The Evil Within is a new survival horror game by legendary developer Shinji Mikami or for those that don’t know him by name, the father of Resident Evil. Since the game was first announced there has been a lot of interest in what Shinji Mikami would do next. Along the road to launch he has mentioned numerous times that he wanted to create a game with a “classic horror” feel and one that is truly terrifying. Unfortunately he only really seemed to hit one of his core requirements.
Horror and survival horror games historically have used their story to induce another level of torment to the gamer. Often the details are unclear, and you wonder why you are in a particularly creepy fog engulfed location ala Silent Hill. The narrative gradually develops to a point where you really feel part of the story and care about what happens to your character.
In The Evil Within you start your adventure as Sebastian Castellanos, a detective who seems like he has seen a few things in his time. You are sent to investigate a disturbance at a mental hospital and discover something truly horrible has happened to your brothers in arms. This opening scene sets you up for something spectacular. Furthermore, other events within the opening really get you excited about what The Evil Within is going to throw at you. Your first 15 minutes of gaming are tense and confusing in all the most fantastic ways and then nothing, absolutely nothing for a long time.
The Evil Within seems content with letting you meander through 5 or so chapters (around a third of the overall game) without giving you any reason as to what you are doing or what you are facing. There are plenty of throw backs to the opening scene but after three or four times you don’t really care. You want to know who the enemies are, why you are doing what you are doing and why you should care about any of this. Context is everything in horror and because of this it really doesn’t feel scary.
Thankfully the narrative does pick up, unfortunately by the time it does you hardly care and maybe because you have lost all interest it seems to be a mess of confusion. I was taking notes while playing like I do with every review and there are so many question marks and the word “why” written in big letters. This doesn’t bode well, I suggest maybe having some sort of online reference open with the story time line and events written out to get the maximum out of the game.
The Evil Within is at times a very good looking game. The grotesque detail in some of the environments look like where nightmares are born. The game takes you to a variety of locations and not once was I disappointed in what was presented to me. The lighting effects are brilliant, the way that light is used throughout the game is clever and charming and of course terrifying. Enemies have a good amount of detail even if some do look very similar to each other. The games bosses are where the character design and detail really are a cut above. You will see blood dripping off chainsaws or wet slimy hair from some horrible creature whip back and forward. Even if you are playing on an older gen console you will see some things that make you smile, although the PS4, Xbox One and PC versions look a lot better and take advantage of the hardware. One thing that might annoy some people is that on the console versions there is letterboxing that cannot be turned off. It might not sound like a big deal, but you always feel like you are not seeing something really important because the intruding black bars on the top and bottom of the screen.
If the effort made on the visuals can be described as solid, then the voice acting is weak at best. I am not sure if the reason for this is because of poor translation, poor voice actors, a poor script or a combination of both. It makes memories of the Jill Sandwich come flooding back, just when we all thought we had moved on from such atrocities.
On the other hand, if we look at the sound design excluding the voice acting, The Evil Within Shines. When you are out of breath you can hear yourself panting, enemies give off distinct shrills and groans which up the tension throughout and the games audio queues are well placed and sound great.
As soon as you are given control of the gameplay those that have played any of Resident Evil 4 will feel at home. Your view is a close up third person, over the shoulder affair and except when you are in close quarters or with many enemies it works fine. This viewpoint really breaks down when you are in a small room and you are trying to take out or avoid an enemy or group of enemies. It is sometimes too easy to get disorientated and that can severely cost you.
This is survival, there is no questioning that. The art of resource management is alive and well in The Evil Within. You are encouraged to treat every bullet like it is your last and every health item like your life will depend on it. For anyone who has played either Resident Evil 5 or 6 this will take some getting used to as they both handed out ammo like it was diabetes at Krispy Kream. For survival horror purists this will be magical, there is no better feeling than being down to your last bullet, facing a room of enemies then somehow finding a clever way out of the situation. It makes you tense, you can feel your heart rate rising and you feel alive in those moments.
Boss battles feel wonderful and a little tedious at the same time. You honestly feel like you are up against some truly formidable foes and that the odds are very much stacked against you. You quickly realise though that the bosses are simply just bullet sponges and battles with them can last way too long. You will often feel tense during these battles because you have been fighting for so long that if you die you know it will all need to be done again. Although I don’t think there was a boss battle where tension wasn’t felt one way or another.
Upgrades are handled in a rather clever way, you are transported through mirrors to a hub world. This other worldly place allows you to save, see the progress of different collectibles and upgrade your various stats and weapons with the green goo you find littered around the levels as you play. Upgrading is essential and feels very natural in the way it is handled. You will often have internal battles with your own mind on what your upgrade goo should be spent on. Like ammo, goo is hard to come by and a precious resource in it’s own right.
Nearly every moment of The Evil Within is filled with tension. For this reason, I find it hard to imagine that most people will be able to sit and play for hours at a time. The developers seemed to be aware of this and have delivered the game in a stress reducing chapter format. The chapters are a great break and give you a chance to go away, relax and come back after you have had some tea.