When The Evil Within was announced and that Shinji Mikami would be at the helm you couldn’t help but get slightly excited. He was part of the teams that brought us Dino Crisis, Devil May Cry and Shadows of the Damned and had a hand in all the Resident Evil games, leaving just before the series went tits up with number 5. It’s the Resident Evil series where The Evil Within takes most of its influence from. In fact many ways this is probably what many Resident Evil fans envisioned number 5 would turn out to be after the masterpiece that was number 4. This is the true spiritual successor to the Resident Evil series.
Straight from the off we’re given a good dose of cheesy B-movie horror acting as Detective Sebastian Castellanos and his team are called to a massacre. Within minutes you’re knocked out and strung up in an abattoir, you escape only to find yourself in a desperate cat and mouse chase with a butcher wielding a chain-saw. Your leg is grazed by the chainsaw impeding you movement forcing you to hobble for your life before narrowly avoiding a human size meat grinder and sliding down an escape hatch into a giant vat of blood. With this opening it quickly becomes apparent what The Evil Within is all about, desperation and blood! Shit loads of blood.
The game mechanics scream Resident Evil 4 with the over the shoulder 3rd person view and controlling Sebastian feels as like you’re playing as Leon Kennedy once again. The weapons are very satisfying to handle and with a well placed shot you can paint the walls with large chunks of brain matter and lashings of blood. The weapons are a fairly standard affair, you have your trusty revolver to start with but you’ll find shotguns, sniper rifles and the crossbow as you progress. For completing the game you’re rewarded with a machine gun and rocket launcher but I have yet to see how those handle. Enemies come in all shapes and sizes and vary from low level grunts called the Haunted to chainsaw wielding Sadists to the well advertised Keeper (box head to the lesser informed). All the enemies seem to be borrowed ideas from other games though only with The Evil Within’s wicked spin on them.
Most of the sense of dread comes from the lack of ammunition especially when playing on the harder difficulties. Conserving ammo and desperately trying to keep your health bar topped up make battles with enemies feel tense and forces you to think strategy rather then all out war. Speaking of strategy the game throws in the occasional stealth section for good measure which helps the games pace move along nicely and stops the game from getting stale. Sneaking up behind certain enemies allows you to one hit kill them and helps not only conserve your ammo but stops you from taking on the masses all at once.
Graphically the game is pleasing to the eye and is presented in an old school grainy b-movie look and plays out entirely in widescreen. There is a lot of attention to detail which creates a world filled to the brim with grime, blood and barb wire. As you go through the game the asylum which becomes your safe haven and over time deteriorates, from simple paint peeling off the walls to large chunks of the building crumbling around you. Some of the locales are beautifully realised but they are so few and far between. You also don’t get to spend enough time in these places to explore and really take it all in.
The Evil Within revels in taking you on a ludicrously grotesque journey which at times is just too bizarre to even make sense of
By teleporting through mirrors which are dotted about the game world, Sebastian is transported to a mental asylum where he is the only patient. Here Sebastian is able to upgrade various his abilities (health/sprint length), gun efficiency and ammo capacity. If you’re lucky enough to find them there are keys to be sought out which can be used in the morgue. Rather then housing the dead this morgue contain items to aid you, such as ammo or green xp gel. At certain points the game will dump you here to move the story along and present you with newspaper clippings that give you a back story on some of the games characters and locations.
The Evil Within revels in taking you on a ludicrously grotesque journey which at times is just too bizarre to even make sense of. You never get an explanation of what’s going on at the beginning, you just sort of go with the flow trying to survive against the undead masses and occasional abomination. As for story structure you kind of have to throw that out of the window. The game throws you about from scenario to scenario without a moments notice, one minute you are in a mental asylum battling invisible enemies and the next you’re floating about in a church (yes you read that right). It is a shame really because what starts out as genuinely intriguing psychological horror becomes a bloated mess.
The bosses can be a pain in the arse though especially when you are given little to no notice that you are about to face one. A couple of them will irritate you as you are forced to play them over and over again as you try work out how to defeat them with what little ammo you have. It also feels at some points that the game unfairly kills the player with well hidden traps or overpowered boss sections.
One chapter was particularly irritating for me which had the main antagonist Ruvik, a hooded spirit with psychokinetic powers and a knack for dodging bullets, stalk me several times. All you can do is run for your life and prey that you don’t get caught because if you are then you are dead with a single blow. What makes this more infuriating is that right before this encounter you are urged to follow Ruvik and aren’t informed that the rules of engagement have changed.
All this is not aided by the somewhat lax checkpoint system which at points forces you unfairly to restart a section and removes the tension you begin to feel and replaces it with frustration. It’s especially annoying when you have been a busy little bee and gone round collecting everything in sight only for it all to be wiped out by an overpowered boss.
It may lack the scare factor seen in games likes of Outlast or the upcoming Silent Hills but for the most part, barring some old clichés and a convoluted story, The Evil Within harks back to that old school survival horror fans made famous by Silent Hill and Resident Evil. What Mikami and Tango Gameworks have created is a game that feels like a more gruesome version of Resident Evil 4. Hopefully there will be a sequel and with it the series will be able to stand on its own two feet as it has the potential to be a great survival horror series.