The Evil Within
The Evil Within is Resident Evil 4 meets Silent Hill 2. You play a detective trapped inside a nightmare world, where every door leads to a different memory, as you try to find the source of the evil to escape.
The nightmare world is a long series of traumas, seeming to come from the minds of everyone trapped in there. For example you find notes that fill in the backstory of the detective, and in conversations with other characters you get a good picture of who he is, and the tragedies he has experienced. It’s done with brevity and intelligence. The game assumes you can read between the lines, and that you’re paying attention. The story, just like everything else about the game, was a pleasant surprise to me. It uses the lessons Silent Hill 2 taught on how you do psychological horror. Not everything is explained, but there’s enough there that it makes sense. The designs aren’t random, not done for simply for shock value. They have stories. They’re memories, as the person whose mind you’re inhabiting interpreted them. Or they’re others who came the nightmare before you. Ultimately the story isn't as strong as Silent Hill 2, as it doesn't have the same sort of punch to the end. But there was enough here to elevate it way above the average game.
Your character is weak, capable of carrying only a few bullets. The scarce resources put you on edge, but it’s only the perception of difficulty. The game isn’t frustrating. You always have enough health and ammo. And if you don’t there’s alternative methods to deal with enemies. Yet the illusion of danger still works. It’s brilliant in that regard, just like Resident Evil 4 was.
No location or scenario in the game overstays its welcome. Even before you get tired of a place, it changes things up. It has stealth sequences, action set pieces in sprawling arenas, quiet exploration, and parts where you run from an overwhelming enemy. All of them happening just when you need them, and in perfect dosage. It doesn’t overdo the action, as that can become mind numbing. Instead the game has an uncanny sense of just how much the audience can tolerate before the intended effect is diminished.
It never runs out of ideas. It keeps giving you new things to see, and new types of monsters to deal with. As you’re playing you make assumptions about where the game is headed based on other games. You think it’s going to settle into a groove and coast with the same stuff to the end. But it never does. It gives you just enough of one thing, and then surprises you. The sense of pacing is so good, that it makes every other singleplayer game look amateurish. All those dull middle sections in The Last of Us, or Alien Isolation could have been fixed, had those developers had the same sense for how the audience would react like Shinji Mikami does. This is how you make a long game. Every level, every area, every encounter serves a purpose for the whole. Not even short 1-3 hour games do pacing this well, and The Evil Within maintains this quality for the entire 15 hour run.
This is the greatest achievement of the game, how the tension builds and releases perfectly. The game knows when you need a story beat to remember why you should care, and just long those cutscenes should be. I never felt the need to take a break from playing the game, because those breaks were included in the game itself. The game doesn’t get enough credit for this. I almost can’t emphasize enough just what a revelatory difference the pacing made for my enjoyment of the game. Playing it felt easy. I could just keep going. The second I had an inkling of fatigue the game changed things up and sparked my interest again. Why can’t other games be like this?
Recommending The Evil Within is easy. If you want to play a horror action game, this is as good as it gets. It’s not perfect. The ending could’ve been better. But the journey there was outstanding.