Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami and his sadistic-minded team at Tango Gameworks may have crafted a satisfying horror experience with the release of The Evil Within last year, but many fans were left deciphering its head-scratching conclusion in vain. Cue The Assignment, The Evil Within’s first batch of story-driven DLC purposely designed to answer many of the main game’s most pressing narrative questions – including the hidden agenda and motives of Sebastian’s mysterious partner Juli Kidman. Though in stark contrast to the full-fledged game’s more confrontational focus, The Assignment offers a stealth-heavy revisit into Mikami’s nightmarish universe that helps tie up the loose narrative threads left unresolved by The Evil Within’s nonsensical storyline.
Running concurrently with Sebastian Castellanos surreal journey, The Assignment follows in the high-heeled footprints of detective Juli Kidman as she searches for Leslie Withers – an escaped patient at Beacon Mental Institute – in a hellish, monster-infested world severed from reality. Told entirely from Kidman’s unique perspective, the DLC’s three-and-a-half-hour story unravels the truth behind her questionable connection to the shadowy Mobius organization, and her strange absence during a substantial portion of The Evil Within’s gruesome events. It’s an intriguing setup for a narrative, one that easily possesses the capability to stand on its own even despite its bite-sized duration. However, for those desperately seeking to fill in the Swiss cheese-like gaps left behind by the main game’s numerous plot holes, The Assignment does a remarkable job at satisfyingly explaining many of the important narrative details left untouched by the main storyline.
Whereas The Evil Within exhibited Juli Kidman as a painfully underdeveloped deuteragonist (seemingly designed only to help the exploits of protagonist Sebastian Castellanos), The Assignment drastically transforms her character tenfold. Thanks in part to a solid vocal performance delivered by Dexter’s own Jennifer Carpenter, the well-informed Kidman is a far more likable and reactive character than the gruff, decorated-detective-turned-alcoholic Sebastian Castellanos. Perhaps one of our biggest pet peeves with the main game’s revolver-wielding protagonist was his notoriously diluted reactions to the horrific events happening around him, so we’re particularly thankfully that Kidman’s responses to The Assignment’s relatively terrifying environments seem far more realistic and believable than Sebastian’s ever were.
Sebastian’s severe lack of emotion might have hurt the believability of his character, but at least he possessed the physical prowess and weapon arsenal to confront The Evil Within’s flesh-craving horde of monstrosities head-on. Aside from one scripted shooting sequence, Juli Kidman is unarmed and considerably more vulnerable than her fearless partner, relying instead on a non-upgradable stealth skillset in order to survive the horrors that lie before her. Kidman can peak out from behind cover and lure enemies with a quick shout, distract them with a well-thrown wine bottle, or even silently kill them by driving a hatchet straight into the back of their skull – though the latter option is only available mid-way through the game. And although most enemy types can brutally murder Kidman almost instantaneously if she’s unnecessarily reckless, she also possesses the ability to auto-heal, and doesn’t require the use of health syringes in order to stay alive.
There’s a reason why The Evil Within’s stealth mechanics were so polarizing among critics though – and why we personally fought tooth and nail to avoid using them altogether. First and foremost, there’s the sluggish, old school survival horror controls that, while tension-building and nostalgic in there own right, didn’t always lead to the most fluid movements when utilizing Sebastian’s stealth abilities. Unfortunately, The Assignment doesn’t fair much better in that aspect. Occasionally Kidman would get stuck to surfaces as we tried to maneuver her around them, or pop out of corners haphazardly during intense moments, leading to many frustrating and horrific deaths as a result.
It also doesn’t help that the enemy AI – which is a far cry from the sophistication and intelligence of Alien: Isolation’s life-like xenomorph – sometimes demonstrated infrequent behavioral patterns, ignoring you when you’re in their direct line of sight in some cases, or bum-rushing your hidden position from a distance in others. While the latter wasn’t necessarily a huge deal in The Evil Within, particularly because Sebastian possessed the arsenal of a one man army, in The Assignment the same scenario usually ends with an unceremonious death and a quick loading screen.
It’s not all bad though. For instance, one particularly memorable boss fight had us silently maneuvering past a new Silent Hill-esque, spotlight-headed creature who’s relentlessly searching for Leslie Withers. Having no qualms with slaughtering whatever stood in its way, we were tasked with strategically avoiding this bipedal abomination’s blinding, damage-dealing gaze as we hid and utilized makeshift electrical traps to thwart off its nearly unstoppable pursuit. With our heart-pounding, we narrowly escaped its hellish wraith via the safety of an elevator, and finally gained the welcome opportunity to catch our breath before our next enemy encounter snuck up on us.
When it all comes together perfectly, the avoidance of confrontation and the intelligent use of deadly traps transforms The Assignment’s gameplay into a beautifully sadistic puzzle game of sorts where one wrong move could lead to your gruesome demise. However, instances like those don’t always occur as often as they should within the game, making us miss the skin-of-your-teeth enemy conflicts and harrowing escapes of The Evil Within (features that are diminished due to The Assignment’s do-or-die focus) even more.
Sparingly implemented in between the DLC’s trial and error-infused stealth sections are light-based puzzles designed to break up the otherwise fairly straightforward gameplay. Using Kidman’s flashlight – which she receives early on in the game – works similar to using a black light to reveal invisible ink (in most cases). Holding your flashlight’s beam of light on a symbolized portion of the environment might uncover a hidden doorway, for example, or illuminating a hanging picture frame may reveal a safe’s combination code. Personally, we found puzzles that required completing fragmented symbols with well-placed shadows to be our favorite, especially since they demanded a bit more thought to uncover invisible doorways than just simply running your light over the designated area.
Outside of puzzle-solving, you can also utilize Kidman’s trusty flashlight to explore darkened environments or expose invisible enemy locations (an ability Sebastian desperately needed in The Evil Within’s later levels). In hindsight, we would have liked it if Tango Gameworks created a defense-based application for the flashlight, allowing players to perhaps blind or stun foes like Moira does in Resident Evil: Revelations 2. However, even despite the flashlight’s lack of diverse functionality, we still enjoyed how this clever mechanic’s use was sprinkled intelligently throughout the course of the game.
Similar to The Evil Within, The Assignment truly succeeds when it delivers tension-building moments that unforgivingly submerge you into the game’s twisted, unsettling atmosphere. It’s here that Mikami and his talented team’s expertise in psychological horror takes center stage, forcing poor souls to face their fears of the unknown in eerie environments like dissipated surgical wards and haunting graveyards. Echoes of distant footsteps, erratic screen distortions, and an all-encompassing underlit aesthetic help drastically sell the experience, and properly immerse you into the game’s deadly simulation as a result. As it turns out, these nerve-rattling stretches of downtime were our absolute favorite in The Assignment, with every abrupt noise and suspicious shadow causing us to cringe in pure anticipation for the unseen horrors lurking within the darkness.
As the first installment of a two-part, story-driven DLC, The Assignment stands as a key component to understanding the narrative framework initially established by The Evil Within. Though some bumps and bruises may keep this DLC from achieving its true potential, its well-worth the measly $10 admission price for its insightful story details and nerve-rattling atmosphere alone. With that said, we’re extremely hopeful that its follow-up – The Consequence – will improve upon the faults of its predecessor, and deliver fans the sort of fine-tuned horror experience they so desperately crave.