Giant Bomb Review

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The Evil Within Review

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  • PC

Shinji Mikami returns to the genre that defined him, but the result is a jumbled mess of ideas that never quite come together.

It's hard to imagine how someone follows up Resident Evil 4, possibly the most influential game of the last decade. You can see pieces of RE4 in nearly every third-person action game produced after 2005. And that's forgetting Shinji Mikami is also responsible for the original Resident Evil, Vanquish, and countless others. For much of his career, Mikami's had the golden touch. The creator's latest comes with understandably high expectations, and while there are moments when The Evil Within rises to the occasion, it's a deeply flawed experience that's more prone to generating frustration than fun 'n scares.

Running away is usually a good option in The Evil Within. You don't have to kill everything.
Running away is usually a good option in The Evil Within. You don't have to kill everything.

The Evil Within opens with detectives Sebastian Castellanos, Julie Kidman, and Joseph Oda headed to a gruesome scene at Beacon Mental Hospital. Mutilated bodies litter the lobby, and it's unclear who's responsible. Castellanos discovers a supernatural presence with the ability to zip around the room at lightning speeds, and the trio's backup is quickly dispatched. All three are pulled into a hellish, everchanging nightmare under the control of a hooded man named Ruvik. Everyone around them has turned into zombie-like creatures with a penchant for murder, and thus begins a journey to figure out what the hell is going on. Spoiler alert: it gets really weird.

When The Evil Within was first unveiled, it looked as though Mikami was simply picking up where he left off with RE4, and the comparison holds up pretty well. Think of The Evil Within as RE4 with a serious stealth component and you're mostly there. Players guide Castellanos from a third-person perspective, often with a gun drawn and a lamp bobbing nearby, skulking around environments filled with dangers. Ammunition is scarce from start to finish, making The Evil Within one of the first games to live up to the survival horror moniker in a long time. This means confrontation isn't always the preferred route. Stealth kills are one-hit affairs, and it's possible to light various objects on fire with matches to take out nearby threats, as well. Taking advantage of these and other opportunities is crucial to moving forward. You cannot shoot everything in the head here. You'll occasionally team up with Kidman and Oda in scenarios eerily reminiscent of Resident Evil 5, but those moments are few and far between. Castellanos is on his own.

While the game stumbles out of the gate with a series of poorly structured tutorials, it settles into a familiar pace a few hours in. It's not a good sign when a game requires hours of patience before it's worth playing, but The Evil Within turns around. In yet another nod to RE4, Castellanos comes across a quiet village that's--surprise!--hiding a bunch of enemies. This section shows The Evil Within at its best, even if it's a high point the game reaches only a few other times. It's an enormous, layered environment with ample opportunities to experiment with everything available to players: stealth, traps, guns, running, hiding, etc. There's room for failure here, but there's always a sense of danger that keeps you tense. Key to success in The Evil Within is planning, execution, and improvisation. Since you're trying to conserve ammunition, manipulating stealth and traps is essential, but an enemy might make an unexpected turn. Or another enemy shows up. Or you set off another trap. There are countless reasons a plan implodes, but The Evil Within's combat is versatile in these open environments, and players can devise new approaches.

There are times when The Evil Within derives intense anxiety from the opposite scenario, too. One harrowing sequence involves navigating a simple series of rooms and hallways with invisible enemies stalking you in the dark. A chair will get knocked across the room, announcing an enemy presence, but other than a Predator-like shimmer, little else reveals what's out to get you. It still gives me the creeps.

How you approach an encounter can vary wildly, thanks to a welcomed variety in weaponry. Of course, there's the standard pistol, shotgun, and sniper rifle, but the agony bow is what's unique here. The agony bow can hold many different types of ammunition, so it changes functions on a dime. This includes bolts to send enemies flying, flash bombs to blind everyone around you (allowing for one-hit stealth kills mid-fight), freeze arrows with the ability to ice anyone within a few feet, and mines that can be placed anywhere in the world. More arrows become available as the game continues, and players both collect ammunition scattered throughout the environment and build their own by dismantling the many traps around them.

