With Shinji Mikami at the helm, I was expecting The Evil Within to be survival horror at its finest.
That barely even scratches the surface of what this game is.
The Evil Within manages to redefine and reinvent the genre for the current age of gaming, making survival horror relevant again. Its definitely scary, but what’s most impressive — and a little surprising — is the psychological roller coaster you’re forced to endure.
Think Resident Evil meets Silent Hill with a whole lot of Eternal Darkness thrown in. That’s one way to make your mind want to fold in on itself. Oh, before I go on I want to say yes, I will be referencing Resident Evil a lot during this review and for that I make no apologies. This is, after all, the closest thing to a spiritual successor the franchise could ever possibly hope to have.
It’s so unsettling in many different ways, and the things that really get to you are almost never repeated. Like P.T., a lot of this comes from familiarity with areas you keep revisiting only to find something is slightly different. You develop a sense of expectation only to find the tiniest detail has changed and it completely messes with you. Nothing feels safe. Maybe it’s just a locked door that’s usually open, or the absence of a person that’s always in the same spot. It doesn’t matter how minor the change is because once you expect it, finding something missing makes you wonder why it’s no longer there.
The Evil Within plays just like Resident Evil 4 with a pretty decent stealth mechanic thrown in. Stealth seems to be a big part of most games these days and there are many examples of it being implemented poorly. Thankfully that’s not the case here, because if the stealth didn’t work, you would be burning through more precious ammunition than the game would care to supply you with. Running out of ammo is not fun; this lesson is one I learned very early, and as such started expanding how much I could carry alongside the most important stat in the game: stamina. Unless your playing through on new game plus with a few bonus weapons, you’re going to be doing a lot of running.
Even after completing the game, I’m not completely sure I could explain The Evil Within‘s story. That may sound like a bad thing, but somehow it doesn’t matter all that much. Yes, there is a narrative but it’s so twisted and convoluted it takes a back seat for other parts of the game, letting them take the reigns instead. Nothing is spelled out for you and this makes a lot of sense given not only the setting of the game but also because the main character, Sebastian Castellanos, is a detective. Slowly throughout the game you will find clues to what’s going on through newspaper articles and missing person reports.
The dialogue helps piece it all together but doesn’t offer all that much of an insight to who Sebastian is. Character development comes almost entirely through reading passages of Sebastian’s journal and the occasional police report. He doesn’t even speak much while he’s exploring; if another character is present they will discuss what to do or which way to go.
When Sebastian — or Seb, as his mates call him — is flying solo, he’s a very quiet man. Even with all the insanity around him, he doesn’t comment on it as often as you would expect. I’m always complaining about protagonists talking to themselves in video games because it just doesn’t seem like something most people would do, but if you take that away you definitely notice it’s missing. I assume that’s the point; it’s kind of creepy.
As expected, the various enemies range from just scary bad guys to full-on nightmarish beasts. The boss fights in particular give an in-depth look into just how messed up those in The Evil Within‘s art department really are. One of the enemies will one hit kill you on contact by pummeling your face into the pavement until there is little left but a bloody brain filled fountain of mess. Said enemy will then proceed to bathe its long flowing hair in your blood. That actually happens! That was the moment I dropped my controller and had to walk away for a few minutes before building up the courage to delve back in to the freakshow I was playing.
Its uncanny how well The Evil Within gets under your skin. It’s not just the enemies that may make you feel a little squeamish; the level design also does it’s best to put you off your food. Sometimes sections of walls will be made of bleeding organs, or you’ll have to participate in a lobotomy on a fully awake, blinking severed head. Crucially, it’s not the gore that drives the game. It holds its own with a few gory moments thrown in but the gameplay, coupled with increasingly building fear, are always the controlling factors.
With anything even slightly scary, sound will always play a big role in delivering the fear the game is trying to create. The Evil Within is no exception to this rule with its amazing sound design only making things that much more frightening… and sometimes disturbingly hilarious. I am of course referring to the sickening squelchy noises synonymous with borderline hyper-violence. I can’t help but think the foley team must have thoroughly enjoyed themselves while destroying all manner of melons for the crunchy splattering sounds of body parts leaving other body parts permanently.
Combine the talents of the sound team with the impressive variety of locations Sebastian explores and a macabre world begins to come to life. Semi-flooded cave systems, medieval churches and decrepit modern day hotels are just a few examples of the vivid and ever-changing scenery. This is a cross-gen game, and it looks cross-gen; the design of the environments really try hard to cover this up. In short, its not ugly but it sure doesn’t look like a current-gen game.
The Evil Within is cold and calculating; everything in it is there for a reason. Nine times out of ten that reason is to forcefully remove you from your comfort zone. With so much going on to trample your psyche, it offers a small but important way to combat the madness. Divided into chapters, The Evil Within is clearly made to play in a small chunks, and that brings me to my only real problem with the game.
It’s just a little too long. I’m not complaining about content — usually, I find a long game is something to celebrate as you get that much more game to play. This isn’t about getting bang for your buck, but rather, pacing. I know I’m nitpicking a little, but if everything wrapped up a few chapters earlier it would have had a much bigger impact.
Trying to keep the psychological trauma it forces on you for 15 hours just isn’t possible. Towards the end of the game you start to become desensitized. Not only that but the latter chapters start to focus more on combat and stealth rather than fear allowing you to comfortably play without the terror it has worked so hard to instill.
The Evil Within is incredible example of going above and beyond expectations. Living up to hype is always a difficult task and it’s particularly hard in this case because The Evil Within falls somewhere between the categories of a Resident Evil reboot while still remaining to be a completely separate and new IP. If you’re looking forward to The Evil Within as a Resident Evil fan you’re unlikely to disappointed. It’s the same if you’re coming into the game fresh without expectations. Still, be warned: The Evil Within is a mind-bending experience.
The Evil Within