By Yummylee 11 Comments
As if the Juli Kidman-lead DLC double-pack, The Assignment and The Consequence, weren't enough of a departure! The Executioner, the third and unfortunately final bloodied slab of DLC for The Evil Within, practically rewrites the base game's entire gameplay scheme. And for as PR press release-y as that sounds, it's really not that far from the truth.
While the Kidman DLC had a starkly different pacing and set of mechanics, it was still very much within the realm of what was seen in the game proper. The Kidman DLC is akin to making a few tweaks and adjustments here and there to get the result they were after, whereas The Executioner has practically had a whole new set of rules built in from the ground up.
First-Person Face Demolishing
OK, so what's different? Well for starters your perspective has now shifted to first-person as opposed to third, and keep in mind that Tango are in fact a Japanese developer! That in itself is quite the literal game changer. But then you have to take into account how instead of the shootery you now have melee...ry. Because you're taking up the role of a 'Keeper', AKA eerie Safehead Butcher Man, guns aren't apart of your repertoire. Instead you'll primarily be utilising his trusty hammer to clobber and wail on the Haunted making them bounce about like waving tube men.
That's also what makes The Executioner a pleasant surprise. Not only is the mere concept such an impressively strange left turn for such a little DLC add-on, but it actually kinda works. Now don't get me wrong, it's not the most involved nor nuanced first-person melee combat you're likely to encounter, but it's just entertaining enough to carry its roughly 60-90 minute runtime. With your brutish and painful looking hammer in hand, you can enact a simple three-hit combo. If you look downward you can then perform a slam on the ground, and initiating an attack while sprinting will result in a sort of short-range lunge. As I said it's pretty simple stuff, but the ludicrous gore effects help amplify the feeling of strength behind each hammer swing very well. As inferred above you can also sprint, and funnily enough even have access to a dodge maneuver that allows you to hop to one side, if not backward. A bit odd to consider how such a lumbering mass of nightmares, with a big ole safe for a head, is actually more agile than Sebastian who has no such kind of dodge, but oh well.
The Keeper overall controls surprisingly well, like any other modern game with a first-person perspective really sans guns. Though even with his superior agility to Sebastian he's still not exactly a ninja or anything. Moving about felt reminiscent of playing as Delta in BioShock 2 in fact; the sense of weight is accurately portrayed through your movement, but without hindering you to such a degree that playing as The Keeper is a slog. It also helps that the Haunted aren't quite as inclined to rush towards you and are generally much less aggressive than they are in the main game. From an observer's point of view I'm sure it all looks a little clumsy, but when you're in control it feels surprisingly natural and intuitive.
The structure of The Executioner largely functions akin to a boss rush mode or something. You'll be exploring the Victoriano Mansion from the base game's Chapter 10, but you're mostly streamlined to investigating one hallway at a time. Right, because... I guess there's some small semblance of a story in here, too. You're trying to find your daughter, who due to the effects of STEM is slowly losing her memory, after willingly subjecting yourself to STEM via Mobius. To help your daughter stay in control you're to follow her tracks and kill many of the bosses from the main game, which somehow seems to weaken the link between her mind and the degenerating effects of STEM... Somehow. This thusly requires you to face off against certain bosses and minibosses such as the Sadist (chainsaw guy), Amalgam Alpha (Chapter 10 parking lot boss), and even Joseph Oda (Japanese-Canadian detective who continues to exist as the game's punching/gutting/stabbing/pummelling bag).
As one would hope, each boss is designed a little differently from one another; the Sadist largely requires you to stay on the offensive, whereas Neun (one of the giant, deformed twins) requires you to utilise the turrets located throughout the environment, as any attempt at regular combat will end very badly for you. Though again, nobodies going to hold up the combat of The Executioner as a masterclass design of action, but it's still impressive that Tango were able to craft something that's at the very least decent. The same can't be said for the story, which while it certainly starts off intriguing enough (especially as it's established as being set after the main game) it unfortunately doesn't really amount to much in the end. It is at least somewhat interesting to get to read the ramblings of the boss monsters whilst they were in their human form, and any additional clarification about how the STEM works is more than welcome.
Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Toys
Performing a classic three-hit combo with your hammer isn't your only means of bloodying the carpet with each new corpse you create. You can also pick up chairs and throw 'em with reckless abandon, or you could even pick up a Haunted and throw him should you happen to stun it after a few good smacks to the face. There's the occasional environmental hazard you can chuck the poor bugger into as well, though they're typically far and few between. You're largely restricted to the occasional wall of spikes really, and one of my main complaints overall would be that there's not quite enough interaction with the world around you. The idea of using the environment to your advantage brings to mind something like Mad World or Bulletstorm, as you try to kill your enemies in as many ridiculous, painful, and most importantly creative ways possible. Alas, beyond the occasional vase you can break to collect Keeper Coins, the environments you'll explore are dreadfully static. If you're interested in undergoing a genocidal crusade against chairs, however, then The Executioner has you covered.
There's also fittingly enough executions you can perform, too. Once an enemy's stunned, your other option besides hurling him across the room is to initiate a short cutscene showing the Keeper, in third-person, utterly destroy your foe's facial region. They're even contextual, sort of. If an enemy's on the floor then the Keeper will stomp his face in (complete with a brief glimpse of the eyes popping), and should it be close enough to the wall will then find its face forcibly colliding with it. Just... an awful lot of face smushing going on in The Executioner. The idea of giving you some goriful imagery to feast your desensitised eyes on fits in perfectly with the add-on, but much like with the environmental hazards there's simply not very many of 'em. There's only the one stomp/wall smash animation, and I think there's only maybe three regular executions when they're standing up right. As such even within its short running time they tend to get just a little old.
