I’m the type of horror gamer that only likes to get into terrifying situations if I know I stand a fighting chance—with guns, axes, knives, whatever. Games made up of endless hiding, sneaking around, stealth killing of monsters armed to the teeth (literally), and running from invincible creatures is not my idea of scary—it’s just infuriating.
Had I known going into The Evil Within that it’s a hybrid of both, with the frustration coming only in the first few chapters, I wouldn’t have quit the game. I’m so glad that I checked online to see how many other players quit this seemingly impossible game – because feedback soon had me thinking maybe there was a way to get through it after all.
The key is to follow a walkthrough for at least the first 3 chapters, in which you have to make your way – weaponless – through areas loaded with vigilant monsters with great hearing and vision. For all I know, these pixilated bastards probably even have a keen sense of smell. They were that good. But after those first three chapters, I got better. And I got weapons.
Before getting into my experience playing, here are two immediate tips for those that haven’t yet played it but plan to. For starters, there was apparently some major drama when the game was first released because it was in “letterbox” mode only for all game consoles, while the PC version had an option to disable letterbox to actually show you MORE of the widescreen image. That’s right, the consoles were given a letterboxed version that hacked off the tops and bottoms of the game on their already widescreen TVs. In an update to the game, consoles were now given the option to enable or disable letterbox. Because, you know, in an age of widescreen, cinematic televisions, someone may want to block out part of the picture with black bars. WTF? Just get RID of that letterbox bullshit.
Next, there’s the control scheme. Without hesitation, switch from Type A to Type D. Why Type A is the default is beyond me because it is the worst. In fact, it shouldn’t even be an option. With type A, the inventory comes up when you press the right stick in. Guess what happens when you’re running in terror from enemies. That’s right, you accidentally push the right stick IN while you are jiggling it spastically in various directions to escape danger. You do not need to be tripped up by an inventory screen while in the middle of panicked fight or flight. Especially considering the game does not stop when your inventory comes up – it merely slows down, so you get to watch through the transparent background of your inventory screen as your character is mauled my monsters in slow motion.
Also, you might want to set the “crouch” option to TOGGLE so that when you press the R1 trigger, you stay crouched until you hit it again or press L1 to run. Otherwise, when trying to stay hidden from sight or crouching while approaching traps you need to disengage with other buttons, you have to makes sure not to let go of the crouch button. Other than that tricky decision that affects any control scheme, the (TYPE D) controls are quite practical, as is the inventory system, although it seems way more complex and easier to fumble through when you’re in the middle of a battle and need to enter an inventory system that doesn’t magically stop time. The great news is, the D-pad offers a quick inventory setup of your choosing, which usually means putting your four best guns there. Quick access to health might be considered good, except for two things. First, the syringes that provide a health boost put you through a brief animation as you give yourself a shot, so you’re probably not going to want to take the time to do that during a crazy monster moment anyway. You want to wait until quiet time when there are no monsters around and you have all the time in the world to enter inventory anyway. Also, the medical packs that give you a bigger boost of health are not something you want to take while in monster land. Why? Because taking them makes your character temporarily dizzy and throws off his vision and equilibrium. REALLY? Fuck you, The Evil Within.
Now on to what you can expect from the game. Like I said, for the first three chapters at least, have a walkthrough on hand so it can tell you exactly how to avoid all the pitfalls of traveling through monster and booby trap infested areas safely. These chapters are essentially all stealth, and it’s tedious. There are “hiding spots,” but most of the time, even when I hid, I was too late. The enemies knew exactly where I was and ripped me out of hiding to swallow my soul – and my game-playing spirit. Chapter 3 is when I quit the first time. I was in this rundown town, there were bear traps hidden in the grass in the dark shadows in which I had to hide as I snuck around buildings to avoid monsters. The character has a lantern, but turning it on attracts monsters! Fuck you, The Evil Within. And when I was spotted and tried to run blindly through dark buildings, there were wire trip bomb traps. Fuck you, The Evil Within. Unless you want to play this section over and over and over until you know exactly where every pitfall is that you must avoid, you need a walkthrough.
Once you’ve made it past the first three chapters, things get old school, with actual weapons: pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles. In other words, heaven. And they can all be upgraded, along with your physical abilities, by collecting jars of gel you find along the way, which can be used as purchasing power in the save hub. The save system is quite convenient, and in some areas, you can run back to it at any time. The only catch is, you travel through this mirror, so you’re forced to go through the animation heading there and back every time. But the save hub has some good stuff. There are lockers of items that can be opened when you find keys hidden in statues during the game. There’s a chair you sit in to buy your upgrades. There are new files you can pick up that embellish the story. And of course, there’s a save point. On top of that, the game has checkpoints, and they’re frequent enough that you usually don’t have to do big sections of the game over again if you die.
