Hm. Hmm. Hmmmmmmm.
After the first hour I’m not exactly sold on The Evil Within, which is a bit disappointing considering I was really looking forward to a proper Resident Evil 4 successor. Yes, okay, I love Resident Evil 6 – I am one of the very few people who thinks that it is a genuinely good game – but it’s not really a Resi game by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a straight-up ludicrous action game which is about sliding around on your backside and kicking off zombies’ heads.
The Evil Within, on the other hand, showed a bit more of the Resident Evil 4 charm in its trailers. It looked mildly creepy, mildly ridiculous, and with more of an emphasis on horror and not fighting 20 enemies at once. And… well, okay; what I’ve played sticks to that. But…
Before we get into the game itself, let’s talk about the PC port. It has options, it has keybinds, and it lets you play either with mouse/keyboard or gamepad.
The Evil Within doesn’t have the most extensive graphical options I’ve ever seen, but it’s certainly better than some. You’ve got your resolution, and your anti-aliasing, and your shadow quality, and various other bits and bobs. No texture quality that I can see, though, which is perhaps a little telling – but we’ll get onto that.
The General tab offers a variety of languages, voice options, and general bits and bobs like whether you want subtitles and an icon letting you know that you can interact with items. Nothing major, but there are those who’ll like the ability to turn on/off the Enemy Alertness icons and the various Interaction prompts.
I’m deeply amused by the “Graphic Content” option, though. I can only imagine that turning off Graphic Content either covers the entire screen with a giant CENSORED bar, or strips the game down to be about 30 seconds long. Again, though, we’ll get to that.
Finally, the controls. You’ve got your standard keybindings (most of which are eminently sensible by default, like CTRL being crouch and Shift being sprint, with the only outlier being Space as use – which I quickly rebound to also be E). You’ve got your gamepad button prompts, and your choice of whether you toggle Sneak on and off by tapping, or if you have to hold the button down. There’s auto-aim, and mouse sensitivity, and a vibration function that is actually useful because any connected gamepads seem to vibrate even if you’re using mouse and keyboard.
So yeah. The options are nothing particularly impressive (or even particularly detailed), but they’ve got pretty much everything you need.
The game itself opens with Detective Sebastian Castellanos – the manliest survival horror protagonist since Garcia Hotspur of Shadows of the Damned – heading to a multiple homicide in a hospital. This is where we hit the first problem.
You see that screenshot? Yeah, that’s not a cutscene – that’s the actual viewing area of the game. The entire thing is bordered by huge black bars.
This… is not a good thing, to my mind. On the one hand: okay, it’s cinematic, and it’s kinda doing the Resident Evil 4 thing where your entire viewing area feels very claustrophobic and prevents you from seeing enough that you feel comfortable. On the other hand, I feel like I’m playing the game while squinting.
I quit out, enabled the console, and got myself ready to adjust the framerate and aspect ratio. Firstly: yes, you should absolutely adjust the framerate, because I’ve hit no problems running it at 60 (yet) and – as with basically every other game on the planet – it feels much more responsive and enjoyable. Secondly: I’m not quite sure about the aspect ratio.
Here’s the aspect ratio adjusted from the default to a slightly more comfortable one, which still leaves a bit of room at the edges:
And you maybe begin to see the problem. You can either have a game that you’re looking at through a slit, or a game where half of the viewing area is taken up by the protagonist’s torso. So far I haven’t managed to find a comfortable middle-ground, and I’ve spent awhile playing both with the black bars made even bigger (to give me a greater viewing space) and with the black bars removed almost entirely. Neither is ideal. It also doesn’t help that most of the game’s effects are based around the default ratio, so – for instance – the fade-to-red on death only actually affects a portion of the screen. If you’ve adjusted how much of the screen is dedicated to display, then that fade-to-red isn’t going to cover everything.
Yes, this view area is the Resident Evil 4 thing, but on a modern PC we’re used to being able to adjust things like the FOV and the aspect ratio to make things comfortable. You can argue that the whole point of this is to make things uncomfortable, but in this case it actually seems to detract from the experience.
