A large portion of the horror genre is based on shock value. Where jump scares don’t work, horror stories often go to the weirdness well, mining terror out of sheer grotesqueness and/or gore. Occasionally, these efforts work spectacularly and deliver a setting or a character which is truly memorable.
If you’ve played the previous The Evil Within games, you’ll know about The Keeper. Even if you haven’t, you won’t forget the Keeper after you’ve played this one.
There’s a lot to like about The Keeper – he’s a tremendously formidable villain, and he just looks cool. I mean cool strictly in the unbelievably-frightening-yet-tremendously-fascinating sense. He has a box-head and walks around with a spiked hammer in one hand. And in the other, he carries around a bag filled with the spike-filled brains of his victims. So yeah, The Keeper isn’t exactly a picnic to be around.
In The Executioner, developers Tango Gameworks have abandoned the survival-horror mechanics of The Evil Within and created a DLC, which is a brutally violent first-person horror game. This is an odd choice, since stealth was such a huge part of what made the previous games work. The Executioner, while viscerally satisfying in places, is lacking the magic touch that made the previous games so good.
In The Executioner, you play as The Keeper – everyone’s favorite box-head. But you’re not a murderous force of pure evil. Instead, you are just a man who is trapped inside the body of The Keeper. Your real quest – to find your daughter within STEM, which is the consciousness-controlling program in The Evil Within’s eerie universe.
The Game Play:
The Executioner does a few things really well. Previous games in the serious crammed in exposition at inopportune moments, often bringing the gameplay to a grinding halt. The best part about The Keeper is that he’s silent. He doesn’t bother with lengthy monologues. This allows the story to breathe organically and puts the plot of the father searching for his daughter in the foreground, amplifying the emotional impact it has. The developers have done a fantastic job with this storyline, and you will reach for the tissues more than once.
While the story itself is great, the same can’t be said about your journey to find your daughter. It’s a lot of fun to play as a spiked-hammer wielding monster (thank you BioShock), but the game squanders its premise by putting you up against cannon fodder. None of your enemies really stand a chance against your hammer, and without a challenge, the three hours the main campaign lasts feel like a lot more
Even though The Executioner features plenty of boss battles, the way you fight doesn’t evolve over the course of the game. You see an enemy, bash its head in with your hammer or other weapon of choice, and move on to the next one. Even against the enemies who prompt you to try something different, the aforementioned head-bashing works wonderfully. To its credit, the game features a lot of unlockable weapons for you to unleash hell upon your enemies. The unlock system, more than anything else, brings some depth to the combat. A lot of the more interesting weapons are unfortunately unlocked too far into the campaign for you to have any real fun playing around with them.
The Evil Within has traditionally gleefully embraced the splatter and gore, and The Executioner ratchets things up to cartoonish levels. Does upgrading your weapons by scrimmaging through a chest filled with entrails sound fun? What about ripping your own head off in a single motion whenever you want to teleport? If you’re the kind of person who loves gory horror, you will love what Tango Gameworks has done here. Unfortunately, the actual gameplay doesn’t really live up to the setting.
There’s a lot of good things to be said about The Executioner. It allows you to abandon the crouching and hiding of the previous games in the series and go hammer-and-tongs (literally) on your enemies, laughing maniacally as you spill untold amounts of blood. The story is well-told and combined with the environment, lands a solid one-two gut punch. The combat itself unfortunately gets old really quickly. Without a sufficient degree of challenge, it feels like you’re just walking through a cinematic, pressing a few buttons here and there.
If you loved The Keeper (and let’s face it, of course you did), putting yourself into his shoes is a lot of fun. The Executioner is a curious departure from the ethos of The Evil Within, but it does have a few moments of brilliance. If you’re looking for a mindless gorefest where you get to kill things with spiked hammers and other deadly weapons, give this game a try. If you like your horror to be more cerebral and terrifying, check out the previous games in the series.
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