It’s good to know about the chances to return to the save hub in those early sections – something I didn’t know. For instance, in chapter 3 when all hell breaks loose and you aren’t even clued in to where you’re actually supposed to go (and tons of monsters are unleashed), you can periodically return to the save hub to save after stealth killing some of the enemies – or blowing them up by luring them into any booby traps you may actually have voided yourself. As the game progresses and you have more time (and weapons), you can actually disengage those traps for parts you can then use to make special ammo for your crossbow – some of the explosive creations are awesome, because if you miss a monster, you can go retrieve the ammo, which doesn’t explode if it doesn’t hit the monster! Awesome. Bear traps and trip wires can easily be disengaged with the press of a button when you crouch and sneak over to them, but shutting off bombs attached to walls requires a technique—you need to hit a button at just the right time to get the needle to stop on blue not red. Do it wrong and you blow up. Fuck you, The Evil Within. Up side is, you can just shoot those fuckers off the wall with your pistol from a distance away. Time it right, and you can even blow up monsters nearby in the process. And speaking of bombs, earlier in the game there are these fricking chests that are filled with goodies, but also lined with bombs! At first, it seemed the only way to get the goodies was to let the bomb go off and cause damage. Turns out you have to open the chest slowly, listen for a click, release the lid quickly to close it again, and then you can open it safely.
Other good things to know. There are some great items that score 1-hit kills, like axes and torches, which are dropped by enemies you kill. However, after a 1-hit kill, the weapon is defunct, so be prepared to quickly switch to another item. Torches are also good for lighting downed enemies on fire. Even if it’s still alive, a downed enemy will have a prompt to burn it if you’re nearby, so you can either torch it or use matches (also an inventory item you can find) to burn it to death so you no longer have to fight it. Time it right, and you can also set any nearby standing enemies on fire as well. You also have the option to burn dead enemy bodies, because they can come back from the dead to get you if you don’t! It’s very Resident Evil remake.
After chapter 3, when you’re packing heat, things start to look good. In fact, even the hiding spots disappear for a majority of the game because you’re no chicken shit and don’t need to hide. Stealth killing is strictly to save ammo as well, because now you have the weapons you need to blow off the heads of those fuckers. But just when you start to feel good about your newly acquired power…invisible enemies! Fuck you, The Evil Within. Fortunately, they aren’t around for long, just a small section of the game. Of more concern are the flight only monsters you’re not even clued into as unstoppable. You need a walkthrough to tell you this so you don’t waste a ton of ammo and time trying to kill them.
Eventually, you reach a chapter that scores you a sniper rifle, and you need to become a marksman fast. There are tons of enemies coming at you. So many, in fact, that you’ll run out of ammo for your other guns and feel the urge to reach for your sniper out of desperation. Problem is, if you run out of sniper rifle ammo, you can’t shoot objects later that must be destroyed to complete the level! In other words, you’ll be screwed. F you, TEW.
Some of the boss battles are a bitch, and as usual, you have no clue as to what special actions you need to take to defeat them unless you follow a walkthrough. For instance, when you reach a Resident Evil style mansion you need to explore, on top of the regular enemies, every 5 minutes or so, an invincible, teleporting enemy that kills you with one hit pursues you, so you have to simply avoid him for a period of time until he goes away. Does the game clue you in to that fact? Nope. Are there also dead ends galore you can run into to become a sitting duck? Yep. F you, TEW.
While the game has plenty of changing enemies and challenges earlier on, it becomes rather repetitive as it progresses. You just travel through creepy but irrelevant areas fending off enemies and picking up items, with very little progress to the story – one that is pretty much a cookie cutter plot of horror video games these days. One thing that breaks it up is that there are (only) a couple of times when you actually have a companion or two with you, and they fight pretty damn well. At one point, I hid to reload and heal up, and when I jumped back into the action, there was no action, because the AI had taken care of all enemies. Awesome!
While you build up your character and weapons wonderfully, the game also becomes progressively harder. You’re put through a series of grueling boss encounters by the end. Sometimes you can’t see anything, other times you’re running in circles to avoid an unstoppable monster while waiting for some pathway to open so you can keep running. One time, the game even seemed to let the boss hide away in a ceiling for good so I couldn’t fight it at all, and merely wasted all my health and ammo on the boss’s little minions until I died and had to replay the battle with the actual boss.
The hardest part of the game comes before the final boss, when you are up against waves of enemies! It’s an exhausting experience for sure, but there’s a payoff. The final boss? SO FUCKING EASY. Now that’s my kind of game. I take back all those fuck you’s, The Evil Within.