Survival horror games are part of a somewhat niche genre that constantly break moulds and, in the process, either make unexpected, monumental strides in innovation or uproarious setbacks by straying too far into other genres. Regardless, many of them have shocked the gaming world, and The Evil Within was no exception last year. Much of its appeal is founded on old school, survival horror conventions wrapped in current-gen graphics and a few modern design principles.
This seemingly spiritual successor to Resident Evil 4 was yet another controversial title in its genre with opinions ranging across the board on whether its shameless design dripping with nostalgia makes it a return to form for survival horror or an archaic bore stuck in the past. But even if you're an ardent defender of The Evil Within, the season pass's worth of DLC gives cause for one to be sceptical, too.
It consists of two story campaigns with gameplay entirely predicated on being stealthy, and another where you play as a hulking brute that smashes all in sight from a first-person perspective. Needless to say, it's quite the change of pace, and while this particular scribe may have enjoyed the base title slightly more than its reviewer, we couldn't help but be perplexed at these almost experimental add-ons.
The Assignment and The Consequence
One of the most puzzling characters in The Evil Within is Juli Kidman. Who is she? What are her motives? Where was she the whole time? Many of these questions and more are answered in her unnerving journey through STEM as an agent working for the ominous MOBIUS organization. We found her stoic, bland personality uninteresting when we played as Sebastian, but after learning about her past while playing as her, we came to see there are reasons behind the walls she puts up around herself. She has an underlying feistiness, and while she's still too stiff to be entirely likeable, there's great character development with her all the way to the end. Other lightly-touched areas in the story are cleared up as well, such as with more information on how STEM functions, the importance of Leslie, and the intriguing relationship between Ruvik and Dr. Jimenez. The story alone is a must to experience for those who enjoyed The Evil Within's narrative and desire more clarification and insight into its world and characters.
While playing as Kidman, you'll be solving simple puzzles and progressing through areas with some backtracking much like Sebastian, but the twist is that you will rarely have firearms. When you do, though, the feeling is absolutely incredible, specifically in The Consequence where you'll wield both a pistol and shotgun at times. Anyway, your primary objective is to avoid what were once the easiest enemies at all costs, since they are now extremely hazardous to your survival since Kidman has lower health and less stamina than Sebastian. To stress the stealth you're forced to engage in, there's a new mechanic where you can lock yourself behind cover to effortlessly peek around corners and move to the left and right. In addition, you can call the Haunted to your location and throw glass bottles to distract them, which helps you strategically get around tight spots. She does have a trademark item, though, which is a flashlight that you must utilise to unveil hidden passageways and solve environmental puzzles. Unfortunately, it cannot be used offensively or defensively.
Indeed, her only means of defence are a stunning melee attack, axes that can only be used once to instakill a foe, and occasionally using the environment itself. Basically, the gameplay's a heavily stripped down version of vanilla The Evil Within with a couple new, minor features centred on covert action. We feel like more could have been done to flesh out Kidman's abilities and increase the complexity of encounters, but at the same time, being in a state where you are so helpless makes this satisfyingly tense in its own way. At times we wished there was more to the gameplay, but during other moments, the lack of options made some scenarios pulse-pounding, so we think that the stealth-oriented gameplay is a mixed bag of equally fun and underwhelming aspects, which will either capture or repel your interest depending on your gaming tastes.
One might think that exact levels pulled from the main campaign in both her DLC packs would be frustrating, too, but it works perfectly in conjunction with the narrative. Anywhere you saw Kidman as Sebastian is where you will go as well, filling in gaps and smoothly connecting her journey with his, making Kidman's tale feel like important, lost pieces of a puzzle rather than a needless expansion to the main story. Thankfully, you'll be exploring new environments as well in between the familiar ones, set in dilapidated versions of MOBIUS's post-modern facility with different areas of familiar locales. With a couple new Haunted to face and an entirely different approach to playing, even previously explored places feel fresh.
The Assignment and The Consequence are two parts of a whole, and playing both is essential to get the full experience of seeing Kidman through her perilous task filled with tough decisions and danger. If you're looking for a meaty story that better conveys and builds on top of what the primary narrative established, with serviceable stealth gameplay and more wonderfully creepy environments and enemies in tow, these two pieces of additional content should be on your wishlist. But if The Evil Within was simply average to you in the first place, we don't believe the different character and gameplay focus would be enough to garner your interest.
The Keeper is one of the most terrifying bosses in The Evil Within – a massive butcher with a safe for a head who's carrying around a meat-grinding hammer and a spiky sack of heads. Now, you get to rampage as him in a series of boss fights, as a man who's willingly entered STEM as this monster to save and evacuate his daughter from this twisted world. In doing this, you'll accrue currency that can not only be spent on items like his signature wire traps that ensnare rivals, but also new weapons like the chainsaw, RPG, Molotov cocktails, and more as you beat each boss.
Unfortunately, the majority of these bosses that Sebastian previously fought as well are not much of a challenge, especially since you can upgrade your weapons' effectiveness and increase attributes like your speed, defence, and health. While this upgrade system kept us coming back to see what we could get over time, the gameplay is seriously shallow. Your equipment has limited versatility in what it can do and how it's applied in combat.
There are also too few variations of other enemies to spice things up, which is why the Execution Chamber – a challenge map arena that offers currency for beating waves of Haunted – only became a means to an end for us. You can swiftly jump in any direction, lunge forward to launch a foe into the air, and form strategies to use your items in specific orders, but these actions cease to be exhilarating after the first 30 minutes since there's no meaningful or rewarding ways to string any moves together.
The threadbare story holding the simple, repetitive gameplay together is interesting in some respects, such as finding letters from your daughter that detail her declining state of mind and documents that get really technical about how STEM works, but these aren't enough to significantly hold it up unlike the other add-on content. You can beat the bosses at a leisurely pace in about two hours, and the replay value is minimal.
The Executioner isn't necessarily bad, though. It's relatively inexpensive, looks fantastic, controls rather well from the first-person perspective, and drives you along to try out other items and upgrades well enough, but everything else rapidly becomes devoid of any excitement and creative obstacles. So we would recommend stepping into the shoes of The Keeper for one time if you purchase the season pass to play Kidman's missions, but in any other case, we suggest keeping the contents of it under lock and key from your wallet.
That's it for our thoughts on The Evil Within's downloadable content. What did you think about the title? Did you enjoy how Shinji Mikami brought back survival horror to its roots, or did you find his effort to do this uninspired and messy? Are you likely to play it for yourself now, return to it again with this additional content, or avoid it all entirely? Let us know in the comments section below.