Review: The Evil Within

The Evil Within is one part Silent Hill to two parts Resident Evil: it has the spooky shenanigans of the Silent Hill franchise with terrifying enemy designs and reality warping goodness that we know and love, while also incorporating the gunplay of modern Resident Evil titles: over the shoulder aiming with movement, sprinting and being able to interact with the environment.

The plot is the usual fare of convoluted Japanese horror games I personally enjoy, told both through cutscenes and archive files scattered all over the place. The intrigue is enough to pull you through The Evil Within as you start to make sense of what is happening around you. Sadly, the characters are incredibly unlikable with about as much personality as a plastic bag (and almost as suffocating to play with).

As a side note, if I have to look up the main character’s name after playing a game for 12+ hours, there’s a problem with the characterization. The main character is hilariously bland and gives less of a shit about what’s going on than the player does. There’s a scene where the big bad hooded Assassin’s Creed-looking zombie levitates him in the air, throwing him down a hole for him to essentially teleport from one plane of existence to the next. How does he respond to this incredible otherworldly experience? “I better find my partners.” That’s a sample of the believable dialogue this game throws at you.

There’s a fair few respectful nods paying homage to Shinji Mikami’s previous work littered through the game. The reveal of the first zombie is almost shot for shot for how it played out in the first Resident Evil, it tugs on the nostalgia strings quite nicely and is a moment where you think: “Christ look how far the genre has come since the early Playstation days”. That said the very next area has you running around an enclosed village surviving a pissed off zombified populace before being chased around by a chainsaw wielding baddie… There’s paying homage and then there’s retreading the Resident Evil titles.

nostalgia for a chewed head,

Nostalgia for a chewed head.

The game comes off as rather schizophrenic: there are areas that are enjoyably difficult, full of enemies and devoid of ammunition… while anything that requires any real thought is extremely guided. The protagonist thinks out loud regarding every ‘puzzle’ he comes across: “Damn, I can’t break this chain. Maybe I need a chainsaw.” “Damn, the door is locked. Guess I have to sneak around and grab that key.” I’d have liked the game to challenge me both through play and problem solving, but sadly that’s not the case.

The biggest gripe I have with The Evil Within is how it often segues into ‘cinematic moments’ which make the action more linear than an on-rails shooter. There are many moments where you’re escaping from some form of big bad monster; you’re running towards the screen as this beast squeezes its way towards you. The wall cracks and moans with this beast hot on your heels. It looks incredible, but it’s completed by merely holding the D-pad in one direction. These segments are an absolute bore to play through and require less player agency than a Quick Time Event.

The majority of the game plays out in a linear, mundane fashion: some levels require you to run down a corridor blasting the heads of any nightmarish creatures you encounter, and others have you running around a spooky mansion collecting keys to doors while using your revolver to turn zombies heads into canoes. If you’ve played any modern Resident Evil title (or Shadows of the Damned), it’s nothing new.

However, and this is certainly important, there are some segments in the game that are honestly some of the best sequences of third person horror I’ve ever played. From a design perspective, the battle with The Keeper is one of the single greatest boss fights I’ve come across in a game. You’re locked in a morgue with him, and the room in filling up with poison gas that clouds your view, making him harder to see (and shoot). When you stumble across another corpse after killing him, he respawns out of them with full health. Due to the poison, you have to run around and shut off valves before your pressure gauge fills, adding a ticking clock element to the fight. When turning the valves your view is obstructed, really ramping up the tension, and the nightmarish musical score certainly helps amplify this.

I’d wager this is the main cause of my disappointment with The Evil Within: This game has these moments of genius where the theme, aesthetics, sound design and mechanics meld together to really deliver this terrifying experience. Sadly, these show stoppers are sprinkled lightly among the 10+ hour slog through mediocrity.

AWW FUCK I LEFT THE OVEN ON.

AWW FUCK I LEFT THE OVEN ON

Graphically, this game is astonishing. Dust hangs in the air as you make your way through the different locations, and due to The Evil Within’s narrative location hopping (or dimension hopping), you’re thrown around into some amazing environments. Some of these are enjoyably unsettling and otherworldly, but you’re mainly thrown into either a spooky hospital, spooky countryside or spooky ruins. In the narrative it all (eventually) makes sense and the locations are diverse and detailed enough to keep things interesting.

