Shinji Mikami is the creator of the first Resident Evil game and thus of the series itself. He was an important part of it until its fourth game, when he left Capcom, the owner of the franchise. He has been involved with both horror and extreme action games like Vanquish. The Evil Within is a survival horror game released by him and Tango Gameworks that since its announcement, promised to rescue the genre. A genre that was lost to games since Resident Evil became an action game in RE4.
My experience with the game started with the trailers prior to release. My expectations were quite high at the beginning, the they decreased a lot with the latest trailers, because it reminded me a lot of Resident Evil 4, which to me wasn’t a good thing. This review tells my perception after having cleared the game.
The story is weak-ish. But more than that, the storytelling is weak too. It’s all too spread through documents and scenes, making it hard to connect the dots and make sense of it all. A horror game, to me, just like a horror movie, doesn’t really need a story. So that didn’t bother me at all. Besides, I was curious to know where the plot would go, how it would unfold, the answers to the questions. The game managed to engage me. Not because of the characters, though. Castellano has almost no personality, he doesn’t have a connection to us besides the fact we’re controlling him. I mean, he simply accepts all that’s happening without questioning right from the beginning, he doesn’t react to the world around him. A great example of this is the nurse Tatiana, who remains calm amidst everything as if nothing was happening and he doesn’t question her about that. She’s only a decoration to him. Secondary characters serve more like plot devices in determined moments, gone as soon as they’re unnecessary, with very little deepening. But good plots in horror games are rare exceptions. Silent Hill has a shallow and simple plot with excellent storytelling. Silent Hill 2, however, has an excellent plot. All Resident Evil games have little story and are filled with clichés. Alone in the Dark IV, one of my favorites and quite underrated, has an interesting story told through the documents spread through the game. It is, however, a backstory, not the plot that’s told currently in the game. The Evil Within seems to take this approach to the biggest part of its plot, but the files aren’t as interesting or deep as AitDIV’s.
About the game itself, it’s to me what RE4 should have been. What in no way means it’s retrogressive. It exists more as an evolution of Resident Evil 4, opposing RE5 and 6. Therefore it couldn’t exist without these games. Meaning, it couldn’t exist beforehand. The Evil Within is, also, a more natural evolution of the first Resident Evil’s concept. That game had traps, although relegated to cutscenes, and here they are part of the gameplay. It had monsters and inventory management, so does TEW. It had save rooms, here we have teleporter rooms with broken mirror, and they even have a fitting song too. When you hear the song that means you’re close to these rooms, you feel relieved, just like the original REs. By the way, that idea of a safe haven for you to teleport to is the same idea of Silent Hill 4 The Room, except infinitely better executed here. Another thing that seems to be an evolution of Mikami concepts is the supernatural aspects (which are in fact hallucinations), just like in Resident Evil 4’s hanged man beta.
And since I spoke about the relief you feel getting close to the safe spots, it’s obvious the game generates tension successfully. Maybe for having as reference so many horror works such as The Grudge and The Ring, going through serial killer movies and psychological horror games such as Silent Hill. There’s even an enemy that is the evolution of the famous Pyramid Head from Silent Hill 2! In several moments, I caught myself opening the doors calmly instead of kicking them, and walking more slowly than I needed to, out of fear. The game can make you care. Not through characters, mind you, but through gameplay, which I’ll analyze. The character’s deaths aren’t even that violent and yet I sometimes caught myself deviating my eyes to not see. I really had fear of dying in this game, and I’m quite insensitive to these sorts of things. Death became a punishment (and not only because of the loading screen), making me wish to play more cautiously to avoid it. Of course, horror is something totally subjective. I myself only really felt fear in some games, them being Silent Hill 1 and Alone in the Dark 4, which is such a random assortment of games. Tension must be as subjective as fear. I didn’t feel effective fear in The Evil Within, but I consider myself practically immune to this so I don’t serve as template for this particular thing. I also never considered Resident Evil a horror series. It was more about tension, and so is The Evil Within. The use of death in the game is excellent, making you take care because there are things that cause instantaneous death. More than that, I’ve played in the easy mode, so probably the game wouldn’t let me go out of ammunition. And even then I felt all the time that I was about to go out of ammo and I feared for this moment. That is how smart design works.
To end this point, with so many elements, the game could’ve become a horror caricature (that’s how I see the remake of the 1st Resident Evil) but that never happens.
