Playing With Fear: EVIL WITHIN
Horror has always been an interactive genre - be it written stories, movies, tv, or classic radio shows - allowing yourself to be frightened by fiction requires high levels of immersion and suspension of disbelief, and good old imagination. Good horror is a personal journey for each audience member, and as such video games have always been uniquely primed with the potential to deliver great horror experiences.
Welcome to Playing With Fear where one horror-infatuated gamer brings you the best (and sometimes worst) of what video games have to offer those who like to be scared. Horror & Survival games are experiencing a great resurgence right now. We’ll explore the best games of the current generation, the previous generation, and explore survival/horror games of the past and look towards future releases as well.
THE EVIL WITHIN
Japanese horror, be it movies or games, has a different flavor than its western counterpart. Video game design, due to its universal appeal, tends to be a more collaborative process between cultures than filmmaking. The Evil Within and its sequel (from here I’ll just refer to them both as The Evil Within) houses that collaborative process in its DNA and continues a developmental formula that started with Resident Evil 4 and continues to improve on it and move it forward. Did I lose you? Look i understand you just want to know what the game is about and why you should play it, but this game is important so humor me. Do you know who Shinji Mikami is? If you do, then you’re starting to understand the genealogy of The Evil Within. If you don’t, do you know who George Romero is? Mikami might as well be the Romero of video games. Wai, is this an article on a game or a game director? (And they were worried this column wouldn’t have enough personality to it. Yikes).
Shinji Mikami is the mastermind behind The Evil Within being the game’s director & creator. If you have not heard of him, he has filled the roles of director, creator, designer, and producer for the majority of the Resident Evil franchise from directing the original game to shifting the gameplay to the now revolutionary third-person camera gameplay. So a new horror franchise from the mind behind Resident Evil and published by the powerhouse of Bethesda (what an interesting partnership) was a big deal.
The Evil Within is a third person survival horror game set in a contemporary time in the fictional Krimson City. As the player you assume control of detective Sebastian Castellanos as he investigates a horrific murder at Beacon Mental Hospital. As is prone to happen in these type of situations, things quickly begin to unravel. Soon Sebastian and his partners are fleeing the hospital as the city is literally being rearranged and destroyed around them. What follows is a masterful trip through spectacularly creepy and varied environments, fighting for your life against nightmarishly twisted versions of the real world, while hunting and being hunted by a mysterious hooded assailant named Ruvik.
The second game picks up with Sebastian following the events of the first, with a more personal touch to the story. Mysterious persons reveal to our protagonist that his dead daughter may be able to be revived, or perhaps not even dead after all. The more personal direction of the story provides a natural avenue to expand of Sebastian as a character a bit more, and helps to round out some of the first game’s shallowness.
Where the game excels is where Mikami’s expertise shines through. The game goes from mundane to creepy to outright horrific and back at a great pace, dragging you back down into the madness and then giving you a brief reprieve to catch your breath without ever really letting you feel safe. Possibly my favorite element of the first game’s environment is the safe room, the in between chapters where you save your game, upgrade your abilities, the room is slowly changed as you find items throughout the game. This is the place where you are supposed to be safe. Yet there is something about it, something incredibly unsettling that even at your moment of respite, you don’t feel safe or comfortable.
I realize I’ve glossed over a lot of the actual store of the two games, and there are two good reasons for that. Firstly, i like to avoid spoilers as much as possible regardless of how old a game is. Secondly, as is typical in japanese-horror games, the story is a little uneven. It's a bit rough, feels like there are some pieces missing, and as is the case in say, Resident Evil, it can be tough to follow. That being said, at the center of The Evil Within is a central sci-fi concept that, like AI and space travel, is close enough to reality to be frightening. Shared consciousness, networking minds together for a shared experience of thought and memory, is at the center of STEM, a program that the plot loosely revolves around. While the environments are unsettling and creepy, and the nightmares enemies are brilliantly designed and terrifying, it is this concept of share consciousness that is possibly the most terrifying concept in the whole game. Any good scary story is based somewhat on the real world, and The Evil Within knows that.
Getting a successful new franchise at this point in the video game industry seems all too rare. Getting a new entry into the survival/horror genre even less common. The fact that The Evil Within launched not just as a successful game, but now with two entries is a franchise, makes us as gamers lucky. The Evil Within picks up where games like Resident Evil 4 left off, improves ideas, modernizes fear, and delivers damn good gameplay all at the same time. Both games are worth your time, and neither should be hard to come by. So get out there and play. That’s a terrible sign off line. I’ll work on something better.