The most successful horror movies pale in box office to marginally successful films of other genres. Horror video games will never break sales records set by first-person shooters. And horror novels will generally be relegated to lower places on the bestsellers lists. This column is not going to say that horror doesn’t have it’s hits. It’s just that, in the grand scheme of things, in comparison to other genres, horror fans are generally left Scared Hitless.
With the holidays, I’ve been having a tough time fitting in a lot of new (to me) horror into my schedule. There have been a number of different things that have popped up recently that have kept me away from stepping deeply into the genre that I adore. However, now that the calendar has turned to 2015, time has opened up a bit again, and I’ve been able to step lightly back into the things that scare me, which fills me with both dread and joy.
One of the ways that I’ve been able to return to being scared is through the game The Evil Within. Created by a man viewed by some as the father of the survival horror genre, Shinji Mikami, The Evil Within feels like a game that grew somewhat out of what Resident Evil had become, but then elaborated on it. I haven’t completed the story yet, but that isn’t going to stop me from talking about what I’ve experienced so far.
THE EVIL WITHIN
A relatively short time ago, a game called Outlast was produced. In this game, you play the part of an investigative reporter sent to an asylum, armed only with your notebook and a video camera. Truth be told, I tried playing Outlast, but haven’t been able to get deeply into the game. This isn’t to say that it isn’t a stunning feat for what I’ve seen. Honestly, I want to get further into that game, but can’t because I’ve honestly been too scared by it to continue. The game is a first-person story, and is a true piece of “survival” in survival horror, as you survive by running, hiding, and probably hiding some more. The IR camera view adds to the creepiness, and, when played in a darkened room late at night with assorted house-settling sounds, the creep factor was just a little much to keep me going.
Why do I mention Outlast when talking about The Evil Within? Because I feel that the two games share a bit of DNA, at least in the opening portions. Where Outlast is a first-person story, The Evil Within delivers your character, Sebastian Castellanos, in a third-person perspective. That separation alone helps immensely. Gone is the IR view, and it’s replaced with ambient lighting that is often just dark enough to hide the creepy crawlies that are lurking around the corner. Of course, the DNA of the Resident Evil series is also on display through The Evil Within, as weapons are provided to help fight back against the spirits of evil, but that doesn’t mean you can just blast your way through every encounter. The Evil Within actually rewards players for taking a more cautious approach, especially in the early going. In fact, the first real moment of danger in the game was only solvable through a system of actions that, as a horror film enthusiast, I felt I should have realized earlier, but as a horror gamer seemed contrary to everything I’d ever done before.
The Evil Within is broken up into decent-sized chapters, which helps keep the game from getting too frenetic. The chapter break-up also allows players an easy and obvious time to step away from the controller for a bit, to ease their tensions and shake out whatever may have troubled them. After all, the combat in The Evil Within is never simple. Players need to conserve ammo, either by running, sneaking, or finding alternate ways to defeat enemies, and the monsters in the game are deliciously creepy, especially in the early going. Presenting players with a challenge can be tricky, which is why the Dark Souls series seems to split gamers into two very different camps, but The Evil Within seems to want the player to experience the sheer discomfort of the protagonist, while avoiding the intense frustration of dying repeatedly in a short span of time.
As the game progresses, more and more of the reality of the world gets torn away, which makes things weirder, if not intrinsically creepier. Again, I haven’t finished the story yet, but it does seem like The Evil Within is playing with the mental state of Sebastian, and, in turn, playing with that of the player. Physics gets turned on its head, paths are altered, and all the while, more and more hordes of monsters pursue the hero.
The Evil Within isn’t necessarily carving out a new niche in the survival horror genre of video games, but, so far, it doesn’t really need to. The design of the world is deliciously creepy. Presenting the game through a third-person perspective creates just enough separation that the player CAN invest in the story if they so choose, without being incredibly in-your-face like Outlast is, even if the camera is disturbingly close to Seb most of the time. The game plays with light, with rooms illuminated just enough to conceal the danger, or the occasional bright light of day which provides absolutely no safety. Extra light can be generated via Sebastian’s lantern, but doing so brings its own dangers. Monsters are gruesome and disturbing, and the bigger challenges in the game seem to be in how to defeat them, not in the correct way to position a specific chess piece so as to unlock a door in a completely different part of the mansion.
Overall, just barely under half-way through The Evil Within, and the game has been scratching my horror itch. While the story is just starting to step firmly into “bizarre” territory, the creep factor has remained, and it’s been what has kept me returning to Sebastian’s world, one chapter at a time.