My love/hate relationship with The Evil Within makes me flashback 10 years

By Matt Martin, Wednesday, 15 October 2014 06:40 GMT

Poor controls, a sloppy camera and dreadful acting. The Evil Within is an old-school horror game that wouldn’t have been out of place on the PS2, says Matt Martin.

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“Shinji Mikami’s The Evil Within really is a survival horror game ripped straight out of the past – and it brings all the hateful baggage of that period back with it.”

I’m going to die in front of a video game one day, aren’t I? Death by misadventure. It’ll be more embarrassing than being found hanging from the wardrobe with my wife’s stockings around my neck and an orange in my mouth.

I know this because I’ve been playing and writing about games for 14 years or so, and I remember having all the same feelings playing Resident Evil, Run Like Hell, Clock Tower, Cold Fear, Silent Hill and Siren as I am playing The Evil Within. Time hasn’t changed. I’m just fatter and closer to death.

I’ve only been playing The Evil Within for four hours (*only* four hours!) which may not be enough to score it out of ten but it’s definitely enough time to run into a list of old fashioned bullshit problems that have been knocking around for years. I’m still enjoying the game, but that’s because I’m accepting its many flaws. I don’t know why I’m being so forgiving. Maybe it’s because I’ve remembered I love survival horror.

Because Shinji Mikami’s The Evil Within really is a survival horror game ripped straight out of the past – and it brings all the hateful baggage of that period back with it. It’s so out of date it may as well ask you not to remove the Memory Card while the save icon is showing.

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I understand homage – the red blood smeared across the screen is an homage to Resident Evil’s “You Are Dead” – but the clunky camera, the bad acting, the fiddly controls – are all symptons that Tango Gameworks seems to have been too lazy to even attempt to cure.

Your character, a dead-eyed detective named Sebastian, can’t hug a wall when he’s creeping around the buildings and outhouses of The Evil Within. That’s a niggle, but more importantly, the tighter the environment, the less the camera feels in your control. You’re meant to be creeping past a psycho with a chainsaw but the camera is the real enemy here, unable to swing out far enough to get a view of what’s happening, where you are, or what you might do next. Putting Sebastian in stealth mode makes the problem worse. The camera closes in on his back so that he takes up almost half of the screen. You’re can barely move the camera around him at all.

Tango Gameworks seems to know it’s created its own problem here, and so uses a big white eye icon in the middle of the screen to tell you when an enemy is searching or has spotted you. The monster may be standing right behind you but you won’t know because you can’t see it, even if you willingly put Sebastian in danger just to get a clearer view. It’s easier to look at a big ugly icon than use the camera to look around the environment. It’s a ridiculous sticking plaster solution on a gaping wound.

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“You’re meant to be creeping past a psycho with a chainsaw but the camera is the real enemy here, unable to swing out far enough to get a view of what’s happening.”

The controls aren’t much better. There’s no lock-on for melee attacks and once Sebastian flails his arm the camera goes a little haywire to disorientate you some more. An empowering kill becomes a clumsy hit-and-hope button push. Prompts to pick up vital items disappear as Sebastian finishes his animation and walks past useful gear, making you fumble your steps back.

The Evil Within is blessed with the kind of video game logic that developers and players have been ripping the piss out of for years. Sebastian uses a knife for a one-hit stealth kill but isn’t able to use it at any other point, opting for pointless bare knuckles. Loud noises will attract an enemy, apart from when they don’t. Matches are used to torch a dead body and stop it from getting back up – they’re in short supply – even though the lantern on your hip never goes out it cannot be used to set fire to anything flammable.

The game is built around outdated logic.

It’s this throwback attitude, where the game makes you learn how to get past problems by rote rather than skill, that makes it feel so old even on the day of release. And there are other problems (long load times, awful dialogue) that feel positively primitive. The only vaguely modern mechanic in the Evil Within is hiding in lockers and under beds until the enemies wander away, but after Alien: Isolation and Outlast, even that feels stale.

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Despite my major criticisms, I’m going back to The Evil Within to start chapter 5. I like the atmosphere when it isn’t being butchered by a poor script (“smells like medicine!”), there’s satisfaction in bringing down a swathe of advancing enemies, and there’s a refreshing amount of variety to the gameplay. It may regurgitate horrible conventions but the journey is pure spectacle; earthquakes and pits of blood, spider-women and death-traps.

I understood before I was getting involved with The Evil Within that it’s an old-school game. It’s a greatest hits of survival horror featuring the village full of crazies, the torturer, the asylum, the unstoppable monster, the chainsaw and the swinging meat hooks. But it also comes with all the problems that genre has struggled with for years. I’m pretty sure Resident Evil 4 managed to solve half these problems back in 2005.

We shouldn’t accept all that heavy baggage. I’m all for recapturing the magic of a genre but a lot of The Evil Within feels like it’s recreating the glory days of Resident Evil and refusing to even accept many of the problems. But if Shinji Mikami – one of the originators of the genre – can’t solve the problems, who can?

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