The character animations are spectacular; something that’s needed with this game’s heavy cinematic approach. Enemies wince and snarl when shot and their models are fully destructive, allowing the player to blow whole chunks out of their face as they shamble, cackling towards you.

Sadly, it’s very hard to appreciate the fantastic scenery at times: The Evil Within seems to have been pushed through more filters than a picture of food on a teenage girl’s Instagram. There’s so many of these interlaced over one another after a few hours of play it becomes more than just headache worthy. Combine this with the terrible FOV and it becomes almost seizure inducing after a while, something the game itself warns you about upon booting it up.

what the hell am I looking at here?

The hell am I looking at here?

This is where we fall into the biggest problems The Evil Within throws at us. None of the zombies, demons or whatever the fuck this thing is hold a candle to now nightmarishly bonkers the game’s FOV and camera are. The FOV is such a bizarre choice, it renders certain weapons almost unusable as the camera swings behind the protagonist.

Top this off with the nightmarish choice of having a letter box and it feels like the title was dumbed down from consoles. The letterbox actually impacts the play: throughout the game you face enemies that are essentially invisible, and you have to work out where they are from them bumping items or walking through puddles. Since the black bar across the bottom of the screen obscures this, it makes these encounters a clumsy experience to say the least.

Final Word

The Evil Within has more of a focus on style and spectacle rather than substance: it’s incredibly hit or miss. When it does hit, it knocks it out of the park with some of the greatest action survival horror you’ll ever play, but it strikes out so often that working towards the better moments feels more like a chore than a fun challenge. If you must, get it cheap and on PC: at least the bizarre frame rate and letterbox issues have been patched out to make the game playable. Far more mediocre than you’d expect.

pokemon's pointless plot

Pokémon’s Pointless Plot

A man stands over the charred remains of his gargantuan purple beast, his perfect suit is the only thing he has to his name. Over decades he’d managed to build up the most ferocious and feared underworld organization, stealing the most powerful creatures from the very people that trained them. Nothing was out of his reach, even the president now cowering behind his desk looking at the aftermath of two titans clashing.That ambition, that drive, is all but in tatters, brought down by a mere child.

It was the second time the two of them had faced one another, and the second time the well dressed mafioso had been bested. The boy stood at the end of the hall, overshadowed by his gigantic dinosaur, and with a final roar it returns to the container in the kid’s outstretched hand. He adjusts his cap, as the man finally barks out in anguish:

Gamefreak used believable dialogue... ...it's not very effective

GAMEFREAK used believable dialogue… …it’s not very effective

This child’s actions had saved not only a city, but all the citizens of the country from the shadowy grip of this crime syndicate. What motivated this child to take down the most feared crime boss in the region? Money? Fame? Sheer altruism? Nope. Badges. Fucking badges.

Pokémon‘s rather strange with its story, it never lines up with its ultimate goal. When the fresh faced trainer decides to lace up their running shoes (thanks mom) they’re never stepping out of the front door to save the world, that’s never the goal or mission you wish to achieve. Your real “goal” in Pokémon is to be the best, like no one ever was. Your real test is to capture all of the colorful critters and train them up to be the champion. Maybe it’s because I grew up with the cartoon series as a kid, but none of the moments in the actual narrative have any weight to me. Instead, everything that diverts me off this path to be the champion always feels more busywork than something of value.

It’s a trend that seems unlikely to ever change. Much like the majority of Nintendo titles, Pokémon has fallen into a narrative formula that’s set in stone. We’ll always have the same new coming-of-age protagonist, the wiley rival you’ll keep clashing with and some shadowy organization that only serves to slow you down on the route to the Elite Four.

Lets be honest here, you've always wanted to crush this asshole more so than team rocket.

Let’s be honest here, you’ve always wanted to crush this asshole more so than Team Rocket.

