The Evil Within is amateur. It’s a flat, pancake of a videogame that feels like too many colours of silly putty smeared into a grey blob. For every clever decision it makes there are a dozen counter-points that make it hard to tell if a good idea was just hammered onto the bad ones, or if the bad ideas are covering gold. It’s as disjointed as they come with aesthetic inconsistencies, fundamentally different gameplay between the game’s difficulty settings (and as such wildly incompatible level design), but nothing is as misguided as its narrative pacing.
Critically, The Evil Within suffers from feeling linear. More often than not linearity is a signal that you should be focusing on what’s in front of you, and lots (and lots) of games have used it as an effective tool to drive story. Make no mistake, even open world games hope to have plots affecting enough that at the climax of the story you aren’t stopping to smell the roses. And here’s the thing: The Evil Within is broken up into chapters that each try to have rising and falling tension, and for over half the game you’re bereft of any meaningful intrigue or reason why the protagonist, Sebastian, should continue to barrel ahead through the game’s hellish setting. It’s not to say that abstract linearity is inherently bad —one of the year’s best games is both a horror game and aggressively linear— however The Evil Within, in particular, simply has no idea what it is doing.
At the start of the game you are brought to investigate a murder scene, even though —as it turns out— the massacre is still on-going. At which point you wake up in a surreal hellscape where you search for all those who arrived on the scene with you. And for most of the game that’s the plot, but then — quite abruptly— you’re confronted with not just what the hell is going on, but why it is.
And I’m going to spoil some of what comes next because it makes up some of the most interesting moments in the game. So, spoilers. You’ve been warned.
As it turns out, the game’s antagonist, Ruvik, who was carrying out the murders that you were sent to investigate, is the mastermind of the world Sebastian and co. are stuck in. What makes all this so fascinating is how Ruvik’s tortured past informs the design and gameplay of the game’s boss encounters. For instance, Ruvik’s older sister was burned alive after saving Ruvik from a fire. The older sister manifests in the world as a repeating boss who can only be damaged by fire. It’s smart. Unfortunately the game never comes up with a clever explanation for the zombie fodder that makes up the bulk of the encounters.
Rather than continue to rail against the game’s many outright bad decisions —like it being highly letterboxed and then constantly having collectibles and traps placed on the ground, so that as a player you’re constantly staring at the least interesting thing imaginable, the floor— I’ll just close by saying The Evil Within gets very few things right without any caveats. As a stealth game it has no mood because of how often you’ll repeat areas, as an action game it does nothing new and doesn’t have the variety to keep things exciting, and as a story game its plot is poorly paced. It wouldn’t be the first flawed horror game, but it isn’t even consistent enough to have a unifying motif that keeps the whole thing together. It’s a game whose motto could be, “well wouldn’t it be cool if…” that never double checks to see if an idea is good. This aimless intent wreaks havoc on everything it touches, and leaves The Evil Within feeling like a pastiche of survival horror.
- The tutorial section is a slasher/gore-fest, and then it’s gone. It stops. I mean it just goes away! Poof. Can’t for the life of me figure out why. I suspect if it had chosen an aesthetic and stuck with it the conversation around the game would be different. At least then it would be “The _____ game.”
- The Tango Game Framework logo is a snail pooping. It’s adorable.
- It has a film grain effect. Again, if they had married this to a fixed aesthetic it might have been interesting.
- You can burn the bodies of dead enemies mid combat. The system seems to have more to do with getting double kills from the flames than anything else. It’s a patient grenade, and it’s boring.
- Load times are as bad as Alien: Isolation on consoles. It’s going to be a long console generation.
- The tale of two difficulties.
- There are some gorgeous set pieces around middle-end of the game.
- I was so shocked to see such thought behind the creature design. It actually made trying to ‘solve’ the enemies way more interesting.
- Punching is totally effective, also zero fun to do.
- The second (or third) to last thing you do in the game is a stealth section against inanimate objects — I kept screaming: “just what the hell are you game!? Stop being bad!”
- I really like the widescreen effect in most games. Not The Evil Within.