I’m finding it incredibly hard to look around corners, which is frustrating in a game where stealth is important. I’m not getting any sense of the environment at all because the viewing area is compromised either by the letterboxing or by the protagonist’s fat arse, which is a problem because the general atmosphere is super-important. Sigh. We’ll see how I cope as the game goes on.
I’m also not hugely impressed by the way it looks, either, in terms of fine detail; the texture work isn’t super-sharp or detailed. That’s not actually a complaint, though: the game moves flawlessly on max settings, and the majority of the atmosphere is delivered by setting and some superb lighting. Super high-definition textures honestly don’t seem to be required, and what’s there is hardly distracting.
But let’s talk about the game.
This is… I don’t know. A gore-porn movie by way of Michael Bay? I’ve played for an hour and during that time I’ve been hacked to bits, decapitated, dumped into a giant vat of blood, and chased around a dilapidated building by a giant man with a chainsaw and a Hannibal Lecter mouth-covering. I’ve narrowly escaped death-by-corridor-sized-blending-machine, been strapped into a chair that looks like it was based on A Clockwork Orange‘s infamous re-education device, and briefly ventured into some sort of alternate-world hospital where I can save my game.
I’ve also seen buildings explode and a city slide apart like it was cut in two, which is where the Michael Bay thing comes in. But when I said earlier that turning off Graphic Content seems ludicrous, I meant it: The Evil Within basically is graphic content. You might as well ask for a version of Se7en your three-year-old daughter could enjoy.
It’s surprisingly hard, though. Some of that is down to the awful viewing area, and some of it’s down to the fact that Sebastian sustains a nasty ankle injury approximately three seconds before you need to start running and fleeing from a nutcase with a chainsaw. If you get spotted, you’re taking a sharp rotary instrument to the face.
I’m genuinely happy that most of the death scenes I’ve seen thus far (and I’ve seen quite a few) have actually been unique, rather than a typical falling-over-dead animation. Hiding in a locker when Captain Tree Surgery was right behind me led to a unique animation. Letting him spot me before he’d switched to the chainsaw led to a unique animation. Letting him spot me after he switched to the chainsaw… well, you get the idea. Let’s just say I have quite literally seen what Sebastian is made of, and I don’t expect it to be the last time.
Other than running (well, limping, although he got over that really quickly) and hiding, Sebastian can lob bottles to serve as a distraction, and I’ve even found a firearm! Which only had six shots. And I used most of them trying to fend off a zombie cop before I gave up and just punched him to re-death. Again, the viewing area didn’t do me many favours here, not least because aiming zooms in even further. Thankfully, Sebastian does seem to have a greater level of self-preservation than most survival horror protagonists, although he’s still adorably silly in the way of many. Sebastian, after you’ve seen a fellow cop seemingly mutate and zombify, walking up to that cop a bit later – when he appears to be shambling and impaled with something – is not a good idea. Seriously.
I don’t know that I’d say The Evil Within is scary, exactly, but some of that might be because I’ve been playing Alien: Isolation, a game which is pretty masterful in the way it creates tension and releases it, and is possibly the best locker-cowering simulator of the year. This is more over-the-top in the way of a schlocky B-movie – which is excellent in its own right! Don’t mistake that for a criticism, because I’m a really big fan of that stuff, and the intro alone is so full of delicious ham it could open a deli. Hell, the city is called Krimson City! With a K!
But, er, back on topic: The Evil Within is definitely somewhat unsettling, but I can’t say I even really felt The Fear when cowering in a locker while Chainsaw Man was going berserk a few feet away.
So yeah, my initial impressions are mixed. On the one hand I like the idea of most of the stuff here – I like the setting; I like the utterly ludicrous death-traps; I like what I’ve seen of the bonkers, reality-warping, pain dimension-esque storyline – but my actual enjoyment of these elements will pretty much come down to whether or not I can get used to the way the game actually shows these things.
I have no idea how long the game is, so I can’t promise there’ll be a review anytime soon, but I’ll try to follow this up with some more impressions after I’ve played for six or seven hours. With a bit of luck, I’ll then at least know whether most of the issues I’ve highlighted here really are issues, and I’ll hopefully have some idea of how well it plays once we’re out of Tutorial Land and into the proper horror.