Many of the columns I write for this website hang around old games I finally got around to playing. This week? The Evil Within, Shinji Mikami’s 2014 survival horror, which I’ve been playing – perhaps unwisely – at 2 a.m. when I haven’t been able to sleep.
Truth be told, I first dipped into Tango Gameworks’ debut title at the time of release, but irritated by the game’s terrible dialogue and how seemingly obsessed its hyper gory scenarios were with being edgy, I quickly gave up. I regret that. The Evil Within is a jewel of a video game – a game I now believe to be at least the equal of the much more lauded Resident Evil 4 – only hidden deep inside a veneer of dogshit.
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But more than the try hard torture porn settings and a story limper than wet lettuce, the principal reason I played an hour of The Evil Within all those years ago, then gave up for over half a decade, is how irritating I found the game’s central character. I’ve been playing the game for about 15 hours now. I’ve played through to its end and now I’m replaying on a higher difficulty, trying to unlock and collect everything I’ve missed.
And yet I couldn’t tell you – and though you can’t see me, know that as I write this, metaphysical steam is billowing out of my ears, trying to remember – what the name of the primary protagonist is. I know he’s got stupid hair. I think he’s wearing a waistcoat, which feels fairly preposterous attire to be sporting in the pursuit of killing monsters. No, the guy that you play as in The Evil Within is perhaps the most boring character ever to grace a video game.
Sure, the gameplay mechanics of the game – the way the frights keep on coming, how the game leaves you feeling vulnerable at all times, something I didn’t think the survival horror genre was capable of in an age whereupon action has infused it so much – are immense. The game’s audio is innovative, even thrilling. I love the level design. The creature design. The colour palates and the SFX. I’ve even come to appreciate how batshit crazy the plot is. There is much to love about The Evil Within. But… where was I? I was thinking about whatyoucallit. I almost dozed off.
This isn’t the first time that an irritating, maybe even inconsequential feature of a game has put me off investing time in it. Metal Gear Solid? Never played it. I can’t get over the game’s central character being called ‘Solid Snake’. I can’t even write those words without wincing. I know there are classic games in that series. I know there are influential ones.
I know that my knowledge of games is lacking by having not invested hours in sneaking around a factory or whatever it is that you have to do in those games. I know that if the Metal Gear Solid games featured a primary character called ‘Fred’ or ‘Roger’ then I would probably really love them.
The rebooted, ultra-acclaimed God Of War? Played it for a few hours, found Kratos’ kid infuriating, and turned it off. I keep saying I’ll go back, but I haven’t yet. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey? Too much mandolin on the soundtrack. I can just about endure mandolin on a couple of 90’s REM songs, but on a 5,000-hour video game? No thanks.
Even the current iteration of FIFA – a series I adore, a series I’ve invested thousands of hours in, a series that I cannot imagine not existing in my life – has fallen from my graces, because I cannot bare to hear Lee Dixon’s stupid voice – a voice with all of the engagement of an amplified wellington boot – a single moment more.
As I say, I regret the time I wasn’t playing The Evil Within when I could have been playing The Evil Within. For all its aesthetic failings, it really is an awesome game. But do I really? After all, life is short. There are only so many hours in which to play video games – sometimes, sigh, you have to do other things. I know! Unfair, right? I can’t waste my precious time playing a video game when the very body I’m inhabiting makes me want to turn off my console and go to sleep. And neither should you! We should demand more of our games. They’re too expensive and too demanding of our time not to not to.
By the way, his name is Sebastian Castellanos. I just Googled it. There was no way I was going to remember otherwise.