention succeeding at the QTE just means it’s a two-hit kill instead of one hit? Or that you’re stunned when they happen and other things can still hit you, so it’s really still a one-hit kill? No? Too bad.” And we’ll not discuss the Quell boss, who is basically that enemy on steroids. And squid DNA.

Anyway. It sounds like I’m hating on the game, and to a degree I am. It feels fundamentally broken to me, but in ways that seem to be becoming the norm in its genre. And I will admit, I’ve had some fun with it, and it hasn’t yet incurred my wrath to the point where I hit “delete” on the Library screen and say “Nope, fuck you, not doing it,” so I guess that’s something.

But would I willingly head into Krimson City (and, I’m sorry, but that name is just stupid as all hell) again? Probably not. Would I have been as ambivalent towards the game had I paid full price? Again, probably not.Will I be first in line to grab the DLC or a new box with a “2” next to the name? Definitely not. But might be worth poking for some.

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