No announcement yet.

The Evil Within Review

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • The Evil Within Review

    The mediocrity within.
    Over the course of the lengthy, ill-paced campaign, one thing really stuck out for The Evil Within. It's not really a horror game. Yes, there are areas where you are often subjected to intense imagery and situations but they are more shocking than anything else. To put it simply, the game is more like the Saw film franchise than what we have come to expect from a good survival horror game.

    You may think to yourself that perhaps this will be a killer action title then since the horror part is a bit of a letdown. I have some bad news for you there as well. Thanks to the game insisting that you play at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, actually being able to see enough of the environment around you becomes an exercise in frustration. The game almost forces you to take your time in areas, quickly killing off whatever hopes you had of this being a great action title. It instead turns into repeated situations where you slow down, take your time, and play the game almost like a stealth run of The Last of Us but without the coherent story and great pacing.

    If you are playing on PC, as I did, there is some good news. By using console commands, it is possible to mitigate the obscene black bars from the top and bottom of your screen. That's the good news. The bad news is that the solution for doing so simply narrows the game's field of view (FOV) and zooms the camera in. That's the solution: Narrowing the FOV enough to remove the black bars from the top and the bottom of the screen. Sure, those bars are gone and you're now playing at an aspect ratio that isn't completely insane. However, the tradeoff is that nearly half of the screen is taken up by the character model, aiming and movement still feel atrocious, and you lost the left and right parts of the image.

    Left: Default aspect ratio, Right: Adjusted in console to a "conservative" value of 1.8

    On top of that little headache, the game is also designed to run best at 30 frames per second. Those playing on the PC once again have an ace up their sleeve here. Once more into the console we go to either unlock the framerate or lock it to 60fps. The game did seem to run fine with the 30fps unlocked to 60 but as with every console command, there is a catch. Bethesda and Tango Gameworks have said that they will not offer support for those running into issues or bugs while trying to play above 60fps. In addition, simply enabling the console in order to use these commands will disable all Steam achievements for the game.

    If you can get past the aspect ratio, the terrible black bars, the terrible solution for said terrible aspect ratio, and the framerate, you are left with a game that does have a few good, almost great, things going for it. You play as Sebastian, a detective that was called to the scene of a grisly slaughter at a mental hospital. Shortly after arriving, some real crazy stuff starts to happen that includes, but is not limited to: A chainsaw carrying butcher, giant spinning blades that come out from the walls, a giant vat of what we can safely assume to be blood, the world around you falling into some insane sinkholes, entire city blocks shifting around, a mental patient that can potentially predict the future, a driver that suddenly mutates into some crazy creature, and Sebastian waking up in what appears to be a room in a hospital where a machine shocks new abilities into his brain. This, of course, all takes place while Sebastian is being goaded, attacked, or followed by a mysterious man that fancies giant hoods and rocks some supernatural powers.

    However, if you thought all of that was a lot to take in, strap in because The Evil Within simply piles on more of the weird over the game's remaining 14 chapters. Sadly, those chapters are a crapshoot when it comes to enjoyment. One chapter may be wonderfully paced with great environments and level design and then you hit the next chapter that just tosses all of that out the window. Most of the game and the game's story is presented without much explanation. You are shuttled off from location to location, sometimes in the blink of an eye, and there is just no context or explanation as to why things are happening. It feels a bit like Shinji Mikami just tossed a bunch of ideas into a hat and eventually just said, "screw it, let's use all of these."

    Actual horror elements do peak out from time to time, which were always a treat. There are moments where you need to run and hide from enemies as they search in earnest for you. Yep, that's a bit of horror there! Did you just see a mad doctor rip off his own skin? That's some pretty good horror there! Sadly, if I said any more examples, you probably wouldn't have too many horror type situations left to look forward to if you ended up playing the game later.

    As previously mentioned, the game typically ends up playing a bit like The Last of Us. Most of your time will be spent crouched, searching for upgrade materials or parts to create ammunition. You can outwit some enemies by hiding in objects or under them. An alert meter (that you can disable) will let you know when it's safe to come out from hiding. It's a mechanic that the game teaches you early on and it will serve you well for the most part. There are times, however, where the game likes to break its own rules and the enemies you think you're safe from know exactly where you're hiding. There is no denying that it does feel quite cheap when it happens.

