Survival horror, as a genre, has found itself in an odd place these days. Most games either lean towards action in a horror setting or emphasize survival in an expansive world. The Evil Within attempts to call the genre back to its roots and, as Tango Gameworks and Shinji Mikami are helming the project, there’s a lot of hopefuls who believe the game is an answer to that call. Players want a good balance between the two words that compromise the genre, a game that can provide a sense of powerlessness and power within the same game. The Evil Within is an answer to that call and its terrific wail is music to the my ears.
Aesthetics (Story, Graphics, Sound)
The Evil Within puts you in the shoes of Detective Sebastian Castellanos as you traverse through a nightmarish, Silent Hill-esque world. From the moment the first cutscene begins, the game’s narrative problems start to show through: the main cast is composed of archetypes devoid of depth and dialogue. Sebastian, for example, is the gruff, steeled detective who enjoys making the occasional dark, sarcastic quip and that’s as complex as he gets. These two-dimensional characters are put through the paces in a story that is as uninteresting as they are, but together they sometimes set up a nice set piece or show a nugget of human emotion in a quick reaction. What The Evil Within’s story feels like is a vehicle for the setting, an excuse to put the player through the survival horror motions rather than be an actual complex, engaging piece of storytelling meant to stand on its own. But the flaws of the narrative didn’t really impact the game’s overall gameplay experience; it wasn’t horrible to the point of being unbearable but it’s not exactly captivating either.
Though where the story and the characters fail, The Evil Within’s atmosphere stays surprisingly strong. The two elements are closely tied together — breaking the immersion of one can have a significant impact on the other. Yet as I crept through derelict villages and psychiatric wards, the game’s ability to impose an unnerving sense of dread never wavered. This, I’d argue, was thanks to the impressive lighting, objects and sound design featured in each setting, whether it be a few shards of glass crackling under your feet or each door creaking open slowly (a nod to the old Resident Evil titles I was more than glad to see return). Graphics, however, weren’t as great as they could have been, particularly in the detail of the textures which were poorly upscaled for the PS4 version, but this too did not break the atmosphere. Eerie, frightening, crushing — all of these were so palpable with each room I entered.
One last thing in terms of aesthetics that I feel needs to be addressed is the gore. The Evil Within’s mature rating is no joke as the player is presented with guts galore and ghastly monsters that, while effective in their design, seemed a bit excessive. It feels like the game is trying to hard to gross out the player and seems to revel in its grotesque portrayals. Now, I’m not a proponent of no gore or restrained violence; like many things in this world, there is a time, place and degree for everything. However, The Evil Within seems to be trying to shove it in the player’s face every chance it can get and it does become a bit stale, along with the jump scares.
Gameplay (Combat, Systems, Mechanics)
If you’re a fan of Resident Evil 4, you’re going to love The Evil Within’s gameplay, which is no surprise since they share a creator. Shinji Mikami proves once again that he knows the survival horror genre inside and out and implements a ton of fan favorite mechanics. The Evil Within meticulously switches between fast paced monster killing and slow-paced, sneak/hide sections. It controls splendidly and the camera never seemed to be an issue, although its proximity to the character could be a bit more distanced. Overall, the core combat is amazing and wholly captivating; it’s enjoyable and keeps on delivering with each new chapter and each new weapon.
Weapons, weapons, weapons — The Evil Within has got them and their use in the game is brilliant. While they don’t necessarily make you feel overpowered, they do pack a punch and allow you to hold your own against each ghoul. Where it shines is in its balance within the context of the game. My favorite example so far is when you find your first large-scale weapon; for me, I found the shotgun first. The inconvenience of the pistol put me on the run, scampering around for a place to hide when bam, shotgun saved my life. There’s a lot of moments like that in this game, a lot of close calls and invulnerable enemies that emphasize the balance of combat and relief of finding scarce amounts of ammo.
Again, like Resident Evil 4, The Evil Within also features a character and weapon upgrade system. It’s pretty standard as far as upgrade systems go: collect points out in the world and spend them on improvements in the safe haven. Though it’s a small system in relation to the core combat, it’s a nice touch that adds a collectible component to the game and keeps you exploring the world more and more.
For those of you who are familiar with my reviews, a score of 8.8 may seem like an odd rating. I generally try to stay on values of five, but The Evil Within had me riding on the fence between an 8.5 and a 9. The difficulty and the consistent enjoyment derived from the gameplay, accentuated by a fantastic atmosphere which instilled dread at every locale, easily warrants the title a score higher than 8.5; The Evil Within exemplifies the ideal survival horror game (in terms of mechanics) and executes it with terrifying precision. However, the bland characters and subpar narrative/writing withholds me from giving the game an excellent rating of 9 as The Evil Within survives on gameplay alone. I’d recommend The Evil Within to not just anyone who wants a good horror game, but especially to those who miss the survival horror games of the past.
Final Score: 8.8 / 10
Written and Edited by Tim Atwood