By Brian M. Sammons
Welcome back, friends and fellow cultists. I thought I would give Cthulhu and Co. a little break today so I could talk about something I haven’t covered in a while: video games. Specifically, spooky games. Yes, it looks like after far too many years of horror games getting the stinky end of the stick, they are starting to have a resurgence. I, for one, couldn’t be happier for that. I love a good scary game, but sadly, they have been hard to come by for the past few years, at least from the big name developers. Even once-dependable titles like Dead Space and Resident Evil had their latest entries get watered down and turned into nothing more than run-and-gun action games, with only the faintest trappings of horror stapled onto them.
It was the indie developers creating stuff for the PC market that showed everyone that truly spooky games still had their fans. Such titles as Outlast, Slenderman, and the recent Five Nights at Freddy’s reminded folks how good horror gaming could be. So now it looks like frightening games are back, and The Evil Within is one of the first titles of the new resurgence of horror games, but is it any good?
Well, it is designed by the guy who created the first Resident Evil, so that’s a good place to start. If you’ve seen any previews for it, then you’ve seen “real people” playing the game, freaking out and screaming at their character to “run!” as they are chased through narrow halls by a chainsaw-wielding maniac. That all looks promising. Even the hints that pop up during loading screens tell you that it’s best to run and hide than to fight everything, and that weapons and ammo will be in short supply. So, it all sounds and looks like it’s going to be a real horror-horror game, and not another action game transplanting gun-toting terrorists with zombies, because everyone knows zombies=horror.
And then you start playing The Evil Within and everything changes ….
Not at first. It begins properly, with your cop character going to check out an asylum where something bad happened. All too soon, you’re left weaponless and alone, and there’s a hulking psychopath out for your blood that you can only outrun and hide from. This whole part has a very Outlast feel, but within a matter of minutes, all that is over and it’s back to Resident Evil, run-and-gun, “survival horror” which, quite frankly, has never been all that horrifying. Now I guess that’s not too surprising, considering who the head designer of this game is, but it is (A) a bit of a letdown and (B) feels sort of like a bait-and-switch. Every ad for this game really sold its Outlast-like game play, but honestly, that feels like a totally tacked-on element to The Evil Within, as the entire rest of the game is nothing like that at all.
As a side note, if I keep name dropping Outlast in this review for The Evil Within, that’s only because that’s how this game was sold to the public and it is so not that kind of game. Also, if you haven’t played Outlast yet, what are you waiting for? If you want a truly horrifying game, that’ll do it for you, but let’s get back to the game at hand.
All this is not to say that The Evil Within is bad. Far from it – I really enjoyed it. It is Resident Evil-style zombie-mashing action, but it’s exactly that: action. It’s not a horror game, not really. It’s hard to get that scared when your character has a revolver, shotgun, sniper rifle, hand grenades, and crossbow (with exploding bolts) on him at all time.
And all those little hints about running and hiding that pop up during the game? Yeah, forget those. There is more than one level where you MUST kill each and every bad guy before progressing on. Furthermore, even the sneaking goes out the window too soon. While at the start, you can sneak up behind a few monsters and whack them with a stealth kill, within a chapter or two, all the enemies are presented in such a way that sneaking up on them is impossible. Either they attack you en masse, always travel in packs, or they are suddenly gifted with preternatural senses and are instantly alerted to your presence from thirty yards away, despite your being behind them, hiding behind boxes, and in total darkness. So, yeah, the whole thing has a very schizophrenic feel to it, as it tells you one thing, but plays completely different.
Final Verdict: Perhaps the thing that stings me the most about the game is the bait-and-switch I feel it tried to pull. It is sold as one type of game, but it is so clearly another. Also, it’s just not a horror game, not really. It is an action/adventure, run-and-gun game with monsters and the occasional jump scare. It looks great, plays well, and is a lot of fun. It’s just not that (or at all) scary. If you are a fan of the better Resident Evil games, you’ll dig this one a lot. Just know what you’re getting before you pick this game up.