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THE ART OF THE EVIL WITHIN Review: A Visual Descent into Madness

As a genre, survival-horror hasn’t exactly enjoyed any major releases. But with the recent success of indie titles like OutlastAmnesia: The Dark Descent, and P.T. that seems to be changing. One only needs to see the recent release of SEGA’s Alien: Isolation to understand that the big developers are seeing the viability of the genre.

In 2010, Bethesda, publishers of The Elder Scrolls series, began financing Tango Gameworks’ “Project Zwei“–or The Evil Within as it came to be known–which was being developed under Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami who promises to bring the essence of survival horror to this new title. Yet, Shinji is only one man with a vision but with the help of a talented art division, he can finally see that dream become reality.

The world of The Evil Within is a dark, gruesome, and putrid one, a game that very much oozes visual terror. As Dark Horse‘s latest installment in their long line of video game art books, The Art of The Evil Within is a visual descent into madness as you explore beyond the scope of normality into the very depths of utter and complete depravity.

Character Design: Survivors, NPCs, and General Evilness

The book begins simply enough with Sebastian Castellanos, police officer and undercover male model, who looks and feels like typical white-male protagonist. Despite his rather white-breadesque feel, Sebastian feels like a mix of L.A. Noire and Resident Evil. Of the 55 pages devoted to this broad cast of characters, eight are solely dedicated to the stylistic evolution of Sebastian with still images of the character throughout the development cycle.

This is arguably where the book takes on its more sinister content: the blood-slicked creatures and deranged monstrosities that inhabit this nightmare realm intent on maiming/murdering/slaughtering you in every possible way. As the design team put it: “intentionally using established designs is a foolproof way to get horror across to the audience.”

The Evil Within ‘s shambling horrors strike as something of an amalgamation of Resident Evil, F.E.A.R., and Silent Hill. In fact, one of the major bosses of the game, the Keeper–affectionately named ‘boxman’ by the developers–bears a rather striking resemblance to a certain pyramidal-headed masochist.

This sort of model had been taken to heart throughout the book: a short and brief character synopsis followed by multiple pages of detailed outfit designs with a few 3D models sprinkled here and there beautifully rendered in an intensely realistic manner.

There isn’t really much to the character section of this book, but it is rather interesting seeing how this wide range of characters–from typical white-male protagonist to creepy nurse merchant NPC–have evolved into their spectacularly detailed finished products. But there was always that sense more was going on here.

Flipping through the book, a pattern began to appear. It seems that each new character is presented in a descending order of insanity and depravity. The blood becomes more and more noticeable and become more detached from our perceptions of normality into the realm of horror. One girl even emulates an older Alma Wade from F.E.A.R. with the long, pitch-black hair contrasting vividly against her bright red school-dress.

The book does a good job at upping the creepiness factor on some of its characters–the charred deformed body of main antagonist Ruvik was especially traumatizing–as well as giving a glimpse into the developmental evolution of some of them.

The game itself seems pretty liberal with its usage of established designs, seen one misshapen horror of a girl peeking out from beneath a matted head of long, coarse black hair seen ’em all. Yet, despite the familiar nature of many of these villains, whether they be box-headed or terrifically mangled, there’s a certain madness to the twisted hulking masses of flesh as if they attest to an almost deeper, more despotic terror lurking beneath.

The ‘mental disorder’ card is played a lot throughout the enemy design chapter, in fact some are even tailored specifically to reflect the baser mentality of our main antagonist (‘boxman’, himself, is supposed to represent some deep dark awful secret that he had wanted to hide).

I wouldn’t exactly go so far as to call these twisted products of science gone awry ‘spectacularly gorgeous’ but the art book does a very good job at displaying the development team’s evolution of these twisted deformities through visual sketches, realistically vibrant CG images, and professional-grade artwork. Although a terrifying reminder of the horrors that lie deep in The Evil Within, one can appreciate the twisted depraved atmosphere of it all.

Source: ene3.pt

Source: ene3.pt

Environments: So Alone in this Wide, Open World

In the genre of horror, placement is key to any good scare. Take the Silent Hill franchise, for example, no sunshine set against a vibrant green field for them. No, it’s the wide spectrum of grays and browns set to an eerie listless fog that hung about the town of Silent Hill like a smothering blanket for them. From the wide array of locations, the atmosphere was particularly apprehensive.

As if taking a cue from the previous chapter, the atmosphere draws a lot from games like OutlastResident Evil, and Silent Hill. Right down to a familiar looking mental asylum that evokes Mount Massive Asylum from this aforementioned Outlast. From then on, this sense of familiarity permeates the rest of the game with it touching upon many typical survival-horror environments (i.e. an abandoned camp in the woods, some rustic European town-stead a la Resident Evil 4, and lastly Krimson City, a place that might as well have been named ‘The Raccoon City of Nightmare Horrible Land’.

Although nothing new for any seasoned fan of the survival-horror genre, this section of the book is arguably where The Evil Within shines. The jagged architecture and expertly finished designs do a good job at conveying the sheer animosity of the world towards you and much like the monsters of this nightmarish land they are meant to reflect the darker aspects of our main antagonist’s madness.

There was an overbearing sense of loneliness purveying the scenery. There weren’t shambling horrors chasing after him, the character simply stood alone before the twisted structure that lie before him, dwarfed by the sheer massiveness of it all. You are alone and you are nothing, the exact type of mentality to appreciate a survival-horror game.

Overall

All in all, Shinji Mikami and the talented developers of Tango Gameworks have done an amazing job conveying the sheer terror and dread that The Evil Within is capable of, much to my chagrin. As someone who’s been looking forward to the game’s release for a while now, I fear the thought of facing those shambling flesh-monsters alone with one round of ammo left on me.

Not something to read before bed, The Art of The Evil Within certainly draws a lot of inspiration from those classical behemoths of the survival-horror genre and even though the content of its pages may not have been presented in the best way it still does its job in terms of eye-opening imagery and gut-wrenching apprehensiveness.

So congratulations, The Art of The Evil Within. Through your visual beauty and stunningly rendered images you have effectively shown us why we should fear the world of The Evil Within rather than look forward to it.

The Art of The Evil Within is available from Dark Horse Comics

4 out of 5 stars

4 out of 5 stars

Cover image via

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Categories: Book Reviews

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