The Evil Within - Review

By: Trevor Thompson          

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I’ll admit it: I was not excited for The Evil Within. I had read very few positive previews, and Resident Evil gameplay has given me a bad taste in my mouth since the series’ 5th installment. Out of sheer curiosity, I decided to review this game, and I must say, I’m glad I did. Resident Evil mixed with Silent Hill is an apt way to describe The Evil Within. Shinji Mikami demonstrates what he does best: creating a tense, frightening, and addictively fun experience that only the king of survival horror could pull off. The story and characters are boring at best and laughable at worst, but they serve their purpose by providing a conduit for the dark and twisted imagery of your worst nightmares.

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In The Evil Within, you play as Sebastian Castellanos, a detective for the Krimson City Police Department. Upon receiving an assignment to investigate a multiple homicide at Beacon Mental Hospital, you and your team of detectives head to the scene. Shortly after arriving, you are sedated by a strange hooded figure and awaken into a living nightmare. Over the course of the 15-hour story, I was subjected to some of the more disturbing aspects of the human imagination. From giggling zombies in porcelain masks, to a terrifying demon with a safe for a head, I truly felt the Silent Hill aesthetic that I have been missing since the release of Silent Hill 4. The Evil Within takes you through classic horror genre locations including haunted mansions, underground catacombs, and mental hospitals but manages to make each one uniquely twisted. Unfortunately, the characters are almost humorously emotionless in the face of danger, especially Sebastian whose tough guy exterior seems impenetrable even in the face of his worst fears. Likewise, the story loses itself about halfway through as it attempts to shock you through random and often jarring plot twists. By the end, I found myself severely underwhelmed and seeking additional answers. Luckily, the story does a good job at explaining the varied and dark settings in which the game takes place.

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The Resident Evil nature of The Evil Within presents itself through the gameplay. You slay zombies, monsters, and demons from a third-person over-the-shoulder perspective, minus Resident Evil 4’s cumbersome tank controls. As Sebastian, you will utilize pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles, and a crossbow to take down your foes, and each weapon feels effective and powerful. In classic survival horror fashion, ammo is scarce, and it’s not unusual to find yourself carefully lining up a head shot, praying for a critical hit as you release your final pistol round. Ammo and health scarcity, limited stamina, and enemy abundance combine to make The Evil Within rather difficult; so don’t expect the game to hold your hand past the first few chapters. Boss fights are also very common and effective at creating heart-pounding suspense. Stealth is presented as a viable strategy early in the game, but quickly becomes obsolete once the enemies gain seemingly superhuman awareness. Additionally, nearly every enemy walks faster than Sebastian does when crouching, making it frustratingly difficult to pull of a silent kill on a moving enemy.

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The Evil Within boasts a robust upgrade system, utilizing “green gel” found throughout the game’s world. While the standard health, stamina, and melee damage upgrades exist, the various weapon upgrades allow you to fine tune your play style and beef up your load out. The game is also host to a large number of collectables including audio logs, diaries, maps, and keys to unlock equipment caches in the hub world.

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 By far the one aspect of The Evil Within that has stuck with me the most is just how beautiful this game is. Every environment is gorgeous, terrifying, and effective at creating bone-chilling uneasiness. While the epic, moving set pieces often take center stage during cut scenes, the small nuances are the stars of gameplay. The unnerving nature of walking into an asylum cell bordered with red curtains and hosting a lone torture chair, while a crazed women giggled uncontrollably off screen will stick with me for many a sleepless night from here on out. The character animations and lip-syncing is solid, but the enemy art design is where the visuals truly shine. Zombies are the main enemies of The Evil Within, and they are effectively designed to create a feeling of dread when you witness a horde of the creatures sprinting towards you. Boss designs are superb and feature everything from giant zombie dogs, to four armed spider ladies with massive claws, and everything in between. The one boss that truly stands out, however, is the Keeper. Equipped with a spiked hammer and a bag full of severed heads, this safe-headed foe is reminiscent of Silent Hill 2’s Pyramid Head and could easily go down as a classic horror game enemy.

