Written by Jonathan Wojcik
REVIEWING EVIL WITHIN II MONSTERS
After the first Evil Within experienced modest success with disappointingly mixed reviews, Bethesda got to work on a sequel that seemingly intended to polish the concepts introduced in the original, push the horror further and ramp up the weirdness. Did they succeeed? I don't know! Do the enemy designs succeed? We're going to find out! But first, a BIG FAT SPOILER FOR THE FIRST GAME, because this second game assumes we already know the twist.
Everything seen in The Evil Within is, in fact, a sort of massive shared dream-world generated by a machine called STEM, like a telepathic internet hub. Human minds can be hooked up to it via cable, pod, chip or wireless signal, falling into a coma state (I think) and "waking up" in what seems very much like the same world...until things start to go awry.
So, yes, this game series is essentially "The Matrix, but it's spooky," which some might find disappointing and even inane for the big reveal of a survival horror, but personally, I appreciate that they wanted to do something completely different from either biological body horror or purely supernatural horror. With all that in mind, let's get into these enemies and bosses...
Already, we see improvement over the first game's somewhat pedestrian "Haunted." While not all of "The Lost" have this terrifyingly deteriorated skull, they do all look to some degree or another like a wax figure that only just began to melt, a pretty horrific thing for a person to look like.
But what ARE they, exactly, if this is all a psychic simulation? Well, the STEM system is designed to use one human brain as the sort of "core" or main "server," but any psychological instabilities in that brain can manifest as a deterioration of the simulated reality and a corruption of the other minds hooked into it. Naturally, that central mind ends up belonging to a murderer in the first game and someone else with some serious problems in the second game, though the very nature of STEM seems to drive just about anyone bonkers; there's simply no avoiding a STEM world that slowly breaks down into a nightmare.
The Evil Within, in both titles, does fall into the trap of "mental illness" motifs for cheaply spooOOOooky shenanigans, though it does at least focus this more on the horror of bad psychiatric care itself. Thus, this non-melty but still wildly eerie variation on The Lost seems to be a reference to the obsolete concept of "hysteria" as a form of "madness" gripping only women. They're faster, more bestial and more brutal than the other Lost, but I think what's scarier than their glowing eyes and bloody claws is the way they look so neglected. They look the way somebody does when malnourishment and abuse ages them beyond their years.
This is basically a giant fire-elemental Lost created by one of the secondary villains, a cult leader plugged into STEM. A zombie that bleeds lava isn't too innovative, but it does show off that this Dream Machine setting allows for creatures that could otherwise only exist in a setting with full-blown magic.
This lost, or perhaps multiple Lost fused together, has morphed into a quadruped with gigantic, monstrous jaws, essentially behaving like a very big and very weird dog that can see in all directions. It's a really cool look for the game's obligatory feral beast enemy.
And now we're really getting somewhere! The textures on this thing are magnificently horrenous. I am loving the exposed globs of fatty tissue and clustered, hardened pores, not to mention how an entire human body is just kind of dangling through its torso. I really like that the nature of this setting means that this isn't a biological mutation, but a "glitch." A glitch in a system indistinguishable from reality, resulting in something that works all too much like a disease or a mutation.
This, though...this is my favorite. This is the good stuff. So good that I wish these were more the game's main focus. I'm only showing you one of several designs they come in, but trust me, they're all completely terrifying. No garish claws and fangs and barbed wire here; just a human body that's gotten dry and crusty and crumbly and looks absolutely as horrid as that could ever, ever possibly look. It's the physical representation of what it feels like to have dry, cracked skin and have to work in an extremely dusty environment. Best of all, they stand around like statues in a sort of limbo-zone untily you get close.
The raw "material" of things in the STEM world is a white goop referred to as "psychoplasm." The slimy Lost we've already seen are essentially breaking back down into the stuff, as though the simulation is reverting back to its raw code, in a sense, and the Albedo are the final conclusion of this process, or at least as far as it gets before complete and total collapse. Everything about this is horrifying, and I honestly didn't think I'd be able to find these beings horrifying after knowing they're not "truly real."
So far, the monsters we've looked at have been just kind of subtly, steadily better than the first game's "Haunted," but the Albedo were definitely something special, and from this point onward, the game's bestiary is just one hit after another. We've all seen monsters consisting of many fused, amalgamated bodies and we've seen it done in myriad ways, but I'm loving this one's arrangement and personality. Long-haired heads were chosen for only the top of the fusion, which gives the whole thing, to me, an impression like a shaggy, creepy tree. There's a kind of "cheesiness" to those heads that only enhances the creepiness, and one of its arms is a gigantic rotary saw. I don't see that many amalgamated-body-monsters that are also swift, murderous slasher types, and apparently the Lost will just take broken-down bodies and pile them up to BUILD one of these things.
This is another entity formed primarily from raw psychoplasm, and it is GORGEOUS. Look at those stretched-out ghostly mouths! And I really like how the thing is fused together with part of an electrical pole. That's actually not something I've ever really seen elsewhere, and it makes a really striking visual.
