The Evil Within Review
Survival horror is one of the best genres in all of video games. Nothing can match the immersive experience that a great horror game can pull you in with, terrifying and exciting you at the same time. It’s the winning formula that put Resident Evil and survival horror on the map in 1995, culminating with the timeless classic Resident Evil 4 in 2005. In the time since then, big budget survival horror has fallen by the wayside as RE and other recent entries such as Dead Space have evolved into action games, leaving independent PC games like Amnesia and Outlast to keep the genre alive. But when the news broke that Resident Evil 4 creator Shinji Mikami was returning to the genre he helped define with The Evil Within, fans couldn’t help but hope that they would finally receive the big budget horror masterpiece that they have waited almost a decade for. Even with that weight of expectation and hype riding on its shoulders, The Evil Within is able to overcome some technical flaws and deliver a great horror experience.
The Evil Within begins with the main protagonist, police detective Sebastian Castellanos, investigating a gruesome mass murder at Beacon Mental Hospital with his partners Julie and Joseph. During the investigation, they are ambushed by a cloaked figure with seemingly supernatural powers that begins a chain of chaotic events throughout the city. After getting separated from his partners in the ensuing escape, Sebastian searches to find his friends and discover what is behind this paranormal force. The story hits many cliches in the survival horror genre, with plot points including a wealthy family with a dark past, a creepy asylum with inhumane tests run on subjects, and an antagonist who gained his powers seeking revenge for past atrocities. While it doesn’t take away from the game too much, the story is a weak aspect of The Evil Within’s experience and mostly serves as a loose narrative to move the game forward. One positive aspect of the abstract story is that it keeps the gamer guessing as to how much of the horror Sebastian faces is real and how much is inside his mind.
Better serving the experience is the atmosphere and tension that is expertly crafted by Mikami to make every level of the game truly feel like a fight for survival. In keeping true to the genre, ammo and health is very scarce in The Evil Within. Tackling your enemies head-on in combat is the wrong move, but thankfully the game gives you many options for dispatching your foes including stealth and environment kills. This adds to the tension of surviving without making you feel totally powerless. Aside from your standard handgun and shotgun, you’ll also obtain the “Agony Crossbow”, which when combined with different “bolts” turn this weapon from a timed grenade launcher to a stun gun. These come in handy in the difficult and intense boss battles that take place in tight quarters, where simply running and gunning will not be enough. As in Resident Evil 4, all of your weapons and player stats can be upgraded with XP at “save” rooms where you teleport to a dream-like asylum. There is a ghost nurse to assist you as well, but she’s nowhere near as memorable or awesome as the RE4 merchant.
The Evil Within plays as expected for a third-person shooter in today’s day and age, however the controls can sometimes feel a bit floaty when trying to pull off certain maneuvers — such as sneaking around a corner to view potential enemies before they see you, or running to evade a chasing enemy and quickly open a door or floor grate. In a game where stealth plays a big part in advancing successfully, this can sometimes be frustrating when compared to the tight controls of other third person games such as Splinter Cell. Another issue is the very close camera angle, placed directly behind the player’s shoulder. There were several times when an enemy popped up right beside me, but I couldn’t tell because of the restrictive camera angle — which is coupled with a “cut-off” widescreen presentation even on full 1080p televisions. While it does add to the tension and fear of not being able to view the whole screen, The Evil Within could have benefited greatly from a camera angle option to back the camera away. Shooting felt satisfactory and tight. Guns have a nice feel of weight and kick, while pulling off headshots felt challenging but not impossible.
The visuals of Evil Within overall are good. The art direction of the enemies and environments is inspired, and on next-gen the environments felt “beautifully gross” where it looked as if blood and guts were truly flowing along the walls and floors. Other locations, such as the forest at night and the creepy dungeons of the asylum, were full of atmosphere and great textures. The character models are serviceable, but not really impressive for 2014. The human characters look fine, but it is apparent that more detail and effort went into the monsters and bosses. Everything ran efficiently on PS4 at a high frame rate, with the exception of late texture pop-in on cut scenes.
The sound design of the game is excellent, as a creepy score by Masafumi Takada keeps the tension high and adds the right atmosphere. I did feel, however, that The Evil Within could have benefited more from a dynamic score, flowing with what was currently happening to the player as opposed to changing at scripted events. The voice acting, which fans of the genre know can be legendarily bad in these games, is done well with Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen, A Nightmare on Elm Street) standing out as the villain. Less impressive is some of the dialogue itself which falls into the genre’s pitfalls, such as Sebastian quipping things like “This place feels wrong, we have to get out of here” after seeing his 50th nightmarish monster 5 hours in.
At its best moments, The Evil Within feels like the true spiritual successor to Resident Evil 4 that 5 never was. It perfectly walks the line of horror and combat without losing focus and becoming the “action game” mess that RE6 was. Putting aside the RE comparisons, The Evil Within is a great horror game that stands on its own, overcoming its technical faults to provide one of the most memorable horror experiences in years.
- + Great horror atmosphere and tension
- + Intense boss battles
- + Good balance between action and horror
- – Inconsistent controls
- – Weak Story