Review Post Mortem and quick comparison: The Evil Within

After I write a review I often like to go out and look at what other reviewers wrote and compare my opinions to theirs. Today I wrote a somewhat harsh review of The Evil Within , giving it 3/5 stars.

The Evil within had a big budget and high pedigree coming from Shinji Mikami, but the game just doesn't deliver.
The Evil within had a big budget and high pedigree coming from Shinji Mikami, but the game just doesn’t deliver.

Metacritic’s average for the game is currently 76, so I seem to be fairly in line with that average. But the game is clearly getting a wide, range of mixed reviews — everything from 9/10 (Game Informer) to 5/10 (Joystiq) and 6/10 (Escapist), to name a few.

Here’s a few for contrast:

Game Informer (@timturi)
Horror fans shouldn’t let the disappointing story deter them one bit, however. Few Paranormal Activity fans care how these malevolent demons come back again and again – what truly matters is that the audience’s nerves are frayed until they’re raw. The Evil Within excels at keeping your palms sweaty while delivering a harrowingly rewarding gameplay trial. Watching the credits roll with a sigh of relief doesn’t feel like winning; it feels like surviving.

Game Informer’s review was largely based more upon game play, although it notes the ‘disappointing story’, which for me was more than a little disappointing.

Escapist (@jimsterling)
The Evil Within is a noble attempt at bringing back classic survival horror, but it could have learned a thing or two from games that aren’t almost ten years old. It has its moments of brilliance, scattered through periods of antagonizing design.

Interestingly, The Escapist’s review is all about the game play and makes no mention of the narrative, but I think the author’s assessment is pretty spot on. A fairly common consensus among quite a few reviews is that The Evil Within is mired in old and outdated mechanisms for survival horror games. It can be very frustrating and unfair.

Joystiq’s reviewer Susan Arendt keyed off on many similar notes to my own:

Joystiq (@SusanArendt)
“Indeed, most of The Evil Within‘s elements are presented without much context or explanation, as though designer Shinji Mikami was stubbornly stamping his foot and declaring, “They’re just spooky, OK?” The tiny bits of story that surface throughout the rest of the game are presented haphazardly, like they were forgotten until the last minute and then just shoved in wherever there was enough room for a short bit of dialog.

Compare that to part of my own review:

Simply put, the overall story of The Evil Within is its weakest point. It feels like an afterthought tacked onto a continuous string of “wouldn’t it be cool if…?” ideas. And most of the ideas are very linear and draw liberally from terrifyingly tired tropes. Level with a mannequin factory? Check. Creepy-old-haunted house level(s)? Check. Urban zombie apocalypse levels? Check. Random creepy baby dolls that just sit and look creepy? Check. Zombies, tentacles, over-the-top gore and gruesomeness? Check, check, and check.

So what happened? I suspect — and this is just a theory — that harsher reviews are more likely coming from more ‘mature’ sources who maybe have greater exposure and more experience to survival horror games and video game narratives as a whole. I almost wonder what the age demographics are for people who gave The Evil Within bad reviews vs. those giving it good reviews.

Regardless, the game has gotten mixed albeit generally positive reviews. I didn’t hate the game, but I don’t recommend it either.

So what will sales data reveal? I’m not sure but I’m inclined to suspect The Evil Within isn’t going to last long at retail — which may be good for buyers. I would absolutely not recommend buying the game for more than $20.(A shame with the Halloween season upon us.)

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2 comments

  1. Shame. The game clearly wasn’t ready to launch. I guess Bethesda’s had a rough year launching a disastrous MMO and a mediocre shooter, and had no choice but to rush TEW out to meet a Halloween release. It needed a lot longer in the oven.

    1. I didn’t get the sense that the game was rushed so much as a slave to an outdated design — or even outdated designer. The game plays *mostly* well, but (at least for me) not well enough to compensate for the utter lack of story or the game’s ability to make me give a damn about anything that is going on in it. It’s not a total fail, but given the large budget and ‘pedigree’ it falls short of smaller, better games (like Outlast or Amnesia: The Dark Descent.)

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