Game Review: The Evil Within
By Andreas Charalambous - 16th October 2014
Of course, at that moment, we were only just getting acquainted with the gruesome package that is The Evil Within. This review allows us to reflect on the entire game experience, but – just as was exclaimed in our ‘first impression’ tweet – “Wow” is still a good word to use.
This review begins by referencing a tweet that was posted on our official Twitter account when we first got our hands on The Evil Within.
After many hours of gameplay, I have been chased, beaten, sliced into pieces, decapitated, had my head crushed and intestines strewn across the floor, and been blown to pieces. This variety of gory deaths suggests that this is quite a challenging game (in this instance, played on standard ‘Survival’ mode).
Yes, it is challenging in places and often frustrating when you find yourself failing at the same point (checkpoints are scarce), but ultimately, I have always wanted to dive straight back in and experience more. This is what a great survival horror game should do, and who better to take the reigns with The Evil Within, than survival horror veteran, Shinji Mikami – whose previous foray into the survival horror genre, was the iconic Resident Evil 4.
Although certain elements of Resident Evil 4 are present, especially in the earlier chapters (and this is not necessarily a bad thing, either), Mikami and his new development studio Tango Gameworks have created such a bleak and tense experience with this title.
The narrative is not particularly original for this type of game. The Evil Within begins with an investigation of what appears to be a multiple murder at Beacon Mental Hospital in the fictional Krimson City. You soon discover that things are not as they seem. You control Detective Sebastian Castellanos, who comes across as the cool and often emotionless type – I say emotionless, as often you will find yourself in terrifying situations and Castellanos would just utter a casual line of dialogue, when he should be screaming and swearing his lungs out!
The one thing that The Evil Within most definitely isn’t, is subtle. This is just about as ‘in-your-face’ as survival horror games get. The clichés are evident – meat lockers, flies buzzing around rotten carcasses, and fluorescent tube lights blinking in grimy tiled rooms – to add to the unnerving atmosphere that Tango have squeezed into 15 brutal chapters. Add to this, a variety of locations – the mental hospital, creepy village, and spooky cemetery, just to name a few – and excellent lighting and sound design, you are sucked straight into this dark atmospheric world.
As with many survival horror games in the past, the camera angle is quite close and claustrophobic. So claustrophobic in fact, that there were many occasions when I would hear the distant groans of enemies shuffling about out there in the level somewhere and either begin a mad panicked sweep of the camera control to see where this enemy is coming from as I brace for an attack, or once the location of said enemy is roughly identified, be too full of dread to actually want to travel towards it and confront them. The enemies are plentiful and quite smart too. The earlier chapters evoke memories of Resident Evil 4’s horrible creatures, but seem to get more horrible and perverted as the game progresses. Some of them sport such appauling injuries, that you can't help but stop to stare at their ghoulish appearance when you should really be doing something about dispatching them.
What doesn’t help the player in this scenario is the reality of the arsenal at your disposal. Most games often lose a little something when you are armed to the eyeballs with enough weapons and ammunition to bring down a small country, and you are left going through the motions of blasting everything in sight. Thankfully, The Evil Within does not do this, but instead gives you a modest and well-balanced arsenal of weapons and little ammunition, first aid and even stamina. Yes, stamina – for a game that I spent a lot of time running away from things wanting me dead, I found (quite annoyingly) that the character had a limited amount of stamina before they stopped to catch their breath. When the ammo runs dry and all you have left is a melee attack, you have to decide whether it’s time for ‘fight or flight.’ As is the case with such recent survival horror games as Outlast, Amnesia and even Alien: Isolation, you are given the choice to go hide when things get too intense. Here, you can hide inside a closet or under a bed - although you must be warned that sometimes the thing you are hiding from might actually check under the bed to see if you are there. You also have the option of approaching certain chapters using stealth, when you just can't face fighting the undead horde and just want to get out of there.
Of course, being a survival horror game, you do get to upgrade abilities and weapons through the collection of green gel. This gives you the opportunity to shape your experience of the gameplay – do you upgrade your stamina so you can run for longer, or do you upgrade a weapon where you could preserve ammo whilst blasting the fiends with more potency? You will be surprised at how strategic your thinking will become in order to survive this ordeal.
The Evil Within is a brutal, challenging game that is both fun and atmospheric. The eerie environment and imaginative creatures will genuinely make you feel anxious, and the lack of resources make this even more so. You often feel that the odds are well and truly stacked against you, but as long as you can hold your nerve, you can fight your way out of the dark, cockroach-infested corner that you find yourself in.
Ultimately, this is not as iconic a game as Resident Evil 4, but Mikami has once again shown the industry how survival horror should be done.
The Evil Within is available to buy now across Xbox, PlayStation and PC platforms.