If I have a complaint, however, it's that we're still not seeing much that truly takes advantage of the "virtual dream world" aspect. This is the kind of oddball thing you might see in a nightmare, yes, but it's not as impossible a distortion of reality as it easily could be. These are SOLID designs we're getting into, but I'm not sure how well they fit the world that was written for them.
I want to say this is actually my favorite, but this last half of monsters we're getting into are all so radical for completely different reasons that it's kind of impossible to put them in any "top best" sort of order.
Obscura is the creation of another of our villains, this one a serial killer who's also an art photographer, and uses the STEM world to freeze-frame, replay or even infinitely loop his graphic murders of its inhabitants who, of course, die in real life. That probably goes without saying. Obscura's design seems like this game's replacement for the first game's object-headed enemies, and while aspects of it are pretty gauche and arguably a little tasteless, a tripodial Frankensteinian monster woman with an old fashioned camera for a head is just too damn cool. I might have critiqued the hell out of this if it were a later Silent Hill enemy, but I would probably still loved the basic concept even then, especially how that accordian-like part of the camera, whatever the hell that's called, works like a loooooooong retractable neck.
There's just something at once endearing and genuinely chilling about being stalked by a walking camera that can kill you with its flash, and to top it all off, this thing makes noises like it's in constant ecstacy. That may be gaudy and fetishistic, sure, but again...antique camera head. This combination of completely absurd and shamelessly edgy elements mingle like pineapple and pepperoni into something entirely new and different that not everybody's going to like, but I sure do, and you have to appreciate the personality in those animations!
But, wait...is THIS my favorite? This psychoplasmic guardian entity sort of just consists of whole rooms and tunnels slick with the unpleasantly white goop and half-formed heaps of slimy human body parts, but can rise up from the ooze like a sea monster to hunt for victims. The long, gnarled, gooey neck is very much my kind of aesthetic, and so are the many eyes clustered into only two sockets, but mostly, I'm all about that dangling, dripping lower face. Pretty big fan of that! I've been using it in some of my monsters since before even the first game, yet this is one of the few places I've seen it anywhere else.
It should be mentioned that the "raw psychoplasm" monsters are tied to yet another character, but it's a while before we find out exactly who it is in-game. The Watcher is perhaps their most powerful minion and next most immediate manifestation of their psyche after their own avatar, equivalent to camera guy's relationship with Obscura.
That we get to see the monsters manifested by different characters and that each has its own distinct look and feel is actually just the sort of thing I always wanted explored more by good old Silent Hill, so kudos to this team for going all the way! It's practically multiple different games worth of monsters and villains in one.
So with all that in mind, you can guess which bad guy is responsible for this one, can't you? The enormous camera-lens eyeball floats in the sky like an ominous moon, spying on your every move and attacking with gnarled, black tentacles if it catches you directly in its eerie, blue light; a pretty badass image, I have to say, though the surrounding hairy, black roots are looking a little familiar...
Despite being published by Bethesda, The Evil Within was created by a primarily Japanese team, especially director Shinji Mikami from Resident Evil. Anyone growing up in Japan would immediately recognize Backbeard here, the most formidable villain of Gegege no Kitaro in its every incarnation since at least the 1950's, to the point that there's really no conceivable way Aperture could have been designed without both realizing and embracing the similarity, a very cool and interesting cross-reference lost on most Western gamers.
Okay holy SHIT. From a still image alone, this has got to be one of the most chilling creatures I have ever seen from a video game. I don't usually find myself saying that about something that arguably relies on so much gross-out gore, but the stretched and bent proportions, the subtly melted flesh, the toothless howl of agony, the way it looks like it's been clawing grooves into its own waxy face...JESUS. They seriously got me with this one. This is a masterful design that wouldn't look out of place in a Junji Ito illustration...and that's before we even get into this freaking thing's animations and sound effects.
Good lord! Most monsters in most games only make the most generic snarls, hisses and shrieks. It's remarkably rare that I've heard pained, sickly gasps this effective, and then we see they're coming from something that looks as tortured as it sounds, spewing green gas and eventually puking acid our way. This is one of the most atmospherically effective monsters I've quite possibly ever seen in a modern game.
Finally, we have the game's end boss, and the prisoner of STEM responsible for the Psychoplasm monsters. Anything I can say about the plot would probably be a spoiler for those who ever want to play this one, but it's kind of a shame that this game is also an action shooter, because the emotional, dramatic mood of this final confrontation is only brought down by the Hollywood feel of taking a machine gun to her...it's like if someone finished off Eraserhead's baby with a boxing glove on a spring.
Both The Evil Within and The Evil Within 2 are rife with imperfections and some downright glaring flaws, and it seems unlikely there will ever be a third game or beyond...but they did try to do something new and interesting with a tired genre, and by the second installment, the art department had REALLY found its groove. Not only is this a better selection of enemies and bosses than the first game, but better than average for survival horror as a whole!
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