The Evil Within
For a game with such a great ambiance, able to illicit a darkened intrigue in the splattered scenary, macabre imagery and imaginative reality bending, the game shows that it has a clear vision for itself in some aspects. The problem is that this clarity is only in its presentation, but the game’s execution is all over the place.
When have we ever been able to use these things?
You’re given a gun at the beginning of the game after a lengthy chase sequence and then use either the gun, a rusty nail at the end of a board, a torch or the randomly strewn traps placed about the environment at your disposal and are almost never encouraged or required to hide. You sneak around from time to time or are chased around.
The game tries to differentiate when you should do each through its hulking goliaths patrolling the area instead of engaging with you outright the moment your existence coexisted the same zip code as them, but aside from these handful of encounters, you aren’t given much choice in the matter of “how do I want to play this? Rambo Campbell vs the forces of my bullets to your face; or Snake Pliskin finds a bed to hide under and muddle about with when no-one is walking passed your bed to sneak behind.”
I wouldn’t really call having the choice between “getting from point A to point B by waving your magical portable bullet factory around” and “getting from point A to point A because an enemies patrol path doesn’t cross your hiding place.” This non-choice makes the second option irrelevant and an “almost” attempt at a mechanic just confuses the player.
If you give us an option then we want to be able to use it, but you can’t just leave it around to say that you have it.
Leaving mechanics to rot
Speaking of mechanics that are left around, what ever happened to the invisible enemies? We see them in the first few hours of the game in all of one area, but are never even mentioned again.
The idea for fighting them was simple, but engaging. Watch for them to move furniture around or make other noises (e.g. splashing puddles of water) so you can blast them in the face. It’s almost Five Nights at Freddy’s-esque because you aren’t able to control the behavior of the enemy nor stop the confrontation on their own volition.
Your agency get’s squashed because it’s up to the enemies agency to dictate when and how you can deal with them. You could start blasting bullets in random directions in the room, but because your cache of weaponry is extremely small, you’ll run out of bullets quickly making this is very unlikely win-scenario for you. Instead you wait for inviso-bob to give away its location and it’s the waiting that builds suspense.
Waiting, knowing that you can’t do a damned thing until it lets you until your anxiety gets the better of you and the slightest twitch of a table, creek of a wheelchair, murmer in the distance causes a spastic jump from you as you try to take aim before you get a piece of your neck torn off.
There’s a distinct feeling of a lack of cohession throughout the game, like each level was developed by different teams with no clear understanding of re-using similar aspects between them aside from “here’s main characters and here’s zombie things. Make them work somehow. We’ll give you plot points later.”
“Let’s do something interesting and engaging for this 15 minute instance of one level that makes entrance and engagement into an area full of suspense and fear and never use them again. Oh but we do have zombie things all over, let’s just place them throughout a stage and maybe you’ll be tense from having so many of them around.”
More is hard, but more isn’t suspenseful. More is aggravating and challenging but doesn’t feel fulfilling. Defaulting on “add more enemies” shows a lack of creativity or time for creativity which is a shame because the game does have some interesting design choices built in.
It took creative freedom to give Uncharted-levels of eyecandy set-pieces in whichever reality bending directions that it wanted to go. It gave a distinct mind-fuckery vibe in the same vain that Inception and Looper tried to deliver. Shifting architectures, flipping gravity in a new direction, falling into new realities. It leaves the player in incessant inquisition, but the enemies that you encounter don’t match up to the same level of sophistication.
The sophistication of the cinematic visuals surpass the sophistication of the gameplay.
The environments are rich with nightmare-fuel, the destruction and decrepitness instill tension, but the enemies rarely deliver the same tension to accent the environment. If this was more of a haunted house sneaking-party the game would do an amazing job at creeping everyone out and letting the player’s anxiety get the better of them, but because we have to engage in wave after wave of generic bad-guy zombies the tension isn’t from fear of the unknown, but tension of can I shoot them in the face.
It’s closer in description to Alien vs Aliens. Alien, we barely see the monster until the end of the movie even though it’s terrorizing the crew members from the half-way point on, but the constant not knowing what strangeness is going on causes the fear-induced anxiety that we come to understand from survivle-horror. Aliens, we fight wave after wave of Xenomorphs, knowing what is after us and just doing our best to keep them at bay until we get a chance to escape.
It’s a shift in tone from survival-horror to action-survival. You take away the subtlety from the scary creeks and distant shuffles and leave the jump scare “blast in face to survive” and the fear goes away.
Any other discussion of The Evil Within, let me know if the comments.
Link to my other LTA’s here.