Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Surviving The Evil Within, Chapter 2: Deep forests with deep gameplay

at 6:00 PM
Maybe I'll do a daily journal of Evil Within chapters. We'll see how long they get. I know there are 16 and the game is said to be about 15 hours, so they might be just the right length to play one a night. Depends on how much I die.

So Chappy 1, as mentioned yesterday, is an uninspiring Mental Hospital Chainsaw Massacre. The gameplay is purely run-and-hide of the Clock Tower variety; however, the environment is complex enough to provide numerous avenues of sneaking. Crowded rooms with boxes, curtains, and lockers all over - not to mention bottles that can be thrown for distraction - allowed me to at least experiment as I repeatedly died and retried.

The player character is called Sebastian Castellanos. I just felt like getting that out of the way instead of trying to work it into a sentence.

Chapter 2 provides the tutorial that's missing from the dramatically hard intro. Sebastian is back to walking/running at normal speed - a bit faster than the standard enemies - and he's got a loaded revolver in hand. After an introduction to the save/upgrade safe-house accessible through mirrors, it's - as the saying goes - out of the hospital and into a nighttime forest encircling decaying cottages.

I know what you're saying. "First a chainsaw, now a forest? What is this, RE4?" Trust me, we haven't even scratched the surface of the RE4ness of this game, including bear traps, trip wires, not-a-zombies, the part where you use binoculars to look ahead at a villager gathering (just weird that that minor moment would be reused), and the being chased across a stone bridge by a torch-waving mob. Yes, from what I can tell, The Evil Within is Resident Evil 4. That is to say, the tagline should've been "Within this game resides an evil. That evil... is Resident Evil. Fooouurr.". Still, the open forest is a much cooler and scarier setting than a mental hospital and it doesn't look much like RE4 - the palette uses deep greens, blues, and greys rather than dusty reds and browns - so I'm not complaining.

Sorry, I wish I could use my own images for this coverage but I don't have any way to screen-cap from a 360 game
Shortly after I set off through the trees, I was forced into a showdown with a standard enemy. Three misses and a headshot later, I was down to two bullets and had a good idea that these sorta-zombies were faster than actually-zombies, liked to charge straight at me, and were soft in the skull. Against the next guy I wasn't so lucky - quickly wasting my remaining bullets, I had the choice to run or swing my fists. With a dead end behind me and no clue what was ahead, I thought it would be safest to test out the melee combat. It took about a dozen pistol whips and some stomping to put my foe down, not to mention almost my entire health bar, so it became apparent that melee was not to be relied upon.

Some dimly fire-lit houses lay ahead and I could make out a few zombies standing guard or walking in rigid patrol routes. In my ammo-less state and still not confident in my ability to run, I decided to go with a stealth approach. The first couple foes were easy to take down - just sneak up behind them and press A for a knifing - and I was cued onto others from their groaning sounds. Gradually clearing out the opposition gave me space to disarm traps that I would've tripped straight into had I been running.

The map at this point had really opened up and enemies were spaced far enough that it was easy both to manipulate angle/order of attack and to accidentally expose myself. Without an in-game map I was constructing a mental one instead - in an open, dark space with irregular geometry, that quickly became disorienting. There were a lot of houses to investigate and I occasionally came across ammo and healing items that I would've missed had I been taking a more rigid path to avoid/flee enemies. Then again, those extra items may not have been necessary if I wasn't relying on close encounters. Essentially the game was rewarding my style by facilitating it, encouraging thinking ahead and commitment. That's solid survival design.

At one point I picked up a torch from a fallen foe to help disperse the overwhelming blackness. Unfortunately it quickly gave away my position and I ended up with two zombonis bearing down on me. I swung the torch at one for an instantaneous - but single-use - kill, and blew through all the bullets I'd just found taking out his friend. Here the game kicked my ass for screwing up my own strategy, but it was fairly balanced - the bullets I had spent time collecting got me out of a sticky situation.

When an enemy went down its corpse remained, giving me a chance to torch it. The game doesn't explain why that's necessary, but matches are limited so I opted to conserve them during most of Chapter 2. That set up the best scare of the night: when I found some spare matches in one of the houses, I went back to torch some bodies I had left behind. But I couldn't find the bodies! At first I thought I was just lost, then I found the bloodstains where they had lain and realized they were actually gone. I don't know if this was a glitch, if they rose up and wandered off, or if they'll come back to haunt me later. Regardless, considering the implications was freaky.

After I made it through the cottages I came across a big zombie gathering. Before Sebastian had time to finish his cautious "I should leave them be" I had walked too close and drawn their attention. With what felt like a dozen enemies coming at me there was no way I could fight, so I made a run for it. It was pretty worrisome at first - I had no clue where I was going - but after I hit a wall and managed to loop around while still keeping the mob behind me, a lot of the tension dissolved. It was a little too easy in the open space to outrun the zombies, even slowing down every few seconds to let my stamina recharge. When I reached a bridge, a cutscene took over and I was home free.

Ultimately, stealth remains key to offsetting the scarcity of ammo, but the options to shoot or run are now open. There's no requirement to exterminate the enemies, so it's my call whether to run, gun, sneak, or assassinate. As a matter of fact I have half a mind to replay the chapter and see if I can run through, though I think that's better saved for a later play. Circumstances can quickly change to force adaptation - getting spotted forced me to shoot and running out of ammo necessitated melee and later flight. This is definitely starting to feel like classic Resident Evil-style survival horror. 

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