    Players will utilize stealth attacks quite a bit just to conserve ammo for those situations where stealth isn't an option. You will make use of the environment and items to cause distractions or set up traps. The fact that some levels and encounters allow you to approach situations in a variety of ways is a thing of beauty. Thankfully, there are a good number of these types of situations in The Evil Within. The times where the levels open up and allow you to mix both stealth and brief moments of direct action together is something that the team should have attempted to do more often. Sadly, the similarities to The Last of Us end there.

    Once out of stealth, the slow and clumsy feeling controls (I tried with both a mouse & keyboard and a controller, neither felt right to me) turned many combat encounters into more of a battle with the controls than with the on screen enemies. The effect was magnified in smaller, cramped areas. The camera was not always the most helpful ally. Combine the camera with the terrible aspect ratio or narrow FOV and you are looking at a recipe for disaster. If you think that the issues with combat are only due to not upgrading the character enough, think again. Even near the end of the game, it felt no better than when I first started to play. It eventually led me to stop upgrading things like rate of fire or melee damage and focus instead on ammo capacity, health upgrades, and increasing other non-direct combat abilities.

    Even if you can overlook all of those issues with the combat while facing lesser foes, they are hard to ignore the moment you come up against a mini-boss or boss encounter. Take all of those frustrating components I mentioned previously. Take the troublesome camera, the awkward controls, and the aspect ratio's black bars or narrow FOV. Take all of that and then add in boss encounters that are just brutal, relentless, or flat out confusing. Like with the story and other gameplay elements, the boss encounters force you to try filling in the blanks on how to defeat them. That typically wouldn't be such a bad thing in a game. It's certainly better than the game just showing you what you need to do, right? Well yes, but there are some encounters where you aren't actually supposed to kill the boss. Instead, you're simply supposed to run or find some environmental solution to your immediate problem. How are you supposed to know this your first time through? You aren't. You will instead waste your ammunition while running around like a maniac until either you die or you haphazardly stumble into the solution the game wanted you to find all along. There is no sense of victory in these encounters, only a sense of annoyance that you are now down most of your ammo and assuming you didn't die, possibly a fair bit of your health.

    I'm generally a big fan of Bethesda's games and franchises. I'm generally a fan of the Resident Evil series and Shinji Mikami, including his often overlooked survival horror Dino Crisis franchise. I enjoyed the first three Resident Evil games on the PlayStation back when they first came out. I even have a Nintendo DS version of the original game kicking around here somewhere along with the Resident Evil remake for the GameCube. I've gone through Zero, Code: Veronica, and most every other non-sequential Resident Evil game that has come out. I loved Resident Evil 4 even though I wouldn't necessarily say it was a good "Resident Evil" title (I will say that it is a fantastic action title that just happens to have the Resident Evil name and characters associated with it). Hell, I even enjoyed playing Resident Evil 5. So just what happened here?

    How do you go from Resident Evil 4, which is arguably one of the most celebrated games of the past decade, to a game where the controls feel awkward and the encounters are more a battle with the game design than against the foes you're supposed to be fighting? It's something that has left me scratching my head this past week as I've forced myself to continue playing through the game.

    I will say one last thing: Stop forcing terrible aspect ratios on us. There was never a single point in the game where I felt like the black bars were a good thing. It doesn't make anything feel more "cinematic" in the slightest. It just made me frustrated that I couldn't actually see anything in a good portion of my screen. Better still, if you insist on using that terrible aspect ratio, at least give the option to remove the bars. Preferably, provide players with an option that does not simply narrow the FOV or zoom in the camera. I have never had such a problem with a game's aspect ratio nor the FOV until The Evil Within. That is certainly quite the feat there given how many years I've been playing games. I really do wonder how many of my grievances would have their severity lessened if there was a proper gaming aspect ratio and FOV for the game.

    + Fantastic atmosphere
    + Hints of good horror elements
    - Horrendous 2.35:1 aspect ratio
    - Locked to 30fps unless you use an achievement breaking console command
    - Aspect ratio "fix" is just a zoomed in camera and a narrow FOV
    - Clumsy, sluggish controls
    - Confusing boss encounters
    - Cramped hallways and a troublesome camera make for terrible bedfellows
    - It won't be winning any prizes for its visuals
    - Have I mentioned the horrendous aspect ratio yet?
    - Inconsistent pacing throughout the entire game
    Related Information
    Title: The Evil Within
    Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 (Reviewed on PC)
    ESRB Rating: M for Mature 17+ due to blood, gore, intense violence, and strong language