Remember that RPG storytelling 101 problem? Where you go somewhere and then you’re told to do some arbitrary second task in order to complete the quest/grab the item you want? Pokémon is the poster boy for this. Every single gym leader you encounter will be facing some form of bother, usually in the form of some shadowy organization (Team Rocket/Plasma/Magma/Aqua/Galactic/Flare), and it’s up to the player to stop that tomfoolery.

These clashes with Team [insert random element here] become more of a pain in the arse than something actually threatening or engrossing. For me they’ve always been Pokémon‘s equivalent of “your princess is in another castle, bugger off”. It’s by no means padding the already large and expansive games, but these arbitrary objectives always comes across as a lazy excuse to me. Regardless of the threat of Team [what have you], regardless of the impending threat of the world being destroyed, or the god of all creation rampaging across the universe. All that matters is beating all the gym leaders, becoming the champion and then watching the credits roll.

For me the biggest draw of Pokémon isn’t catching them all, but exploring the world. There’s so many amazing little critters running around these incredible areas of exploration, we all remember our first venture into a cave and getting swarmed by Zubats. But in terms of exploration, Pokémon only really lets us sightsee, personally speaking I want to learn about the history of this place. Pokémon has more interesting tidbits and lore tucked away in throwaway comments made by NPCs or one sentence in a book than the main overarching storyline itself does. We’ve seen loads of fan theories crop up surrounding the franchise but it’s a series that’s so bare-bones in story I’m left begging the game to do something interesting and give me some background into this world.

Now that’s a plot thread worth exploring more than 1 sentence

Now that’s a plot thread worth exploring more than one sentence

Nintendo have attempted in the past to shake up the storyline with Pokémon Black and White, but it was such a misguided attempt bringing in princes from other dimensions and teleporting castles into the middle of the Pokémon League and… and I need another whisky after that last sentence, Jesus. It was misguided because it attempted for the side story to overtake the main show. It’s more of a hassle when the game fakes you out with another villain and threat throwing away the formula you’ve turned up to experience.

Like many Nintendo properties the story always takes a backseat to the core experience. While Pokémon is never going to really win any literary awards, at least it should have a plot that ties the core elements into a coherent story. Something to at least push the story along in a coherent manner.

Why can’t we have the protagonist be a rookie Team Whatever member tasked with taking down the Pokémon League? The player would have to slowly infiltrate and still get all the eight badges, you’d get to learn about the evil organization’s motives and they’ll play a more integral role in the story as opposed to being a side attraction. The protagonist could then turn on his own organization after all the other people he’s met on his journey have shown him the light.

Ash got stoned

If that sounds cliché, we’re working with a franchise where Pokémon tears can cure death… so yeah..

In summary, Pokémon’s plot perpetually places plebeian protagonists plodding the planet picking up pets. Precisely the purpose of Pokémon is the protagonist to procure their prizes from peers. Periodically, problematic persons pop-up who’s Pokémon-pilfering plan our protagonist must prevent. Predictably our protagonist prevails proving Pokémon’s plot is pointless.

But people still purchase the pissing products.

Review: Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Remastered

Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Remastered should win an award, not only for the obnoxiously long title but also for being quite possibly the laziest “remaster” I’ve had the privilege of experiencing in a while.

Fahrenheit comes to us from the crazy mind of David Cage, mostly known for Beyond: Two Souls (starring Juno) and Heavy Rain (starring nobody). Fahrenheit was the tipping point where he decided to solely focus on delivering a movie-like experience as opposed to heavier gameplay (seriously, Omikron: The Nomad Soul was the shit).

Fahrenheit is a game I recommend to everyone solely based on its narrative, but not because it’s some tour de force of emotion like Cage himself planned. There is a point in the game where the story jumps the shark so hard it leaves the stratosphere, going from a genuinely engrossing crime drama to a bonkers experience so quickly it’s hilariously jarring. There’s certainly a lot of foreshadowing before this event, but nothing prepares you for the complete table flip of logic. I’ve always held this title in the same regard as movies like Deadly Prey and The Room: something so unintentionally bad it becomes a masterpiece.

 

I see what you're doing Cage, sneaky bastard.

