The Evil Within: The Executioner on PlayStation 4
The Evil Within was a sort of breath of fresh air when it released last October. It convinced many that survival horror was still a genre that could be done well. Its focus on setting, and messing with the minds and perceptions of players helped to put the game in the spotlight. Unfortunately, when its story DLCs began to release, many fans were left wanting.
The Assignment managed to deliver a much more fleshed out narrative than the base game, but its departure from the solid gameplay of The Evil Within was more of a detriment than a boon. The Consequence never seemed to get back on the right track, although it did manage to successfully close off Juli Kidman’s story. Tango Gameworks had hit a serious rough patch when it came to expanding on what made The Evil Within so great, and with one more story DLC promised, they yet again switched things up in an attempt to deliver something as refreshing as that game that released in October of last year. The question is, was it all for naught?
The Executioner is yet another expansion that refuses to place players back into the survival horror experience of The Evil Within‘s original release. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The developers are no longer forcing players into a stealth-focused experience where you must run and hide. This time, the perspective has been switched to first-person as you must fill the shoes of The Keeper. Who is The Keeper, you ask? Well, he’s that huge, lumbering behemoth with the safe on his head that was absolutely terrifying in the main game.
Playing as what was one of the more troublesome enemies in The Evil Within feels exactly as you’d expect. You are slow, but immensely powerful. The Executioner DLC will throw hordes of enemies at you, all to be crushed with ease as you swing your hammer, stomp on heads, and toss the little buggers like they were little more than dolls. It’s so different from what it is probably expected from this world that was so painstakingly created, that it is honestly a bit shocking at first. Not having to hide from the horrors lurking around the corner as you charge into battle comes with ease, but placing you in control of an unstoppable force can only get you so far.
After about an hour into the roughly 4 hour long expansion, the new combat grows to be a bit dull. There are only so many times you can watch a head explode before you just grow numb to the experience. There are boss fights thrown in to the mix, as well as different enemy types, but none of them seem to shake up the gameplay in ways that were probably intended. The gameplay has you swinging your weapon to find something in the room to weaken the boss, and then start swinging your weapon again.
The Executioner does have an upgrade system that provides players options for their overly violent approach. And while the act of shoving your huge hand into a safe full of blood and guts is a cool way of increasing your power, nothing on offer is really all that special. Yeah, there are new melee weapons you can purchase after defeating certain bosses, and some explosive goodies thrown in for good measure as well, but all that does is throw some slightly new paint on that monotonous action.
But, The Executioner isn’t only about the action. In a weird way, the developers have managed to deliver one of the strongest narratives available in the entire The Evil Within experience. The story here places you into the mind of a man trying to save his daughter who is trapped within STEM. In order to get to her you must defeat every other mind occupying the system, and reach her before she is transformed forever into one of the monstrosities players have come to know and fear. Through letters, files, and scattered memories, players are introduced to this young girl. Her plight becomes something real as she tells you about the other people trapped in STEM along with her, and how she must hide as she waits for you to rescue her from this hell. The use of a completely silent protagonist this time around also lends itself to the experience.
The player isn’t pulled out of the experience by The Executioner due to some need to have them go into a monologue at odd moments. Everything is provided through imagery and documentation, allowing the player to truly experience everything firsthand rather than have some disjointed voice explaining everything to you. It’s a method that works surprisingly well, and further proof that the developers sure know how to deliver a solid story, even with self-imposed limitations.
Even with the well-delivered story, there is one element that is missing from this expansion that cannot be ignored: fear. The Executioner is not a scary expansion, especially when compared to the main title and its two previous DLCs. There is no dread lurking in the dark, and the power granted to the player removes all sense of panic from encounters. The world is still dark and gloomy, and there are a few moments that will shock you (such as The Keeper removing his head to teleport past obstacles), but it has all lost that telltale coat of horror that permeated every little detail of The Evil Within.
It’s great that The Executioner introduces characters that you will care about, but the new gameplay focus comes at the cost of the overall survival horror experience. The fact that the mechanics in this final story expansion actually work well is a blessing. The frustrating camera, and lack of worthwhile action in Juli Kidman’s story are things of the past and we can all appreciate that. Yet, attempting to reinvent the wheel was the downfall of those expansions, and that holds true for this one as well.
The Executioner is fun. That is something that it definitely holds over the previous expansions, and the minimalistic approach to the story helps to keep players in the experience. But the lack of everything that made The Evil Within special cannot be overlooked. The urgency of The Keeper’s task is drowned out by the ease of the experience and utter lack of horror. Though the first-person action works well, it is once again too far of a departure from what fans fell in love with in the first place. That leaves The Executioner feeling more like a tacked on add-on than a true expansion. Fun, but better off as something separate from The Evil Within.