Thoughts On The Evil Within
So I managed to survive all the way to the end of The Evil Within and I’m now a self-proclaimed fan. The game is created by Shinji Mikami who also developed Resident Evil. I admit that I haven’t played much Resident Evil. I’ve heard that The Evil Within is most like Resident Evil 4, but I wasn’t coming to this as a Mikami fan so my expectations might have been a little different. The themes in The Evil Within definitely appeal to me more than Resident Evil.
I was drawn to The Evil Within after watching the trailers which painted it to be a pretty gruesome, but also surreal experience. I tend to really like horror that has a surreal quality to it and plays with the perspective of the player; we don’t really know if what we’re seeing is actually real. I wasn’t disappointed in that regard as the game seamlessly morphs from one location to another leading to much confusion as to where I actually was and what was going on. Sometimes doors would vanish behind me or corridors would extend infinitely onwards. The vibe that I got from the game seemed to change as I progressed from feeling like Outlast, to The Last Of us, Saw, The Shining, Inception, Amnesia… etc… (I’ve seen numerous other comparisons made.) Overall, it seems to pack almost every type of horror I’ve ever experienced into one package.
I found the gameplay to be really fun but surprisingly challenging at times (I played on survival mode, one up from easy.) If you don’t manage your resources very well you can easily end up in the stressful situation of not having anything to defend yourself with. There was this one point where I had to face a guy with a chainsaw and I had no ammo left. I frequently felt like I’d messed the game up and would have to restart the chapters over, but luckily I somehow always managed to make it through by the skin of my teeth. Due to the fairly frequent checkpoints I found the challenges to be enjoyable as I tried to think up new strategies to make my way through. I did die a lot though and people who get easily frustrated may prefer to play on the easier setting (you can change the difficulty mid game if you have to.) I also found there to be enough variety to keep the game interesting alongside the changing environments. Some areas were more action based, others were slower paced and atmospheric or required you to be sneaky, there were chase scenes, boss fights, puzzles and avoid the spiky things. There were some flaws with the camera and AI, but not enough to detract from my enjoyment. The game also has black bars top and bottom to create a more cinematic feeling that I thought would be really annoying, but once I was engaged I stopped noticing it.
I was slightly worried about the story after seeing a lot of criticism, but I actually quite liked it. I didn’t mind the ending of Outlast either though, which also received criticism. Perhaps I’m not as fussy, or maybe I’ve seen so many repeated horror stories (zombies, demon possession or teenagers getting picked off by a mad man) that anything otherwise feels refreshingly different. It’s one of those stories that isn’t completely explicit and requires you to piece together all of the little details. I like this sort of thing that keeps you thinking about it for a while afterwards (much like The Shining for which I never managed to find a solid explanation.) To some this sort of thing can be frustrating because they want the closure after putting the effort in to reach the end. I managed to find satisfaction through the explanation provided in this video by DreamcastGuy. More light may also be shed through the DLC.
The game didn’t invoke any fear in me at all, and after browsing through reviews that seems to be the case for others too. This seems strange to me considering the build up and reactions shown in the incredibly frightening trailers. Players who enjoy horror solely as a challenge to their bravery may find it to be disappointing in this regard, but I don’t like horror just for the sake of freaking myself out; I love it for the themes, atmosphere, mysterious plot lines and intense gameplay. There were definitely some pretty tense moments such as trying to open a door before the keeper (boxman) could catch up or swimming between platforms while a monster fish chases you. The aesthetics are also quite grisly and could be disturbing to some. Sometimes excessive gore can send me a bit faint, but game graphics are usually not realistic enough to bother me, The Evil Within being no exception. I think the over the top gore works here in the sense that the events are not happening in our reality as we know it. It’s like in The Shining when an infeasible amount of blood pours from the elevator, but it’s not really there. I also found myself desensitising to it and by the end the death scenes seemed less exciting. I reckon that Outlast and its Whistleblower DLC is actually worse for body horror.
Some of the gameplay would possibly need changing to make The Evil Within more scary, but that in turn could make it less fun to play. It still feels more like an action horror to me, but at least the scarce resources keep you on your toes. In an interview with Mikami he expresses concerns about the balance between creating fear but also not having it too stressful for the player. On a good note The Evil Within has no jump scares in it.
The Evil Within has some obvious flaws, but I found the experience to be a joy all the same. At 10 to 20 hours long (consisting of 15 chapters) it’s also of a decent length for a horror game. Even at that length, on completion I found myself still wanting more and started a new game in nightmare mode. I would say that this is definitely a worthy addition to any horror fan’s collection.