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The Evil Within’s sound design is superb. The score is epic during boss fights and big battles, but drops to eerie minimalism during a majority of the game. Environments rely heavily on creepy ambient noises such as the ticking of a grandfather clock or the soft caw of a nearby murder of crows. Enemies all have unique audio tells to signify their presence before a fight, and whether it’s the haunting moan of a zombie or the sound of a hammer beating against a safe, every new sound sent chills up my spine. The voice acting is passable, if not a bit disappointing, but I get the feeling that the actors were more held back by the script than anything else.

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In more ways than one, The Evil Within is the Resident Evil 5 we deserved. Shinji Mikami has given us a glimpse into his twisted, talented mind once again, and it does not disappoint. While a lack luster story and poor characters hold the game back from its full potential, the haunting atmosphere, stellar combat, and excellent sound design signal a return to the more action-orientated subgenre of survival horror. Whether you love the suspense of Resident Evil 4 or the terror of Silent Hill, The Evil Within is a title worthy of any gamer’s time. 

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Alien: Isolation - Review

By: Steven Santana

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I’ve beaten Alien: Isolation. Wait, let me restate that, I’ve beaten the Alien in Alien: Isolation. Somewhere along the way Creative Assembly swapped the source material and lost their way. A little over half of the game is an amazing anxiety attack of avoiding an unstoppable force in a setting that is beautifully crafted. I loved the Xenomorph despite it’s hostility towards anything living, I loved the gorgeous sights of long dark hallways and the occasional glimpse of the outside world. Accessing green screen terminals felt like I was in the 1979 movie as did everything else, from the security hacker to the posters on the wall. However, none of that can help the disaster the game becomes after Chapter 13.

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While not important or very moving, the plot of Alien: Isolation is serviceable enough. You play Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen Ripley and are approached by “the company” through a man named Samuels who invites you to help retrieve the flight recorder of your mother’s lost ship. At first everything is hunky dory, and you even get to explore a ship very much modeled after the Nostromo, complete with a door leading to an AI Mother. The cast of characters don’t really matter much, and don’t do much besides offer bodies to be later searched for supplies. Amanda herself doesn’t undergo much of a character arc and instead becomes a vessel for another Ellen Ripley, a tough survivor with nothing else to her character. Thankfully, Sevastapol, the station in which the game takes place, makes up for the lack of interesting characters. Much like Bioshock, the world is worth exploring, with audio logs and terminals with personal messages stored on them, all telling various stories of the people who once occupied this station. Sevastapol is owned by Seegson, the rival company of Weylan-Yutani, who are severely behind in terms of technology. The space station was at one time a bustling place to be but slowly became less and less viable and, with the introduction of the Xenomorph, became a ghost station.

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The Xenomorph is easily one of the best enemies I have ever faced in a video game. It is unstoppable, causing you to avoid it whenever it drops down from an overhead vent. When it spots you, it pulls back, like a cat ready to pounce, before lunging forward. At first you’re dead no matter what, but later on your only defense is a flamethrower that depletes quickly and only gives you a temporary period of safety. The primary way of dealing with the Xenomorph is hiding, whether under tables, in lockers, or in tiny little cabinets. Even in these spaces, you are not entirely safe. The Xenomorph will stalk around the room, sometimes visible, sometimes out of sight, but you know it’s there from the stomping. It oftentimes approaches your hiding spot requiring you to pull back and hold your breath, which after a certain amount of time will chip away at your health. Avoiding the Xenomorph is a thrill like no other, especially since I rarely foray into survival-horror games, being a wuss when it comes to scares. The amount of anxiety as I made my way from room to room, with headphones on so I could hear every metallic reverberation of the movement overhead, was sometimes too much to handle. The Xenomorph never felt unfair, despite it’s randomized AI patterns. I only became frustrated near the ending where even when I was out of sight I would be pulled out of a locker and into death. Audio is very important at all times. I quickly learned all the audio cues, from “this is the Xenomorph above me in the vents,” to “this is the Xenomorph stalking around the hallways,” and, “this is the Xenomorph jumping into/out of a vent.” Knowing where it is at all times is probably the most important tool you’ll be using to progress.