Those big black bars are omnipresent in The Evil Within, even during gameplay.
Those big black bars are omnipresent in The Evil Within, even during gameplay.

There are a handful of sequences when The Evil Within really clicks, the result of a designer strategically deploying his chess pieces, reflecting decades of experience. But the pacing of The Evil Within is relentless, and the creativity can't keep up. The moment you've cleared one room of enemies, there's another set around the corner. Always. Not all encounters are created equal, and this becomes more and more apparent as you progress. Rather than finding new scenarios in which you must develop new strategies, The Evil Within deploys more of the same with enemies requiring more bullets, creatures who can take you out in a single strike, and an endless array of boss battles meant to crush your soul.

Oh, lord, the boss battles. The Evil Within peaks early with a chainsaw-wielding maniac a la RE4 (notice a trend?), and with rare exceptions, nothing else ever comes close. What makes the chainsaw sequence work is his methodical pursuit. He lumbers forward in a way that gives you plenty of time to line up a shot, but it's not long before he's close, and you're forced to scramble away. (The other highlight, involving a dude with a safe for a head, works the same way). The Evil Within's other bosses largely involve bullet sponges capable of killing you after a single mistake. Whereas the rest of The Evil Within rewards planning, execution, and improvisation, the boss battles are little more than pumping a dog/lizard/whatever full of bullets. Castellanos isn't particularly nimble, which works just fine, since the enemies he faces aren't, either. But the bosses are capable of much more, creatures regularly lunging huge distances. It makes the battles especially frustrating, as the weighty character feels unfairly at odds with what's being asked.

Did I mention you face several bosses multiple times? Did I mention the game decided to bring some of them out three times, as part of a boss endurance run at the very end? The bizarre design logic is capped off by an on-rails final boss battle favoring spectacle, requiring little more than holding the fire button and waiting for the ending cutscene to kick in. It's a game that often can't help itself but indulge in every whim.

The Evil Within isn't so much scary as it is tense, but in some ways, that's more intense.
The Evil Within isn't so much scary as it is tense, but in some ways, that's more intense.

I watched The Evil Within's cutscenes, but couldn't say what happened. Mikami's games have always been campy, convoluted affairs, and The Evil Within is no different. But it's a waste of otherwise talented actors given very little to do. Apparently, Tango Gameworks hired Dexter's Jennifer Carpenter to show up for a day's worth of work, as she voices only a handful of lines throughout the whole game. (She does, however, have her own DLC coming later.) This underscores the muddled plotting more generally, a game whose A story--genetic tampering something something bad stuff oh wait there's monsters--is what's presented in the cutscenes, while the B story--a detective driven to alcoholism by the loss of his child and, eventually, wife--is only given lip service through awkward diaries.

It's probably worth noting the game's letterboxing at this point, too. The Evil Within's aspect ratio is 2.50:1, which translates to an extremely thick set of black bars at the top and bottom. While aesthetically unique, the game rarely leverages the aspect ratio to justify the amount of real-estate taken away from the player. Anytime you're asked to walk up or down a ladder, the bars become immensely frustrating. It's perhaps telling a recent patch for the PC version gives users the opportunity to flip them off entirely, providing evidence the bars have more to do with preserving technical performance than servicing a creative vision.

Speaking of the PC version, the game crashed nearly a dozen times during my 20 hours with it. Hmm.

It's hard for me to remember a recent game that provoked as much whiplash as The Evil Within. For every brilliant moment, there's a handful only worthy of exasperated annoyance. I haven't yelled at a TV screen and rage quit in a long time, but The Evil Within broke that streak. Congrats! I mean, we're talking about a game believing one of its last sequences, minutes before the game is over, should involve stealthing a series of spotlights. There are good ideas hiding in The Evil Within, but finding them just isn't worth it.

