The Evil Within wasn't great, but Resident Evil: Revelations 2 and Five Nights at Freddy's 3 have put me in a horror mood, and the first DLC is out. What I found was shocking: you save by petting a cat! Okay, fine, what's actually shocking is the game takes away all your dang guns!
The Assignment takes place at the same time as the main game, but from Juli Kidman's perspective. (As much as you and I might want to write her name as Julie Kidman, there's no e in her name. I double checked!) Though Kidman was Sebastian Castellanos' partner in The Evil Within, it was eventually revealed she had ulterior motives. The Assignment explores why.
Have you forgotten what happened in The Evil Within? You're not alone. It's a doozy.
Castellanos, Kidman, and Joseph Oda are investigating a series of murders at Beacon Mental Hospital when they meet a hooded man named Ruvik. The trio are pulled into a world where Ruvik can manipulate reality. They encounter a patient, Leslie, who can escape Ruvik's power. As a child, Ruvik was burned in a fire that also killed his sister. He later murdered his parents, inherited their fortune, and bribed Beacon into providing subjects for his experiments into the human psyche. The result of his work is STEM, a program that unites multiple minds into a single experience. Ruvik was working with a doctor who betrayed him for a mysterious group called The Organization, and Ruvik's battered mind soon became the primary subject. While the group is eventually able to shatter and escape the reality Ruvik's created for them, the end of the game suggests Ruvik was able to smuggle himself into Leslie and escape to the real world.
You might expect The Assignment to build on The Evil Within's foundation, but it goes in a totally different direction. I'm reminded of this quote from Borderlands 2 writer Anthony Burch from the Game Developers Conference this year, in which he talked about creating DLC:
"You're on your second date, now you get to do the weird shit. And the weird shit is really fun. You can be weird, you can be more yourself, you can be a little bit odder, and a little more self-indulgent because the player will really enjoy it more because they already like who you are. And not only that, it's really really fun to make."
The Assignment is weird shit.
It remains trendy for horror games to ditch guns, but The Evil Within was full of 'em! The game mixed stealth and shooting in equal measure, asking players to swap tactics based on environmental layouts and how many bullets were left in the magazine. Even being stealthy, you were often confronting creatures around you, hoping to take them out with traps and knives.
The Assignment ditches all of that. It's all stealth. One hour in, I have zero access to weapons.
When I played The Evil Within, stealth was never my preference. The controls always felt a bit clunky, and I vastly preferred whipping out a shotgun and making sure whatever came at me stayed down. Because the game's ammo count was so low, though, stealth was a necessity.
To compensate, developer Tango Gameworks came up with new abilities. While it was possible to take cover in The Evil Within, now you're able to briefly shout with the click of a button. The enemies are easily distracted, so yelling will briefly disrupt them from zombie patrol and give you a chance to move forward. Shouting can be combined with tossing bottles and ringing telephones to send them sprinting in different directions. Sometimes, they'll wander into a room with a lock in the front, letting you permanently remove them from your danger zone.
I'm mostly trying to stay away from this creepy thing for the time being.
It's a curious dynamic with a dose of novelty in its first hour. It's unclear how well this will hold up over the course of the game's two chapters, but it's fascinating to see the designers adapt The Evil Within for a completely different style of gameplay. Often, games try to accommodate players who'd prefer stealth or action approaches. Here, the game simply doubles down on it.
Whether The Assignment holds up depends how strict the stealth is. Without a gun, when the player makes a mistake and gets caught, there aren't many options. You can run away, hide in a locker, run away, and hide in a locker. In my experience, the enemies quickly move back to mindlessly patrolling when Kidman gains a little distance from whoever's been chasing her.
The Assignment has a few other wrinkles, too, such as puzzles reliant on Kidman's flashlight.
When I floated over to the Steam forums to figure out how long The Assignment might be (around three hours, apparently), I wasn't surprised to find some folks upset at the changes:
This isn't a surprising reaction, nor do I blame them! A stealth add-on that tosses out the gameplay dynamics of The Evil Within wasn't what I was expecting, either. As someone who was looking for Tango Gameworks to do something different, though, it's a welcomed change.
If you'd like to watch me play through the first hour or so, have at it: