A sequel to Shinji Mikami’s Resident Evil 4 horror game The Evil Within was expected to get announced at Bethesda’s E3 press conference earlier this month. The original game, released in 2014, did pretty well in sales, especially for a horror title two years on would certainly have been enough time to get a glimpse into a proper sequel, but that didn’t happen.
At the moment, it’s unknown whether or not Mikami and his team at Tango Gameworks are even working on a follow-up, although despite the somewhat forgettable cast of the first game, Bethesda could do worse than making a series. For now, though, there’s the game’s DLC, which is surprisingly excellent – in some ways even more so than the main entry.
Evil Within (which carries the much snappier title “Psycho Break” in Japan) posited itself as a sort of hybrid between the action game Mikami pioneered so well in RE4 with the nightmarish, psychological imagery of Silent Hill. While its narrative is mostly weak, eventually committing the midichlorian error of giving rational reason behind the surreal setting, gameplay itself is pretty entertaining.
The game’s basic action – killing undead horrors in explosive displays of gore, keeping after a survival horror feel by limiting your ammo, crafting a deliriously unhinged nightmare world with killer art direction and overwrought body horror – makes it a worthy experience, making up for the relative shortcomings of its narrative elements. Much like RE4, the main game also revels in the intensity of combat rather than making players simply run.
The game’s DLC episodes, The Assignment and The Consequence (less so the hilariously incongruous first-person romp The Executioner), take the opposite approach. Rather than wearing the shoes of the hardboiled, world-weary detective Sebastian Castellanos, the extra narrative here follows Kidman, a rookie cop, who’s actually a double agent for the evil corporation that’s responsible for the whole mess, though that’s not really important. (Evil Within sadly lacks much of the charm of Resident Evil’s narrative schlock.)
More to the point, these additional chapters arm you with only a flashlight, re-focusing the design around stealth and avoidance. Evil Within did some of its own stealth, too – over the course of a 20-25 hour campaign, you were sometimes forced into situations where sneaking past was the best, if not the only, option. It was a nice idea, even if it never fully gelled versus the countless times developers forced players to fight.
In any case, despite The Assignment and The Consequence only being about four hours a piece, an almost entirely combat-free experience almost suits the setting better than having guns.
It’s too silly and over-the-top to take all that seriously or find frightening – the most you might experience is probably momentary tension when trying to escape from a bizarre, leggy monster that stalks yo throughout. Regardless, re-framing the conflict in terms of one you can only skate through makes for a differently-paced – and more engrossing – experience.
I don’t necessarily think horror is better without combat — there’s only so much fear something like an Outlast or a Slender can really elicit, given that the best examples of fear come simply from the unknown. Once the monster has jumped out and is after you, it becomes a more logical problem of how to get out.
I do think horror is more effective under limitations, and Evil Within’s DLC some ways surpasses the original because it’s designed around a different core – one that actually works better for its genre. Using the flashlight for light puzzle-solving is a great touch, too. And you save your game by petting a black cat with a red ribbon. What’s not to like?
While the DLC doesn’t re-invent the wheel, it’s an addition well worth playing for fans of the genre. If Mikami is working on a sequel, hopefully he takes some inspiration from what these extra bits did right.