Patrick Klepek on Google+

204 Comments

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Nasar7

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Edited By Nasar7 • 

It never looked great but man, two stars. Pretty disappointing.

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Inresurrection

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Inresurrection • 

Really wanted this game to be great. An excellent read as always, Patrick.

Is that last sentence supposed to be "...but finding them just isn't worth it"?

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superslidetail

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superslidetail • 

After reading this, watching Patrick play it and watching Brad's quick look...I'm passing on this.

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Yummylee

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Edited By Yummylee • 

I think the pacing is one of the best aspects of the game, as it's continually moving from environment to environment, introducing new types of set-pieces both big and small.

It's relentless throughout a lot of it, but there's still the same reprieve you gain from heading to the scattered save rooms, much like in the early Resident Evil games -- I completed it in two sittings I was that engaged with everything. I do think the boss battles are a mixed affair, however--the dog boss in particular I really disliked--but the majority I thought were a lot of fun. The Keeper in particular was a standout, as it more so functioned as part puzzle, part boss battle. The underground carpark boss was a rather plain, if still enjoyable bit of monster murderin' at that.

Oh, but the story's total rubbish, that much is true.

I'm not wholly surprised that Patrick didn't enjoy it, though, as he and I rarely ever seem to enjoy the same type of games when it comes to horror.

EDIT: Wow, 20 hours?? That's about 5 and a half longer than what my first playthrough took.

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csl316

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csl316 • 

Hmm.... figured there'd be enough good stuff to elevate it a little.

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BulletproofMonk

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BulletproofMonk • 

Had a great time with this game, but won't argue that it's not super fucked in a lot of ways. Good review, Patrick.

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MeierTheRed

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MeierTheRed • 

Great review, and i agree wholeheartedly. Im currently at chapter 11, wondering if i will ever go back and finish it.

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ShadyPingu

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ShadyPingu • 

Man, I thought we'd left the endgame boss rush behind with Okami.

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NoneSun

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NoneSun • 

They finally released a patch for the PC version, can unlock to 60 and remove the black bars from the options menu!

Now I can continue from where I left off, around chapter 5. I think I might go though the game again on the harder mode without the enemy indicator, if I continue to enjoy it enough.

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AlKusanagi

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AlKusanagi • 

If you're looking for an Resident Evil-ass Resident Evil game, with all the jankiness therein, I'd give it a solid 4, but without the love of early RE games, yeah, it's a 2.

It is a lot more fun on New Game+ though...

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AV_Gamer

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Edited By AV_Gamer • 

So far I think the game is decent. It's pretty much Resident Evil 4 if it were done in a survival horror theme, rather than an action one. Needless to say, Resident Evil 4 is the better game. For those few fanboys whom whined about Resident Evil 4 not being a true survival horror game, now they get the chance to see what it would've been like. And they also get to see why Capcom nailed it with the action theme over the survival horror one.

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LeStephan

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Edited By LeStephan • 

I still really really love this jumbled mess, definitely amongst my favorites of the year, for me the good faaaaaar outweighted the bad.

Still enjoyed the review though, I can totally see where you're coming from patrick, I can't deny there's a whole lot "wrong" with this game but goddamn I haven't enjoyed a game this much in a long long time.

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UrbanSanta

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Edited By UrbanSanta • 

You hit the all the marks on this review Patrick. Are you going to take a look at the upcoming DLC for this?

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Edited By necomata • 

I can't help but think that the mess in Evil Within was mainly caused by Tango Gameworks inability to utilize Id Tech 5 properly. I really want to know what made them chose it in the first place rather than choosing another engine they're more familiar with. Is it part of publishing deal with Bethesda or that they simply want to prove that they can handle a western-made engine?

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wookiegr

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wookiegr • 

20 hours!!?? 2 hours was all I could take of this "evil" game with the smotheringly poor visibility from letterboxing the screen and horrible controls. It looked like it had potential but it's own design defeated it's purpose.

