▲ [PS4] 10/30/17
It's at this point I realize my last three games logged here are all published by Bethesda. Hell of a year.
I'm somewhat of an apologist for the first game. I do like it. It was janky in a lot of ways and had some bad ideas, like invisible enemies. It just wasn't put together particularly well, but the surreal imagery of it was strong and some of the mechanical choices were the kind of things I dig. Setting an enemy on fire with a match, if you could knock it down, would be an instant kill instead of wasting multiple bullets. Two enemies knocked down close to each other will both burn. If one enemy runs across a burning one they'll die too, so you end of paying attention to positioning. There’s the crossbow bolt crafting where different bolts do different things and each is useful given the particular situation.
One thing I only realized recently, though, is how leaning into the surreal so heavily hurt the first game structurally. It’s great imagery and I love it, but basically at the end of every level you pass out and wake up somewhere totally different, massive transitions all the time with no clear goal other than to get to the end of the level because it’s what’s in front of you. I think that would work in a shorter game, but when you spend a full 20 hours or whatever with a thing, you need some feeling of progression toward a main goal. Your partners who you run into sometimes also don’t get a chance to show character or have you invest in them, at least until the DLC where you get some insight into one. The game doesn’t really let you invest in what’s going aside from “that was the neat” when a giant blood monster appears or whatever.
2 has a lot of improvements but I think that’s a huge one. The plot is much more personal for Sebastian. You meet NPCs who you can talk to and learn a bit about, get a sense of personality, and they provide you with legitimate help over the course of the game, not just one random shootout. There’s a lot of surreal imagery, but you can still learn the layout of a map, methodically loot all the buildings, do a sidequest for a bud. It walks the line great. Crazy shit is happening but you’re grounded. You understand your overall goal and the steps toward it, even as reality struggles to hold itself together. It makes it a lot easier to invest in the plot and characters and not just treat it as a spectacle.
The fire instant-kill mechanic is gone, but now you can stomp a downed enemy to immediately put it away. And with that, let’s talk Silent Hill 2. I saw a thread online saying it’s the successor to SH2, which felt really bizarre to me, considering Evil Within 1 certainly wasn’t that. Now that I’ve played it… I see it. You’re a dude going to a strange place, seeking family you thought was lost. The world is kind of static but shifts weirdly and reflects your psyche and inner demons. You get the feeling whoever wrote this game actually cared and was trying for something within the traditional survival horror framework. You also down enemies then stomp them to finish them off, the most Silent Hill thing imaginable.
I played on Nightmare, which is the hardest available from the outset because I heard people say the balance of it is like an old school survival horror game and I’d agree. It’s not cruel, at least if you poke around and do some side stuff like I did. You’ll never be pitifully whacking at a boss with a knife since you ran out of shit. You’ll always have enough if you’re careful, but careful may involve just loading up the last autosave when you miss three shotgun blasts in a row like an idiot and redoing the encounter. That’s how I like to play these kinds of games, but I messed around on other difficulties and they give you more leeway without turning the game into a joke. It’s a good balance. I do enjoy the feeling that every round matters, personally, that I can’t just blow all my ammo on chumps and expect to get by.
I’m glad I have the experience of the first game. It’s referenced a lot, both in the main plot and on the side, and you sort of have a visual shorthand for some of the imagery and ideas of the game going in. It’s not necessary to enjoy it at all, but it’s nice. It’s still messy, certain encounters, although I feel like I could say that of literally any horror game I’ve ever played. The balance of vulnerability vs fun can be a struggle, but all I can say is this game comes off as special to me. I’m sad it sold so poorly and this is definitely the end for The Evil Within, but it’s a good note to go out on.