PAX East: How The Evil Within Fails at Horror
How silence compromises horror.
by Mitch Dyer
April 12, 2014
The Evil Within’s evocative environments effectively convey a sense of dread, lending meaningful weight to the psychological horrors happening around protagonist Sebastian. In a mysterious city full of zombie-like citizens hell-bent on murdering our hero, skyscrapers crumble, ascend into the sky, or close in around him.
It’s a magnificent spectacle. You or I would react with awe, disbelief, terror, shock, panic, and a range of other emotions that might display awareness of our surroundings. Sebastian never expresses anything about what’s happening to him. Somehow, he’s less invested in the mystery and horror here than me.
Sebastian’s disinterest in the events of The Evil Within completely robs it of its potential. His silence reduces the haunting atmosphere and scripted scares to empty parlor trickery.
It’s easy to appreciate Tango Gameworks’ affinity for traditional video game horror. It’s tougher to take it seriously when The Evil Within wastes tension on recycled suspense scenes. It’s impossible to empathize with a character that has no concern for his mortality.
In the city section, The Evil Within fails to feel threatening at every turn. Sebastian is so empowered that it robs The Evil Within of any tension in combat. He’s able to obliterate oblivious enemies with his sniper rifle, shotgun, revolver, and a crossbow that can instantly freeze or explode targets. Power, like Sebastian’s silence, negates any fear. He expresses himself with his armory.
Maybe, at this point in The Evil Within, he’s seen enough to just roll with the punches. It’s possible he’s simply numb to seeing the same scares on repeat, like I am. I'd rather see The Evil Within have more emotion than excuses, and what I saw had neither.
Aesthetically, The Evil Within is superb, with gorgeous lighting and visual effects creating convincing, scary settings. The trouble is that Sebastian’s experiences within them are rigid and they repeat. It’s a genuine, heart-pounding moment the first time a monster manifests out of thin air and begins its relentless pursuit. Sebastian can solve the problem easily with a weapon or by closing a door behind him to end the chase. When the menacing enemy reappears, and Sebastian escapes/annihilates it, the fear vanishes. It’s sort of funny by the third or fourth time it happens.
I imagine Sebastian is rolling his eyes on the other side of that over-the-shoulder camera.