One of the best gameplays I’ve seen. Simple like that. It’s complex and has depth and is easy to use, uncomplicated. The mechanics used in varied and interesting ways, they’re not underutilized. I have to mention too that at every moment the game throws something new at you, you’re constantly surprised with novelties, no enemy confront is equal, because the scenarios offer different tactics and strategies. Because of a new enemy that behaves differently or because you yourself have evolved. Skill evolution is also very interesting, I felt as I was actually customizing Sebastian to my playstyle, something so many games that have customization fail to do. You don’t have enough points to evolve everything, so you have to make choices, and you feel the impact of these choices as you play. The level design, despite having room for being more complex and it is a step back in relation to the original Resident Evil games, it’s still good. It’s more about big complex closed environments than it is about a big explorable environment.
This is one of the problems of the game. It lacks focus and cohesion. You jump from chapter to chapter, the game presenting utterly different content with no connection whatsoever. It blends all of horror elements you can think of, which takes a bit from its greatness. Not that it isn’t original, I found the game extremely original, filled with interesting ideas and creativity. There’s much content and almost no excess. The game manages to avoid industry tendencies that seem forced into games nowadays even when they don’t add anything, things like secondary missions, open world and the idea that nothing can be linear. It’s refreshing. More than that, it’s a game with real playability and few set scenes. I have to say, however, that the playable scenes that do exist add nothing to the game, and I understood the purpose of only a handful of them. Of course that can be my flaw, disability to comprehend, and maybe everyone else has got this easily. The same way everyone else, perhaps, has easily got a hold of the story. I can only speak of my own experience.
As for difficulty, I found the game hard. And that on the easy mode. Perhaps it has to be hard to generate tension, because it is hard. I also though it balanced too. The game gives you options to get out of the situations, but makes you use its mechanics and the specifics of the environments to get out well of them. It’s not excessively easy nor excessively hard.
Now on the topic of gameplay there’s something I have to say is quite bothersome. The camera is too close to the character, which annoys but it’s not too bad. What really bothered me is a button to center the camera. Because you can run away from an enemy without problem (and has to), but when you need to turn around to look at him again so you can shoot, you lose too much time turning the camera. It wouldn’t have been a problem if there weren’t some moments with more action latter in the game, where it becomes a problem. Of course if there was such a button, the game would have to be rebalanced, because it’s so balanced as it is. And I don’t believe it’s a problem with the camera itself, and that changing the camera to another perspective like over the shoulder or fixed behind the character is the solution. Because the current camera allows you to look around the environment, and I have several times looked nervously assuring myself I was safe, and the current camera makes doing that easy, which in turn encourages that I do that, and makes me paranoid. The current camera also helps gameplay, since you can use it to analyze the scenario around you, which helps both in strategy and exploration and allows that more complex scenarios be made, demanding more of the player’s skills.
I found the graphics really beautiful, and even impressive in some moments. Perhaps because it’s the 360 version. However, I thought the graphics were more beautiful because of art direction that by the technical aspects. It’s a very beautiful game, a horror game that allows itself to be pretty, where the environments are visually attractive. It doesn’t have to have everything dark and ugly to be horror, as many other before The Evil Within have already shown, but plenty seemed to forget. And although it was released in newer platforms (X-Box One, PS4) with better graphics, it seems to me to be more of a PS360 game than a XOne/PS4 one. Although from what I’ve seen in youtube and screenshots, it’s pretty in the new consoles as well. The sound is also very well executed, complementing everything proposed by the game.
It’s a very nice game that, from what I see, is essential to any survival horror fan, or even just horror fans. A version of this game without the ‘supernatural’ elements is what Resident Evil should be now. I also would indicate it to any gamer that wants a real game, that doesn’t take away your control without reason and gives you only an illusion of control. It has an amazing design that shows why Shinji Mikami is so loved. I used to think Mikami was overrated, but I no longer think so. I just think the game should have a sequel, to be able to fix its little flaws and become really big. How many games have a good but flawed first game that doesn’t cause much buzz, only to be elevated to masterpiece level by the sequel?
The terror here isn’t my preferred style of horror, especially because it’s so exaggerated. It’s not too exaggerated, it’s just a different style than what I usually like, because in horror I prefer something subtler. However I still enjoyed it a lot, because it’s so well made and it’s not completely out of my personal taste. The plot and the points it touches is something practically only the Japanese such as Mikami can do well. TEW has the soul of classic Japanese horror games. Its own mythology is very interesting and unique and deserves to be worked upon in sequels. It’s a unique game that I honestly recommend.
P.S.: I haven’t played the DLCs. And it seems The Assignment and The Consequence, two of the three expansions, add important details to the plot. I didn’t play these yet so I can’t comment on the whole plot, but I hate that I’d have to buy additional content to understand everything.