The Evil Within proved to be one of 2014’s standout titles, and more importantly, was an emphatic reminder to the industry that traditional survival horror games can still exist in today’s market and prove commercially successful to boot. Helmed by Shinji Mikami, the creator of the multi-million selling Resident Evil franchise, its combination of macabre, blood-drenched environments, compelling narrative, and finely-tuned balance of combat and puzzles resulted in a gripping horror romp that is unlikely to be topped for quite some time. But has developer Tango Gameworks managed to successfully forge a worthy DLC follow-up in The Assignment?
Starring Juli Kidman, who partnered with Sebastian and Joseph briefly during the main campaign, The Assignment attempts to tell another story that runs parallel to Seb’s antics, as we find Kidman going through her own personal journey of intrigue and horror. Roughly three-and-a-half hours, The Assignment proves quite the paradigm shift however, with stealth pushed to the forefront seeing as how Juli is virtually unarmed throughout her entire journey, save for a trusty flashlight and her own wit. As such, you’ll be doing a lot of time sneaking about and luring enemies using your voice, so you can sneak past them.
Despite the fact I hardly utilized stealth in the main campaign, its implementation here is surprisingly solid. Sneaking around is simple using R1, while hitting Circle fits Kidman snugly against any possible cover spot. From here, you can peek out using the analogue stick, or lure enemies by hitting Square to shout out. It’s a simple yet very effective system, and seems to work much better than Seb’s adventure. Tango does shake things up a bit though, as you’re sometimes given bottle to lob near enemies distracting them, as well as axes used to stealth-kill foes in as single, bloody strike.
Pleasingly, the reliance on methodical stealth lends itself well to the game’s creepy atmosphere. You’ll sneak through a series of grotesque environments, all the while keeping a low profile as bloodied, axe-wielding foes shamble inches from your position; things get particularly tense during encounters with an inexorable foe with a searchlight for a head, who stalks you throughout Chapter 1. Hiding from this abomination in lockers provided some of the creepiest segments of The Assignment, and hearing Juli’s heartbeat and panicked breathing as your enemy lingers outside is a sheer pant-wetting moment. It’s also incredibly satisfying duping your enemies by lobbing bottles or shouting out to lure them away, allowing you to sneak past undetected; rarely did stealth reward this sense of accomplishment in the main campaign, especially considering your actions here were more limited than Juli’s.
You’ll also have to put your Thinking Cap on and solve environmental-based puzzles, which frequently punctuate enemy encounters and help keep the experience from getting stale. There’s also a boss fight of sorts, although it’s kind of a letdown as your opponent’s AI is horribly inadequate as he misses near point-blank range shots at you while you attempt to sneak up on him and axe him from behind. The fact he’s easy to hide from combined with the fact your health regenerates makes it all far too easy to defeat him.
Furthermore, I sometimes found it pretty annoying upon finding a melee weapon and being unable to wield it freely—as mentioned, they’re only used for stealth takedowns—which to me seems like an odd design decision and counter-intuitive. Surely, it would have been beneficial giving the players freedom to opt for stealth or straight-up combat during this segments, especially as the area you find the axes are populated by invisible enemies. Still, it’s a brief segment, and doesn’t outstay its welcome.
The Assignment is fairly narrative-driven, and there’s plenty of compelling drama unfolding as you continue your search for the mentally-unstable Leslie across Ruvik’s twisted, malevolent world. While The Evil Within’s dialogue was pretty hammy in places, things are much improved here, thanks largely to Kidman’s voice actress, Jennifer Carpenter, who delivers a brilliantly nuanced and believable performance. Whereas Juli wasn’t given enough time to shine in the main campaign, here she comes across as a far more compelling lead than Seb at times.
Admittedly, some areas don’t work quite as well; her mysterious boss at HQ is about as cliched as they come, even more so because he’s some bloke in a suite who you never have a proper glimpse at. The various files and recordings you’ll come across help flesh things out too, and there’s a few collectibles scattered throughout the environment, some of which can only be accessed by shining your flashlight to make hidden doors appear. Indeed, it rewards players to pay attention to their surroundings.
Visually, Assignment also provides a fine showcase for Mikami-san’s eye for environmental detail. As with the main event, the DLC’s areas are packing some superb art direction, even if they’re not going to make the PS4 sweat in terms of raw horsepower. The pacing is also spot on, with no area feeling tiresome; you’ll traverse spooky forests, blood-stained hospital corridors, grimey sewers, industrial complex and more throughout your journey, keeping things fresh in the process. Some you’ll recognise from Seb’s adventure, although it’s cool to see them from Juli’s point of view, as she’ll typically head down a different path. The locations are again complemented by a suitably creepy soundtrack that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Silent Hill game.
Wrapping things up, The Assignment is a brilliant slice of DLC that leaves plenty of questions going into the second part of Juli’s adventure, namely The Consequence. Its gripping combination of stealth and puzzles, fused with some truly creepy environments, ensures players are in for quite the spook fest and a nice change of pace in comparison to the main campaign. Despite a few niggles here and there, The Assignment is a worthy addition to The Evil Within’s nightmarish world.