There’s definitely something in there
Nostalgia can make up for a lot. We went to see the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film last Wednesday and while it was definitely not film of the year, we enjoyed it because we used to love the show when we were kids. The Evil Within is aiming for that same kind of effect for those who loved the early Resident Evil and Silent Hill games. There’s creepy houses, persistent zombies and jump scares a plenty, but sadly it’s not enough to make The Evil Within worth your time.
In terms of gameplay it’s an incredibly simple one. It’s third person action where you need to use weapons and the environment to kill a bunch of monsters as you progress through the game’s 8 hour or so running time. Ammo is always rare so headshots are vital as well as using the traps and pools of oil around to your advantage. Often enemies will simply get back up if you’ve knocked them down so you can drop matches on them to burn them to a crisp. Who would have thought they’d be so flammable? Even in puddles of water? The controls range between acceptable and atrocious, while you can move and shoot at the same time (unlike the early resi games) it’s not particularly easy, the enemies bob from side to side to make it even harder to get head shots, and they’re almost entirely melee-focused so they will run up to your face where due to the way the camera hugs you so closely you can’t actually see them to aim at them. The idea is that you melee them to stagger them, run back a bit and then shoot, but this feels like an awkward bit of game design rather than any kind of immersion.
In terms of weaponry you start off with the underpowered (like a revolver that takes forever to reload and can take three headshots to drop the weakest enemies) but end up with an agony crossbow that can fire giant spiked bolts that explode. As is standard with these games the weapons can be upgraded along with your health and stamina and if you finish the game you can go through again with a new selection of weaponry that’s much more powerful and satisfying.
The first thing you’ll notice when loading up the game is the fact that just under half your screen (around 40% apparently) is taken up by large black bars. The developers have claimed this is for immersion (the same argument for locking the game to 30fps even on PC) but at no point did this make us enjoy the game more. The real answer is more likely to be that it lowers the resolution dramatically to allow them an easier time while pushing pixels, but it’s always obtrusive and often icons and even enemies will appear in the parts blacked out making for a difficult and irritating experience.
Story-wise it’s exactly what you’d expect from this kind of horror game. You amble through forest, villages, labs and more while trying to help people, being chased by invincible enemies and watching the world shift around you into some kind of facsimile of hell. None of it’s clear, interesting or thought provoking and the voice overs and usually atrocious. There are parts where you have to protect people (because who doesn’t love those?) and there are bosses along the way that simply act as bullet sponges while they chase you around to perform a one-hit-kill. Unfortunately none of this comes across as frightening anymore. There’s a few sections with enemies that are completely invisible, but you can see where they move in water and movable objects. This worked brilliantly in Amnesia, where a single creature came to symbolise your dread for the game as it stalked you through a flooded basement. Here it’s just a bit inconvenient as you waste shotgun shots all over the place until you blow the lazily-designed beaste in half.
The main problem with The Evil Within is that it’s too much of an action game to be scary, and trying to be too much of a horror game for the action to be any fun. The controls and camera are awful, as is par for the course in fifteen year old horror games, but it doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen before in that genre. The combat is very occasionally satisfying but it’s too inconsistent and all the difficulty comes down to things that feel out of your control.
Overall if you’re dying for some more Resident Evil style horror, you could probably do worse. Or you could do much better by playing the many remakes and rereleases of that series. If you’re not a big fan of that kind of game, stay well away, there’s nothing for you here.