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spankingaddict

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Edited By spankingaddict • 

Ha . I gotta say I disagree with almost all of Scoop's opinions on some of the latest horror games . I thought Alien was a bad game . Loved The Evil Within .

Also , purchased Siren : Blood Curse per Patrick's recommendation . Hated it ... weird

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leejunfan83

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alcor741

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alcor741 • 

@yummylee: From a variety standpoint, the pacing is great, but it never allows you to anchor within the story. It just herk-jerks all over the place seemingly without any sense or reason. It never gives room for characters to have meaningful interactions, never lets the suspense build up, and honestly, I kinda felt it did disservice to the gameplay as well - you lose almost all sense of progression, of build up. Boss battles are thrown in left and right, new enemies just show up and then disappear, there is next to no difficulty scaling - I get what they were going for - trying to make you feel as confused and disoriented as the main protagonist - but the just shot themselves in the foot.

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Pfhorlol

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Edited By Pfhorlol • 

I'm on chapter 11 of this game and have been enjoying the combat a lot, the resource management and strategy required to solve encounters is always satisfying, and the weapons feel good to use. The boss battles haven't been very annoying either (default difficulty level), although I haven't gotten to the "boss rush" at the end. Gameplay wise I think its a top notch survival horror game and definitely overshadows the nonsense plot and dialog.

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Ravelle

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Ravelle • 

Such a shame, I really want a horror game that hits all the right spots and does things right.

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Salbert

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Edited By Salbert  Online • 

The game kept throwing way too many curveballs at you and never stopped. Every new room you enter was an act of trial and error. Compare that to RE4, where the skills you develop near the beginning of the game are basically the same ones you use through the rest of the game and you have a nice, steady progression of challenge because of it.

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Yummylee

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Edited By Yummylee • 

@alcor741 said:

@yummylee: From a variety standpoint, the pacing is great, but it never allows you to anchor within the story. It just herk-jerks all over the place seemingly without any sense or reason. It never gives room for characters to have meaningful interactions, never lets the suspense build up, and honestly, I kinda felt it did disservice to the gameplay as well - you lose almost all sense of progression, of build up. Boss battles are thrown in left and right, new enemies just show up and then disappear, there is next to no difficulty scaling - I get what they were going for - trying to make you feel as confused and disoriented as the main protagonist - but the just shot themselves in the foot.

Again, I think the overall narrative progression is a bunch of nonsensical malarkey (many of the locals exist purely for the sake of variety than any story context), but the way the game ebbs and flows between slower-paced atmosphere crawls like Chapter 9 in the mansion, to non-stop RE4-esque scenarios like those seen in Chapter 6 in the Castle, still kept me engaged all the same.

I sorta view The Evil Within as a fairground ride or something -- the sorta ghost house coaster that takes you through all kinds of spooky environments with no rhyme or reason. When you view it all as a whole it's... kind of a mess, but the moment to moment gameplay sequences had me thoroughly enjoying myself.

I've written my own user review over yonder anywhoo for a more overall positive take! EDIT: /sigh I see that bug that disallows you from directly linking to a user review is still in effect...

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DS23

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Edited By DS23 • 

Sounds like the general consensus I've seen on 4ms. a big ol meh

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dancingpolkabear

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dancingpolkabear • 

That's a real bummer, I'm glad Patrick reviewed this though. I really have to wonder what happened with this game. I mean PN03 is really the only other game he directed that didn't turn out so hot, everything else is a classic. So was this game a failure for him as a director, his new team wasn't quite up to snuff, Bethesda meddling, or a combination of all of them?

I do realize that this wasn't the first game Tango wanted to do, and Bethesda basically told them this was the game they were going to make

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Yummylee

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Edited By Yummylee • 

@dancingpolkabear: Dino Crisis isn't so hot, certainly not when compared to the rest of his library.