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Thankfully, the game isn’t all Xenomorph; you also get thrown at a few human and android enemies. While neither of these proved to be as much of a threat as the Xenomorph, they did present some interesting tweaks to the gameplay setting. Humans became a safety net of sorts, since whenever I could hear the chatter of survivors in the general area, I knew they would be the first to die at the Xenomorph’s hands, instead of me. Androids, on the other hand, were more confusing. Some were friendly, some were deadly, but none of them provoked Xenomorph attacks. Sometimes they also have strange dialogue while simply walking around in their patrols. Not all humans you run into are enemies either, and sometimes you’ll come across breather spaces occupied by other survivors who just sit there and repeat the same lines of script if you stay long enough.

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While you are avoiding all these threats you’re also going to be progressing from one area to the next in a somewhat monotonous objective line of, “Go from A to B, activate C, now go to D.” Despite the lack of variety in objectives, it was the thrill of traveling between them that kept me interested. I highly appreciated the save system as well; a phone terminal which you have to put a keycard into for a few seconds as it signs you in. It fits so perfectly into the world, and I never had any troubles with being kicked back to a save hours earlier after death. I also enjoyed the hacking feature used to bypass certain doors. Early on you get a hacking tool which requires you to rotate the analog stick to tune into the correct frequency, and then choose the right puzzle shape from a choice of eight to match the four connected on the display. At first I was confused as to what to do, but eventually mastered it and enjoyed my time spent fiddling away on this green and white GameBoy-esque tool. It also causes you to have a moment of vulnerability, more so than usual, since you’ll be standing in front of a locked door ready to be impaled by the Xenomorph’s tail.

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Also of note is the Metroidvania map layout. The setting of Sevastapol has many towers and floors, which sometimes wrap around and intersect, but require you to have advanced tools in order to access them. As you go on you gain more and more tools that allow you to backtrack and unlock previously inaccessible areas for additional crafting items, blueprints, or audio logs and the like. Since Amanda is an engineer, she can craft various items to help her survive, from molotovs to noise makers. I rarely used these though and instead relied heavily on simply making my way from one hideout to the next.

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The soundtrack of the game takes inspiration from Dead Space in that it plays at very random times. The orchestral score swells to a point of climax at times where the Xenomorph wasn’t in the room at all. Sound is of utmost importance in knowing where to go and where threats are. The voice work is well done, the score is good, and the Xenomorph itself causes fear with its shrieks and hisses.

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Coupled with the great sound work is the look of the game. While the lip-syncing is bad, and the character models don’t look that good, the Xenomorph’s animations are great. It’s big, menacing, and fast. Seeing it slink down from a vent is a huge source of anxiety, and watching it sprint towards you can cause screams and cursing. Not only is the Xenomorph well done but so is the rest of the ship. The computer terminals, the papers strewn across the desks and tables, the little bird toy bobbing it’s head, and the layout of hallways and vent systems all recall memories of the source material that it is so faithful to. I don’t think we’ll ever see a game as committed to replicating the look and feel of Alien as this game is. Creative Assembly has done an amazing job at bringing the film into a video game.

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Now for some spoilers. The main issue I have with Alien: Isolation is that a little over halfway through it abandons its focus on having a single alien hunting you. Instead it decides to draw more from Aliens with a nest of face-huggers and multiple Xenomorphs. It felt totally unnecessary and out of place, especially when the title is Alien, implying a lone Xenomorph. It was at this point that I lost interest in continuing despite loving the previous hours of gameplay. End spoilers.

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Despite being bloated and too long after Chapter 13, the game before that is amazing and recommended for those who love the film Alien and those who enjoy tense gameplay. The Xenomorph is smart, unpredictable, and fun in an anxiety-ridden way to avoid. Likewise pitting humans against it as a distraction, and gathering crafting tools from previously locked areas gave a feeling of satisfaction that you only find by slowly approaching a 100% completion rating in Metroidvania titles. I loved the time I spent with Alien: Isolation, but the complete package falls so short of its potential. If it had been cut down in length it would be amazing, but it is held back by hours of unnecessary content.