That said, considering the small scale of the add-on it admittedly feels a little harsh to critique a lack of executions or environmental interactions. As mentioned already it's frankly impressive enough as it is that there's this many new ideas that were cooked up for a DLC add-on. I don't know what the pack goes for on its own, but the Season Pass was relatively cheap (£15) so I can't imagine they're asking for much.
Another welcome surprise is that there's quite the bevy of equipment to attain and improve. You'll start with your trusty hammer, but it isn't long before you'll acquire a chainsaw, molotovs, dynamite, and you even have access to those damned barbed wire mines he would so liberally place when fought in the main game. All of which can be upgraded via coins you'll acquire. Your additional melee weapons don't act as a replacement for the hammer, however, as they have some form of durability to account for. Your chainsaw will eventually run out of fuel, and the sword will get knicked. With all of these weapons of bloody murder at your fingertips, you really start to see the potential should they decide to pursue these concepts further, especially when they're utilised in the optional combat arenas you can partake in. There's also a list of in-game achievements to tick off, which all primarily revolve around you killing enemies with certain combinations of weapons/hazards. Such as for example capturing an enemy with a barbed wire mine and then roasting him with a molotov. This then helps incentivise you to mix up your tactics, even though The Executioner is overall rather easy for the most part and you could probably handle most obstacles by exclusively relying on your hammer.
Furthermore, there's even the odd unlockable. You need to beat the game to unlock the sword for starters, though there's also an additional boss battle to face as well an extra arena, both of which provide a rather hefty challenge. The boss... well, I think I should spoiler this for the sake of the surprise:
The boss is in fact Sebastian Castellanos himself, and by God is he a bastard! He's packing his magnum and the crossbow, as well as a series of creepy sneers and grunts. His magnum as you'd expect does enough damage to be alarming, but it also stops you in your tracks - and of course he has infinite ammo to boot. His crossbow isn't as intimidating as he only utilises the proximity mines, but because that too has infinite ammo then the possibility is always there for the entire arena to be covered with a bunch of shiny, explosive zits. What's rather hilarious is how his melee attack, the very same one from the main game that barely done shit, will not only do a sizeable amount of damage but will also knock you to the ground. It must be reminded that you're playing as The Keeper amidst this as well. I guess narratively since this isn't the real Sebastian but an echo of sorts, you could say that he's much more powerful due to the effects of STEM or whatever. Regardless, it's a fun twist to have Sebastian as the hunter, forcing you to hide and to utilise attack and flee tactics. I do wish we could have gotten some sort of arena mode as Sebastian, with Kidman and Oda as unlockable characters or something.
The unlockable extra-tough arena is pretty much the DLC's entire concept fully realised. You're pretty much always being swarmed by a horde of Haunted; they may still be doped up on prozac or whatever making their AI patterns much more docile, but when there's enough of 'em roaming about you're sure to feel the heat all the same. It'll even start spawning in the bosses, before it then ultimately brings in both Joseph Oda and Sebastian Castellanos. Sebastian was hard enough on his own, never mind when he's got his significantly better voiced detective partner in tow. During my attempt I found myself practically using every item amongst my repertoire, which resulted in an awful lot of fun as I try to cook up strategies on the move. Though I say attempt because I didn't actually finish the arena; Sebastian and Oda got the better of me almost as soon as they arrive, and getting back to that point could take so long that the idea of starting over wasn't especially appealing. Plus, I felt like I had had my fill with what The Executioner was flaunting by that time.
I've pretty much ended each of these blogs with the same sentiments, being that it's respectable for Tango to break out and tear up their own rule book for their DLC projects; that I wish we could have gotten some DLC that was essentially more of the base game; and that because of how drastically different the DLC is I think it'd be beneficial if they were released as stand-alone products. All of that is still on point, except maybe the last one about being release on its own. The Assignment & The Consequence could definitely benefit from being accessible to those who want a more straight horror experience without having to buy the main game, but I don't think The Executioner would be able to stand on its own quite as well. It feels more like a bonus to the gory shenanigans of the base game, even with all of its unique features. That's not to say I didn't enjoy The Executioner, to which I hope what I've written above helps illuminate that matter, but for of its ambition I don't think it's quite as well put together as the Kidman escapades.
DLC is definitely a much safer route for developers to experiment with new ideas, as it doesn't carry the same pressure as a new big budget release would. There's less on the line, and who you're selling to is the folks that have already bought the game anyway as opposed to trying to rope in new customers. As such, it's tricky to ascertain whether or not the DLC will reflect as to where this series will lead. I'd like to think they'll incorporate much of what has been learnt from the Kidman DLC into the next Evil Within outing. And as for The Executioner, I think they have an interesting foundation at hand that'll hopefully sprout into something bigger. It doesn't even have to be The Evil Within-related, just so long as they expand upon their melee combat code and try to come up with more means of expelling the blood and guts from your enemies.
Thus wraps up my time with The Evil Within anywhoo, and Tango Gameworks gets a well deserved standing ovation from myself at least. I know the game wasn't everyone's cup of tea, and barely anybody seems fussed about the DLC, but know that I'm certainly keeping my eyes and ears alert for whatever they have planned next. Maybe now they could get around to that two-player vampire thing.