Review: The Evil Within

 

The survival horror genre has arguably had a rocky road thus far. Going from Resident Evil on PlayStation to Resident Evil 6 on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. Comparing those 2 specific offerings shows more than a few steps away from survival horror and towards 3rd person action shooters.

Now that’s not to say every IP in the genre has followed suit. Some, such as Amnesia, have continued to offer pure horror experiences but the point stands that many of our favourite horror franchises have either stopped being scary or have completely jumped to new genres in an effort to cash in on what is trendy in the industry. (Thank you very much Call of Duty! /sarcasm)

Enter The Evil Within, a new offering published by my current favourite developer/publisher Bethesda and developed by Tango Gameworks. Before I get into the review I feel it necessary to fully disclose that I love Bethesda. I’ve been a big fan of all of their First Person RPG Open World games such as The Elder Scrolls and Fallout. However The Evil Within leaves a bitter aftertaste that doesn’t quite satisfy.

I’d like to take this time to state and explain my only real gripe with the game; the performance.

Being locked at 30 FPS alone is madness. I get that the PS4 and Xbox One consoles are not what developers were hoping they would be in terms of power and performance but that is no reason to force parity on PC players who own machines that greatly surpass the current console hardware. Add on top of that the theatrical style letter box aspect ratio and what you have is a video game that seems to want to be a movie.

There have been claims made by certain developers that 30 FPS is better because it’s more cinematic. I don’t buy this. If I want to watch a movie at 24 FPS I’ll go to a movie theater. But when it comes to my video games I expect them to run at a frame rate equal to or above my display’s refresh rate of 60hz. Anything less looks like a slide show to me.

There is a way to increase the FPS cap on PC and I have done this. To say it helped is a bit of an understatement. The game plays much better at 60 FPS than it does at 30. But there is still that weird letter box aspect ratio. Unfortunately there is currently no way to remove the black bars without greatly sacrificing horizontal fov. To say this impedes my ability to enjoy the game is another understatement. Take a look for yourself.

  • EvilWithin With Bars EvilWithin With Bars
  • EvilWithin NO Bars EvilWithin NO Bars
  • EvilWithin 2014-10-27 15-58-26-553 EvilWithin 2014-10-27 15-58-26-553
  • EvilWithin 2014-10-27 15-58-41-910 EvilWithin 2014-10-27 15-58-41-910
     

The game either feels cramped vertically or horizontally. There is no real solution around this problem and it is a problem. When the performance of a video game impedes your ability to enjoy your time playing it the game isn’t worth playing. The story, no matter how great it is written and presented, becomes lost in the frustration of low frame rates and cramped camera angles. I have made the argument many times in the past that the artistic direction of a game is entirely up to the developer to decide and I stand by that. But on the flip side of that coin, the consumer side, it is up to the consumer to decide whether that artistic direction is worth their hard earned money.

Gameplay

Going into The Evil Within I expected a return to the glory days of Survival Horror, as per claims made by Bethesda during various trade shows before release, but I find it’s more 3rd person shooter than survival horror. It seems to be suffering from a slight identity crisis. It wants to be horror but it can’t help but be a shooter at times. Ammo is sparse enough to make you feel you should stealth around enemies but plentiful enough so that every so often you find yourself just wanting to shoot your way through.

The AI also leaves something to be desired. There were many times I could swear I got into a room without being seen by the enemies chasing me yet they all pour in as if they could see me through the walls. I should have been safe to hide from them yet they tracked me like they see in wire frame. That’s not smart AI. That’s just cheap and quite frankly immersion breaking.

All in all if you’ve played games like Resident Evil 5 or The Last of Us you’ve pretty much played The Evil Within.

I should also note the game has no real failure state. Dying only means you have to make up for a few minutes of lost time.

Graphics

For a next gen title the graphics aren’t that impressive. Poly counts are 7th gen worthy but texture detail is quite poor. To be honest I’m amazed the 8th gen consoles are having trouble running it at 60 FPS. There is a lot of room for optimization patches to say the least but what we have now reminds me of games released in the middle of the 7th gen hardware cycle. All screen shots below were taken with all graphics options set to their absolute highest but that’s not saying much considering the graphics option menu is quite limited.

  • EvilWithin 2014-10-27 19-58-56-546 EvilWithin 2014-10-27 19-58-56-546
  • EvilWithin 2014-10-27 19-58-46-586 EvilWithin 2014-10-27 19-58-46-586
  • EvilWithin 2014-10-27 16-04-53-649 EvilWithin 2014-10-27 16-04-53-649
  • EvilWithin 2014-10-27 16-02-24-347 EvilWithin 2014-10-27 16-02-24-347
  • EvilWithin 2014-10-27 16-04-50-292 EvilWithin 2014-10-27 16-04-50-292
  • EvilWithin 2014-10-27 16-02-50-213 EvilWithin 2014-10-27 16-02-50-213
  • EvilWithin 2014-10-27 16-01-51-540 EvilWithin 2014-10-27 16-01-51-540
  • EvilWithin 2014-10-27 16-00-11-490 EvilWithin 2014-10-27 16-00-11-490
     

Audio

This is where Bethesda and Tango get something right. If there is any part of this game that is in any way immersive it’s the audio. From the screams and growls of normal enemies to the roars of bigger enemies the game’s audio does its job in keeping you on your toes for the most part. The environment ambiance creates a sense of imminent dread that can only be described as chilling. If at any point you hear a chainsaw revving up it’s time to run. Don’t even bother trying to figure out where it’s coming from because doing so will mean sudden death.

Conclusion

Because I love Bethesda and their games I wanted to love The Evil Within however in this writer’s opinion it falls short in a lot of ways. The performance parity of PC with consoles only succeeds in crippling the PC version and to be honest I personally fail to see how the PS4 and Xbox One can’t run this game any faster than 30 FPS anyways. The polygon count and texture resolution doesn’t command any hardware requirements higher than PS3 and Xbox 360 and with some optimization patches I’m confident the game could be patched to run at 60 FPS on both Sony’s and Microsoft’s 8th Gen hardware. But for the time being those performance issues are too much of an impediment for me to enjoy my time playing it.

 

The Evil Within can be purchased directly on Steam for $59.99 USD ($66.99 CND)

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