Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Evil Within - How Mikami Got it Right

Some time ago when Resident Evil's original creator, Shinji Mikami said he was going to take survival horror back to its roots we were hopeful, but kind of felt like "whoa it will be a lot of time until that happens". Well, that "far away" day finally arrived and it turned out really well. The Evil Within has a perfect mix of different game play mechanics and details that make the game to be the return of the old school survival horror we had been waiting for.

The Evil Within

First of all, be aware that if there ever were a golden rule for survival horror games that rule would be:

A survival horror game must never be perfect. 

This is because if a game claims to be a survival horror title it must have its share of intentional "defects" so it gives the correct atmosphere or else it will feel too clean and sanitized. The Evil Within has a lot of those "defects" as effects like a grainy image, awkward camera angles, controls that seem to break at some times and even non nonsensical happenings that seem to be glitches at first just to realize a few moments later that it was part of the scene itself. These are the kind of game play elements that made legendary horror games like the old school Resident Evil games or the Silent Hill series and fortunately for us, The Evil Within follows this to the letter.

The Evil Within Environment
Will that lump in the end stand up or not? That is the question...

Another aspect in which the vision behind the game was right on the money is the fact that it mixes various type of situations into a horror environment that feels solid. You can find yourself ambushed, racing against the clock, running from an enemy who can kill you with just one hit or just find the occasional enemy while exploring the place, avoiding traps and solving puzzles. You see, this is the kind of environment that comes from the result of good game design. Instead of coming up with a bland "shoot your way through" approach, the people behind this game gave us a game world that is balanced between linearity and dynamic game play. Yes, the game moves through the story line in linear fashion, but the way to survival is entirely up to you by choosing how to explore, engage the enemy and develop your character.

The Evil Within Upgrade System
This picture makes it look complex, but it is not.

Speaking of character development, this gaming element as used in survival horror games has become a modern trend that has enhanced the overall experience and The Evil Within implements this very well. As a hardcore survival horror fan you may be thinking that strengthening your character will make the game easy and dull, but that is not the case if such system is made in a balanced way. For example, in this game you can make your character to be stronger in some aspects, but the points required to do it are scarce, so you will never be able to create an invincible warrior. Instead, you will have to carefully upgrade the things you use the most in order to create your own style of playing, like upgrading weapons if you want to use more firepower or enhancing your abilities and item stock if you feel like clever and risky tactics are your thing.

Survival Horror Game Design
The past design look a little more chaotic, but it felt a lot more real.

The only element in this game that may leave some hardcore horror fans wishing it were different is the game flow. The Evil Within flows in chapters like many other modern horror games and this may be seen as an artificial approach to the exploration aspect of the game. Sure, the chapters are long and the maps are diverse and well designed, but some of us may still be missing the backtracking that characterized the survival horror games of old. An example of this been Mikami's own creation, the old Resident Evil series. Anybody who played those games can remember how one could basically go from the last parts of the game all the way to be beginning without any intermissions or at least been able to roam around the whole place before some turn of events made the place to be destroyed or forced you to escape. The lack of this whole backtracking element is not a deal breaker here, but it poses as a nice thing to have in Mikami's next game.

The Evil Within Puzzle
Puzzles are pretty straight forward in this game, but some are just awesome.
Wrapping it up:
In summary, The Evil Within mixes the best of the old and new to create an excellent survival horror game that lives up to the hype and to all the faith that survival horror fans have on Resident Evil's original creator. The team behind the game did a hell of a job and judging by the nice reception that the game had with the gaming community, it is to be expected to see a lot more from what that came from. If you are a survival horror fan this is a must buy and even if you are not, just give it a chance, you will not be dissapointed.

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