The game plays out like a Guy Ritchie movie: while the story is linear, there are multiple protagonists the player controls throughout the runtime, effectively giving four different points of view on the events unfolding. The game begins with Lucas, one of the protagonists, murdering a man in a bathroom with no recollection of why he’s committed such a violent act. In the very next scene you’re in the shoes of the detectives investigating the crime scene and ultimately hunting Lucas down. The characters are incredibly likeable and fleshed out rather well; each are diverse enough in personality to feel like you’re not playing as four of the same characters wandering around.

Fans of the pseudo-adventure genre popularized by Telltale Games will be at home here, but Fahrenheit does one better. Not only do dialogue choices affect how the game plays out, but actions the player inputs also greatly affect how things change for later scenes. The most robust example is the very first scene of the game, where the player must react to finding themselves standing over a dead body.

2015-03-09_00007

Reminds me of that one time in Vegas.

Hiding the body, mopping the blood and disposing of the murder weapon will make the next scene much harder for the player in the shoes of the detectives. Instead of having the next scene gift wrapped for you, you’ll have to hunt for the murder weapon (as it’s disposed off screen). So why not just make the detectives’ life as easy as possible to run through the game quicker and not get stuck? Well there’s one very clever mechanic that’s incorporated beautifully.

Characters have this ‘wellness gauge’ showing their psychological condition that fluctuates as the game progresses. You can improve your will to live by fiddling with the environment: hiding the body and the murder weapon will increase the killer’s disposition but make life more difficult for the detectives. It’s a really clever mechanic that at first seems pointless but is incorporated well to allow you to not make it too easy on yourself. In order to progress you’ll need to keep all characters in a good mood; if the gauge dips too low, there’s a chance that character will commit suicide. There’s a lot of silly ways you can trigger a game over, like taking painkillers with alcohol (After playing Max Payne 3 I just think they’re a lightweight) or failing one of the many reflex tests.

Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Remastered is essentially fragmented into 2 separate areas of mechanical input. There are walking talking interacting scenes that take up the majority of the runtime and then, every so often, these QTE segments pop up to provide some Simon Says excitement you can’t see since you’re focusing on the button prompts in the middle of the screen.

GET OUT OF THE WAY OF THOSE BUTTONS DUDE!

GET OUT OF THE WAY OF THOSE BUTTONS DUDE!

When playing the Steam version, a controller is almost a requirement. The PC and mouse controls remain unchanged from the original version with all of the problems the original brought with it: during reflex scenes, the player has to use the WASD and arrow keys simultaneously, tasking them with having to take their hand off the mouse to quickly get both on the keyboard. However, there’s always enough time to prepare for one of these segments thanks to a useful “get ready” prompt. It’s still not a perfect method though, and nothing’s been done to improve this cumbersome method of input with the remaster.

Conversation choices are clunky. Instead of just choosing one to four like an older Baldur’s Gate title or even having a wheel system like Bioware’s recent decline in choice, the player has to drag around this reticule in a circle to make their choice. Using the mouse, it’s an incredibly finicky system that’s only made worse by the decisions being timed in many cases. This is again something that really should have been looked at with this second chance for improvement.

Worst offender of all is the god awful camera system: quite a few games of this era had fundamental camera problems, and this is honestly the most glaring. The game’s camera will swing violently and it takes a great deal of getting used to. Thankfully there’s a little tutorial before the game begins, allowing you to get accustomed to it, but it’s far from being ideal.

Does the game still hold up today? Clunky controls aside, certainly. Titles like Fahrenheit and Shenmue essentially paved the way for Telltale to swoop in and have a runaway success with their own series. Fahrenheit is arguably one of the best “your choices and actions will affect the game’s progression” title ever released.

However, this remaster is unbelievably lackluster. There’s no extra features for returning fans other than resolution options and higher texture quality. Personally, I’d have preferred at least something extra to return to, such as a commentary track, since there’s little difference between the original and this “remastered version;” it’s still running on the same version of DirectX for God’s sake.

Tyler is best character.

Tyler is best character.

Final Word

For returning fans, this barebones excuse of a remaster might put you off. However, if you’re a fan of these pseudo-adventure games, you owe it to yourself to experience this. A fantastic story that’s hilariously goofy but comes into a few roadblocks with some control issues: grab a controller and have a run through, it’s worth it on the cheap.