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Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor - Review

By: Trevor Thompson

Urshkat the Thunderer. I had watched this jackass throw a spear through my head as a lowly grunt and rise through the ranks to an elite captain. I had fought him before, several times actually. But no matter how many times I would stab him through the heart or slash his throat, he would return, albeit with a few extra scars. As I picked off every one of his guards with my bow and dropped onto the bridge that would become our arena, I finally felt that my time had come to remove this parasite’s head from his body. His grunts were gone, I was stronger than ever, and I would not longer be surprised by any of his tricks … That is, until one of his fellow captains turned the corner and joined the fight. The scrap lasted no more than two minutes and the next thing I knew, I was on my knees, at the mercy of the Uruk. He didn’t show any.

Dammit.

Next time.

Monolith struck something altogether unique with Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. The gameplay is solid, and killing orcs and uruks is an absolute blast. Unfortunately, the story is nothing special, and the landscape of Mordor isn’t particularly interesting, but the nemesis system certainly makes up for this by creating an organic, ever-changing world.

In Shadow of Mordor, you play as Talion, a ranger guarding the Black Gate in order to keep the evils of Mordor at bay. After a painfully brief tutorial and prologue, Talion and his family are ritually executed by a mysterious figure known as the Black Hand of Sauron. Talion is then possessed by an amnesic elf wraith and brought back to life with some powerful new abilities. He then embarks on his path of revenge; effectively creating a one-dimensional character whose only goal is to kill indiscriminately. Luckily, the wraith’s past is a far more interesting story that is bound to entice many Tolkien fans. Overall, the story falls flat. I could sympathize with Talion’s anger, but some additional exposition and dialogue on the side of his family would have been nice in order for me to truly feel some sense of loss. Furthermore, the ending resolves almost nothing and merely acts as a cliffhanger to lead into the Lord of the Rings movies.

Main mission structure often clashes with the player freedom present outside of the story, forcing you to approach a situation completely stealthily or completely head-on. The side missions in Shadow of Mordor allow you to “forge the legends of your weapons.” In classic Lord of the Rings fashion, you will take on a seemingly impossible task in order to create a legend of Talion that will be sung about for generations, such as slaying 30 uruks without being hit or freeing an entire slave compound without being detected by enemies.

Though the story will likely fail to grasp players, the gameplay is undoubtedly addictive. If you’ve played the Batman: Arkham games, then Middle-Earth’s combat will come naturally. You attack enemies relentlessly, all the while waiting for them to attack in turn so you can counter and continue to build your streak. High hit streaks then allow you to perform executions, combat drains, and other abilities. Other battle tactics involve mounting caragors, slow motion bow attacks, and mind controlling enemies to fight for you. Stealth exists in Shadow of Mordor, but more as a tactic to thin the herd a bit before engaging in direct combat.

A variety of wraith and ranger abilities allow for diverse and powerful move sets, while additional unlockable perks allow you to tailor Talion to your playstyle. For greater variety, captains and warchiefs drop weapon-specific runes when killed, allowing you to beef up Talion’s weapons arsenal.

Hunting down and eliminating captains and warchiefs is a blast, thanks to Shadow of Mordor’s unique nemesis system. It works like this: you find a captain with randomly generated strengths and weaknesses. If he kills you in battle, he levels up, gets stronger, and has the ability to advance to a higher rank. If he loses in battle but does not die, then he will hunt you down for revenge. The enemy AI remembers the various encounters and will respond accordingly when you meet them in battle again. This system makes Mordor feel alive. You feel as if the captains are moving in real time, constantly searching for Talion to enact revenge for the various scars that mar their bodies. Unfortunately, Mordor’s landscape is dull, and getting around is a complete bore as Talion’s major form of travel is on foot, proving that one CAN simply walk into Mordor. Though a fast travel system exists, Mordor is large, and it will take some time to unlock the various travel locations. The world begins to feel like the space between waypoints, while the occasional fort does give a glimpse as to what it could have been.

With Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor Monolith has likely created a new franchise, and I couldn’t be more excited to see where they will take it. In my 21 hours of slaying orcs and forging the legend of Talion, I saw the sheer potential that this property has. Shadow of Mordor has some problems with its story and mission structure, but I would absolutely recommend that everyone play this game.

Fury - Review

I understood Fury was going to be another World War II movie about a group of men who die one by one and in the finale face off against much larger numbers than their own. While that held true, the film also delivered a new perspective to battles, as well as a nice twist on Brad Pitt’s character and a subplot that left me thinking. It’s too bad though that even those factors didn’t push Fury into being a meaningful investment of time.

Fury is great when it’s focused on one thing, delivering on World War II era battles. When the tank crew is in the midst of a larger conflict, whether it be escorting soldiers up close to German machine gun nests or clearing out a town, I was most interested when they fought alongside fellow soldiers. It was when the crew was singled out and left by themselves that I lost interest. You see, each character is something of a stereotype, both alone and as a group. Brad Pitt plays the tough guy leader whose unique character trait is that it’s all an act and he frequently nears breakdown when left by himself. Shia LaBeouf plays a religious man and gunner for the tank. Lerman is the new recruit, Bernthal is the asshole and Pena is the driver who happens to be Mexican because diversity was needed.

At least there is some nice new things thrown into the mix. For one, LaBeouf and Pitt’s characters appeared to be lovers of sorts. I didn’t notice at first, but during the final battle, when LaBeouf is treating Pitt’s wound, there are way too many eye stares thrown at each other that I started to question if it existed. Then I realized there were plenty of stares beforehand and much worry for one another, as well as the fact that LaBeouf doesn’t sleep with the woman that the other two crewmates who were present do, and neither does Pitt. I thought this was a very nice little subtle subplot of these two people who probably felt like they couldn’t fully express their feelings during a hellish time.

While I expected the film to be a rehash of Saving Private Ryan, I did enjoy the battles that occurred, since they were from the viewpoint of a tank crew instead of ground forces. Having to radio driving directions while on top, adjusting the barrel for shots, and the various shells used when they take on a Tiger tank, also the only tank on tank battle seen, were all very well done and entertaining to watch. Meanwhile you also have the frequent scenes that give examples of the brutality of war, whether it be Pitt forcing Lerman to take a life or killing off a love interest shortly after they separate, war is still very much a shit thing.

The finale stumbles, with Pitt and company facing innumerable odds and dying off one by one until the young one is left and escapes in a confusing way. Early on in the film, he was unable to take a life due to his youth, however as the film progresses he becomes accustomed to killing and seemingly enjoys it. That gives the message of, you can’t show mercy to your enemy. However, the only reason he escaped was because of a young German soldier deciding not to report his hiding spot, aka showing mercy, which goes against the message I was interpreting earlier. Another confusing element was Pitt frequently tells Lerman he wants to show him something, but when he does, the reasons behind it are never given, and don’t appear to link up in any significant way.

The worst part of the film is this strange middle scene where Pitt and Lerman discover a duo of German women hiding in their home. The scene came across as very tense and potentially holding back rape, but then transitions into a strange display of “playing house” as one crewmate describes it. It lasts way too long, doesn’t appear to serve a purpose besides giving Lerman a love only to take her away in the very next scene, which could just play into the “war is hell” theme, but it did not need to be that long.

Fury is a good enough war film, and shows that World War II can still be used for drama in ways that differ from the boots on the ground perspective. However, the main cast is uninspired beyond Pitt’s unresolved breakdowns, and frequently the film attempted a message that I just did not understand. A predictable ending as well keeps me from considering this a worthwhile venture.

Illustrious Arena - Round 1: Resogun

Trevor and Steven take each other on to see who is the best at video games in this new video series. Each round the players will go through one game to see who is the best, whoever loses picks the next game, and whoever wins the best 3 out of 5 chooses a punishment for the loser.

This episode we play Resogun and talk about the recent renaissance fair in Vegas as well as a cute girl in Trevor’s college class.