This week, Zero Punctuation reviews The Evil Within.
I was hiding behind a wall in an abandoned insane asylum with my face pressed up against an advanced buildup of mildew the other day when a mysterious figure in a big coat and a hat sidled up and said "Hey, you like your Outlast and your Amnesia and your creepy horror based around hiding from things and having the defensive capability of a Kinder Surprise, right? Why not check out this game we made, called The Evil Within. Look, you're in a creepy hospital and have to sneak around a chainsaw murderer."
"Looks like my cup of tea," I said, but then I reached the end of the starting section, which coincidentally marked the end of the E3 gameplay video I'd seen, and the game went "Bored now! Let's have a car chase."
"And here's a pistol and a shotgun and a crossbow that shoots lightning somehow. And now you're in the woods massacring zombie farmers and avoiding traps that only the twitchiest caffeine-riddled paranoid would be able to anticipate."
Wait a second, I recognize that voice. Resident Evil 4! Why this deception?
"Look, I'm just having some trouble with the kids right now. Resident Evil 6 has started identifying as a sea urchin."
Yes, remember last week, when I said after Alien Isolation, "Hey, maybe AAA has finally remembered how to do subtlety and horror." Turns out it was just a beautiful dream that vanishes on waking. 'Course, to expect subtlety from Shinji-RE4-God Hand-Vanquish-Shadows of the Damned-Mikami is to expect birthday cake to drop out of a donkey's arse. But the teased opening of the game being so blatantly unrepresentative of the rest of it is the final straw that adds gameplay videos to the list of shit from E3 you can't trust, alongside prerendered trailers and every word that comes out of everyone's fat, stinking mouths.
Of course that's just my expectation. Had I expected another Resident Evil 4 I wouldn't have said no, because Resident Evil 4 was the big dog's biscuit and it worked, because it combined over-the-top splatter violence with a sense of ironic B-movie camp that walks the line between intentional and unintentional comedy. It's about rescuing the president's daughter, for fucks sake, whereas The Intel Inside doesn't really have that, instead it has...nnnnnothing.
It plays like somebody said "Hey, make a horror game!" And somebody else said "Okay, what about?" "I've just told you, about horror." "No, I mean what happens in it? What's the context? What are the major themes you want to work with?" "Horror, horror and horror. Jesus Christ, just do it, why are you so difficult to work with?" And so the result is this undisciplined mishmash of horror set pieces and imagery barely justified by a toilet tissue flimsy plot, populated entirely by stock characters.
The protagonist, for example, is Grim Hero Category 27A, Dirty Harry Subtype 9 (order now and get free trenchcoat and drinking problem) together with a straitlaced by-the-book partner and a woman who happens to be there, whose chief role is to be the woman who happens to be there. "He investigates the disturbance at an evil hospital, whereupon the three of them are swiftly captured and separated and then horror... happens," he said as he blew out his cheeks and waved his hand dismissively. "So how about the horror's happening because reality is being overwritten by a deranged disfigured scientist's twisted subconscious? And also he's half ostrich and rides a unicorn from space and- you're not listening anymore, are you?" "Yup, sounds good, just do it. Call me if you need money, I'm off to the cocaine tasting."
But having established that the deranged disfigured scientist, Antagonist 5F Subtype 3, is changing the world in accordance to his whims, the game has no continuity whatsoever. Like you'll get through the angry farmers, then the world will wobble like a freshly spanked buttock and BING! You're in a church, or BING! You're in a sewer, or BING! You're on the New Jersey turnpike with a seagull up your arse. So all you can do is plod from scene to scene with no sense of how far you've gotten or what remains to be done to resolve the conflict.
It's the kind of setup where you could rearrange all the chapters in random order and no one would notice. And I'm pretty sure that's exactly what they did. The amount that characters know about the situation goes up and down from dialogue to dialogue. I'm pretty sure at one point the protagonist offhandedly mentions the name of the villain without having been told it at any point. And the difficulty curve resembles Claus von Stauffenberg's handwriting. Some boss fights in the midgame kicked me up and down the poorly lit hospital corridor, whereas the final boss made a huge song and dance and then died cause I wiped my nose on his tie.
Combat is almost exactly the same as RE4 with the same inability to shoot from the hip and the same camera mounted on the stop sign sticking up the main character's tight beautiful arse, albeit with black bars along the top and bottom of the screen to both create a cinematic effect and reduce visibility in the hope that the dodgy texturing could slip by unnoticed.
Unlike RE4 though, there's the stealth elements that seem to be so emblematic of generic combat these days, the usual sneaky back-stab and throw-able distractions, but since 99% of the combat in this game begins with the enemy ambushing you, the only reason there seems to be for having stealth elements is to get into the big boy's club and to taunt you with what could have been. Once the game introduces character upgrades and not a single one is stealth-related, we finally realize that the stealth has the same role Peter Dinklage had in Destiny: mainly there just so that we can say it's there.
Upgrades can only either make guns incrementally better or sew a new ammo pocket in your grim detective trousers. So every time I flailed drunkenly at a room full of crates and found nothing but upgrade material, I would despair, because I didn't need one second shaved of the pistol's reload time or the ability to hold another seagull up my arse, what I needed was some fucking bullets! Whoever worked out the ammo distribution had apparently bought into the delusion that we were doing the sneaky survival-horror thing as opposed to the "electric crossbow bolts" thing. And you can only hold enough bullets to get you about four-and-a-half seconds into a workplace massacre.
So what we have here is a game that demands discipline from the player while showing no discipline in itself. No discipline in the design: here is a boss monster you can't kill until you solved the puzzle in this area, here he is again three chapters later, but now he can be killed because who gives a shit. No discipline in the story either: "Oh no, I'm inexplicably turning into a zombie! Oh wait, no I'm not. Sweet, let's never bring this up again. In fact, let's not give any aspect of the story any fucking closure even at the end, because we once saw the word 'intrigue' written on a shithouse wall, and that's about as far as we understand the concept."
All in all, the game's like driving to Alice Springs: a whole lot of effort to end up fucking nowhere.
- The beagle within: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- The Shinji Mikami care in the community program: put a bag on their head and find them work at a lumberyard supplier
- I know a very good seagull extraction specialist