There are days when owning a PS4 feels like owning a Ferrari in Manhattan. It’s an incredible machine, capable of amazing things, but there just aren’t too many opportunities to open it up and let ‘er rip, so to speak. The best games available for the console are also some of the best PS3 games. The Last of Us: Remastered has seemingly been the only worthwhile experience on PS4 because the increased frame rate and more realistic graphics utilized capabilities not available on the previous generation console.
The games developed solely for PS4 have been almost universally underwhelming. Granted, many of the best PS3 games–The Last of Us, Mass Effect 2 & 3, Uncharted 2 & 3–were not available until PS3 had been around for some time; developers had the opportunity to fully develop their ideas using the tech and the result thus far on PS4 has been a slew of $60-$70 games with sometimes clunky mechanics that feel devoid of story and/or strong characters. Destiny was a colossal disappointment, Shadow of Mordor has several strong points but is effectively “Arkham: Middle Earth,” and The Evil Within’s success is as mixed as its reviews, with many gamers giving Alien: Isolation the edge as PS4’s current champ of survival horror.
Shinji Mikami, creator of the iconic Resident Evil (RE), began production on The Evil Within (released this last Tuesday) in 2010 when his home studio, Tango Gameworks, was purchased by Bethesda Softworks. The Evil Within was subsequently announced in 2013. Bethesda has an impressive track record, having produced The Elder Scrolls series, Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas and Dishonored–all very ambitious and big games–and Mikami is widely regarded as a master of survival horror. It’s a recipe for success and, to be sure, The Evil Within delivers in the purest sense, yet falls short in several areas.
Mikami’s footprint is very strong in the game’s design and that is one of the overwhelming successes of the project. The conceptual design is phenomenal. The game’s biggest strength is the atmospheric nature of the in-game world, which is bizarre, twisted and frightening. The pacing of the game is well-constructed because, much like the original Resident Evil, elements of the mystery are resolved as the player progresses. Another hallmark of Mikami’s is that, in true survival horror, the challenge should not be a matter of outgunning your enemy, but rather by outwitting and outlasting him. To Mikami, this is the very essence of the genre. As a result, ammunition and health are hard to come by in the game, forcing players to consider his or her tactics before acting. In fact, players are best served by hiding from and creeping up on enemies instead of engaging them in a frontal assault. Early in the game, it’s best to completely avoid enemies as much as possible because the character’s health and strength are greatly limited, rewarding patience and offering a challenge. In this sense, fans of the original RE will be pleased because more recent RE releases are little more than third-person shooters with the occasional puzzle thrown into the mix.
Gameplay begins after a short, awkwardly-scripted cutscene when the protagonist, Detective Castellanos, arrives at the scene of a horrific mass murder that has just taken place in a hospital.
Along with two other detectives and a uniformed officer, Castellanos investigates the scene until his is rendered unconscious by a hooded teleporting creep whom we are led to believe is responsible for what we’ll call the “healthcare reform” that has taken place. The player awakes in a nightmarish world where the hospital has been turned into Dr. Satan’s clinic, the hallways patrolled by a very large and very unhappy chainsaw-wielding masked orderly of sorts. It is here that the player first gets a feel for the game’s clunky mechanics.
The Evil Within’s stealth feature is awkward and, while it works reasonably well, players simply don’t get the “feel” of sneaking the way he or she might in The Last of Us, a veritable how-to in terms of sneaking and stealth in a horror game. After escaping from the hospital–lots of good gore points here for all you gore-fanatics–the gameplay experience begins in earnest. In addition to a fumbling stealth mode, the melee actions are poor. Newer games appropriately utilize the environment to give melee combat a more realistic and gritty feel, using a nearby wall or nearby corner to aid in the fighting. The Evil Within is simply a hack and slash type combat system where the character flails at enemies, often taking critical damage in the process, hence why hiding from enemies is wise not just in terms of strategy. It’s clear that the developers don’t want you to duke it out with enemies, and that’s fine, but there are better ways to punish poor decision-making rather than skimping on the combat aspect, because the fact is certain players want to punch their way through games. It should be made more difficult, yes, but it shouldn’t come at the expenses of presentation.
One interesting feature which can certainly be categorized as a success is the upgrade system.
While the upgrades themselves are fairly standard–more health, more ammo, etc.–the method of delivery is highly creative. The player is able to transport into a bizarre dream-state which takes place in a hospital (different hospital: less death, patient care equally poor) tended to by a mysterious nurse. This “safe zone” allows players to save their game as well as upgrade their character and, in an interesting twist, it’s only accessible through mirrors. When the player encounters one of these magical mirrors, he of she can enter this special area.
The game is challenging enough that hardcore gamers will enjoy a decent amount of game time and Mikami’s vision is fully realized in all it’s dark and twisted glory. While the it isn’t necessarily frightening–if you want to be scared shitless, download Outlast–it’s eerie and sadistic enough to be entertaining. Yet the lack of fluidity in the mechanics makes the game feel wrong. As the player lumbers around in sneak mode, one experiences more frustration than anxiety about being discovered because the movement is quite annoying. While it might seem like this is a minor detail to pick at, games that have excellent stealth features add to the experience. Fluid movement makes a game where stealth is requiste more engrossing and clunky movement feels incongruous with what’s taking place on the screen. It’s hard to become fully involved as a result and it truly detracted from my experience–and The Evil Within is a game that, by looks alone, you want to become part of.
Mechanics aside, The Evil Within is a fully-realized game with regard to the conceptual. Mikami’s talent at creating a world-gone-horribly-wrong is undeniable and his vision is expertly clear. The game feels much like RE at its core but, sadly, one simply doesn’t get the sense that the console is being used to its full capacity.
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