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bearklaw19 • 

I played it and got halfway thru chapter 7 and stopped when i started to find it pretty boring, also I have zero idea whats going on in the story, seriously, I know my characters name and that at one point I was investigating in a insane asylum ever since then I have no idea what im even doing.

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Mike

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Mike  Moderator • 

PC version updated today, adds 60 fps and option to remove letterboxing. Not sure if there was a press release about this but it's on the Steam page for Evil Within and the update is live now.

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The_Joker

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The_Joker • 

This game is rough top to bottom. The 2 Stars is warranted. There's no apologizing for this game no matter how much you wanted to like it.

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Getz

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Getz • 

Dang son, that's a bit harsh. Hell, I liked this game better than Alien Isolation. To each his own I guess.

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ThunderSlash

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Edited By ThunderSlash • 

Whoa people's opinions on this game are all over the place. When was the last game that did that? BioShock Infinite?

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RampageAssassin

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RampageAssassin • 

I'm up to chapter 11 and I have to say I've had a mixed time with it. I love what Mikami has tried to do with the mind fucks but the gameplay is very samey. I'd say 2 stars is a bit harsh. I would have gone with 3.

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alcor741

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alcor741 • 

@yummylee said:

@alcor741 said:

@yummylee: From a variety standpoint, the pacing is great, but it never allows you to anchor within the story. It just herk-jerks all over the place seemingly without any sense or reason. It never gives room for characters to have meaningful interactions, never lets the suspense build up, and honestly, I kinda felt it did disservice to the gameplay as well - you lose almost all sense of progression, of build up. Boss battles are thrown in left and right, new enemies just show up and then disappear, there is next to no difficulty scaling - I get what they were going for - trying to make you feel as confused and disoriented as the main protagonist - but the just shot themselves in the foot.

Again, I think the overall narrative progression is a bunch of nonsensical malarkey (many of the locals exist purely for the sake of variety than any story context), but the way the game ebbs and flows between slower-paced atmosphere crawls like Chapter 9 in the mansion, to non-stop RE4-esque scenarios like those seen in Chapter 6 in the Castle, still kept me engaged all the same.

I sorta view The Evil Within as a fairground ride or something -- the sorta ghost house coaster that takes you through all kinds of spooky environments with no rhyme or reason. When you view it all as a whole it's... kind of a mess, but the moment to moment gameplay sequences had me thoroughly enjoying myself.

I've written my own user review over yonder anywhoo for a more overall positive take!

Hmmm. I guess I that's probably my biggest issue with it. I never felt that I had enough ammo to properly indulge in the sootier aspects of the game, and the stealth mechanics didn't click that well for me. And any time the hand lady showed up I was on the verge of tossing my controller across the room. Maybe it's just that I can't get on board with survival horror.

Anyway, glad you liked it! I didn't even realize that there are user reviews on this site!

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spraynardtatum

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spraynardtatum • 

This has cult classic written all over it. I thought it was fantastic.

I disagree with most of this review.

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Dezztroy

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Dezztroy • 

The letterboxing is not to improve performance because they are added in post-processing, meaning the game does render what it then hides.

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Steadying

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Steadying • 

Seems like this is yet another game where my opinion on the game pretty much entirely differs from most other people's. That seems to be happening a lot this gen for some reason.

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MonkeyKing1969

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MonkeyKing1969 • 

Shinji Mikami has a lot of great ideas, but it does come down to execution and thoughful planning Tango Gameworks likely need to give the whole team another year for this game, yet it seems likley Mikami needed a better plan and a better effort in mind.

I think back to when Mikami accused Sony of purposely designing their consoles to break easily so that gamers will have to buy a replacement. So, are we to think that he will allow players of his game to believe that he PURPOSELY designed this game poorly? ...After all ,that can be the only explanation for such poor workmanship - purposeful neglect.

What goes around comes around Shinji Mikami. It is easy to spew hate and stomp around using you influence to trash others when people think you a genius. I expect the industry will go far more lightly on Mikami for this game than he ever was willing to do for any other entity in gaming.

Mikami said two generations ago that Kingdom Hearts'(2002) strong sales were due to "aura purchase," meaning that customers are buying the game because their friends have bought it or like it, regardless of whether they like the game themselves. He said that Kingdom Hearts did not deserve its 780,000 sales or 6800 yen price tag.

Wow, I wonder if Mikami will thank his fans for their "aura purchase," of his current game based on his work on Resident Evil 4 - I doubt it. I doubt he even appreciates that the Evil Within might not sink Tango Gameworks because of "aura purchases".

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Milkman

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Milkman  Online • 

I really appreciate how many reviews are showing up on GB lately, even if they're late or about games I don't particularly care about. Quick Looks are great and all but it's nice to read a fully realized critique of a game.

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BatmanBatman

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BatmanBatman • 

Ouch, I was expecting the good ol' 3 stars from Scoops for this one. In any case I'm still playing this.

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Yummylee

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Edited By Yummylee • 

@alcor741: The stealth aspect is indeed really undercooked, as if it was some sort of mid-development reaction to The Last of Us, but one that they then sorta abandoned in favour of more shooty-shooty. The ammo thing is one such reason why I love survival horror in general, though I personally was never completely out of supplies. From my experience at least i found the game's difficulty was (mostly) balanced well enough so it felt as if I always had just the right amount of ammo for the job -- and if I didn't, I would try to use other means!

Anywhoo here's a video I'm really glad I captured, as it precisely reflects the sort of encounters that made me enjoy this game as much as I did.

Loading Video...

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Fobwashed

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Edited By Fobwashed • 

K, pretty happy I didn't get this just because of its pedigree.

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AssInAss

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AssInAss • 

@ravelle said:

Such a shame, I really want a horror game that hits all the right spots and does things right.

Alien Isolation?

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patrickklepek

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patrickklepek • 

You hit the all the marks on this review Patrick. Are you going to take a look at the upcoming DLC for this?

Yeah, probably. I like Jennifer Carpenter quite a bit, and she's criminally underutilized in this game. Then again, there might as well be no characters in The Evil Within--none of them ultimately matter.

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AuthenticM

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DieHappyGames

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DieHappyGames • 

Thank God, there's still justice in the world.

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MOA

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MOA • 

I finished the game 3 times and never had a problem with any of the bosses, if anything i thought they were too easy even on the hardest difficulty "akumu" where everything kills you in one hit, seems to me you were not using your guns and bolts correctly, i'll agree that the final sequence and boss are disappointing, so is the lack of explanation in the story but otherwise it's a great game with excellent pacing.

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bluefish

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Edited By bluefish • 

Man, a lot of mixed reviews in the industry lately...

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gbrading

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gbrading • 

Entirely fair, and not just for the technical shortcomings.

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LarryDavis

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Edited By LarryDavis • 

@patrickklepek said:

@urbansanta said:

You hit the all the marks on this review Patrick. Are you going to take a look at the upcoming DLC for this?

Yeah, probably. I like Jennifer Carpenter quite a bit, and she's criminally underutilized in this game. Then again, there might as well be no characters in The Evil Within--none of them ultimately matter.

I didn't realize Ruvik was Jackie Earle Haley until after I beat the game and was looking at the wiki article on it for my own review. Talk about underutilized.

@yummylee: I feel like these videos represent most of my experiences with it:

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I ended up giving it a 2/10 and I'm still angry I wasted my time on it. I implore everyone to just play Shadows of the Damned instead.

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franklinator

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franklinator • 

I'm not saying I thought this game was amazing, but i'm genuinely surprised and a bit disappointed by the amount of extreme dislike. I just hope it doesn't dissuade people that might actually enjoy this game. Cause I thought it was pretty great!