The Evil Within Review

Shinji Mikami left survival horror behind after directing Resident Evil 4, after an extended break fans rejoiced when his next title The Evil Within was announced. Survival horror, on console, with high definition graphics, a highly celebrated director with a backlog of experience with excellent horror titles: nothing could go wrong, or so it seemed. There is terror, brutality and the bones of a great story, but problems remain with the enemies, auto save and the protagonist himself. Frequently challenging, constantly nerve-wracking, Mikami’s re-entrance into the survival horror genre surpasses expectation in many aspects, yet fails noticeably in others.

Detective Sebastian Castellanos enters a local mental asylum to investigate a series of brutal murders at Beacon Mental Hospital. From here Sebastian is like Alice through the rabbit hole, led by a series of journal entries, slowly coming to understand the madness spread throughout the plot. Underneath the killings and Sebastian’s lack of control, is a fascinating tale of the horrors unleashed when the human mind is tampered with. The Evil Within’s environment is horrifying: a hospital turned abattoir that amplifies the terror sparked by lurking enemies. Deformed creatures roam the hallways, groaning and scraping; shadows dance and creep just at the edge of the screen; stretches of the game go past where the whole asylum sounds alive with violent freaks, yet nothing would stumble from the shadows. As survival horror goes many of these mechanics were effective and visually impressive, but the story detracted from the game. Mostly the story was damaged because Sebastian has about as much personality and wit as one of his opponents. This lessens the impact of the story whilst limiting player’s motivation to care about the story and characters.

The Evil Within revels in the opportunity to challenge players, from limited ammunition to complicated traps, there are multiple chances to fail, and many openings to be creative. Multiple non-combat encounters are provided for players, in the spirit of survival horror these are just as challenging as combat: failure to outsmart your enemy results in gore, limbs wrenched apart, it’s sheer brutality that reflects the game’s visual environment. A handgun, shotgun, and sniper rifle, with limited ammunition, can help with an escape or to eliminate an enemy; or the Agony Crossbow is the most effective item, as it provides a number of ways to hinder or eradicate an enemy depending on the bolt used. These bolts could be found but could also be crafted using items painstakingly scavenged from Seb’s surroundings, which is time consuming and often dangerous.

Enemies are terrifying, players cannot read this enough before attempting to play the game, simply because the environment, and its inhabitants, are nightmarishly foul. This was one of the most successful elements of the game, how effectively the environment demands attention. Perhaps the first five minutes of the game gives the generous impression of some normality before unloading the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series across the screen. What makes these enemies even worse is that they are incredibly resistant to being killed, so they look horrifying, sound like your childhood nightmares, are hyper sensitive to their surroundings and frequently refuse to stay dead. Boss fights run the same risk, as they continuously adapt to their damaged forms. With heightened tension and harder challenges, this is one of the biggest draws to continue playing, if not to permanently remove freakish opponents.

Summarising all of the downfalls featured in The Evil Within: there was the sporadic auto-save system, which was almost as terrifying as the enemies. Thankfully the start of missions provided an opportunity to manually save, but as the mission progresses the next auto-save point is unpredictable; this results in heightened tension regarding how much of the level need be repeated should a leg become separated from Seb’s torso. Seb’s body parts may start flying across the screen for seemingly innocuous behaviour, or that environmental hazards were so abstract in comparison to the speed of an enemy. In many ways the fractured gameplay surreptitiously tests a player’s patience and ability to watch their avatar get savagely masticated time and time again; misshapen jaws grinding on animated flesh. Most importantly The Evil Within’s story was damaged heavily by Sebastian’s inability to provoke any emotional response.

A pedigree background led early adopters to believe that The Evil Within would be the penultimate survival horror title, and whilst being an enjoyable game to play, it is flawed. Seb is a protagonist who lacks depth and personality, he incites less interest than the freaks he hides from, players have no reason to care about his plight, only that there are grotesque horrors around every corner. This is a shame as the whole point of the plot is that messing inside people’s heads is dangerous, there is an excellent narrative amongst the gore, but Sebastian lacked the charisma to highlight that. Where The Evil Within shines is how it terrifies, confuses and enthrals, the gore smothering the storyline is near hypnotic. There are genuine challenges to be found amongst the anxiety, which bolsters the experience. Most of The Evil Within’s flaws could be forgiven had the main character not been such a bore; a game with harder enemies is better than one that can be walked through with minimal challenge. For a weekend spent trapped on the couch terrified of every noise throughout the house, The Evil Within will oblige once, but only once. Considering both the negative and outstanding factors of the game, one of the biggest flaws in The Evil Within is that there is little, or no, reason to replay the game.


About: Sarah Rigg

Mini metalhead with a love of horror movies and video games. First started gaming on her brother’s N64 with Mortal Kombat. Favourite series include Bioshock, Pokémon, Silent Hill and Mortal Kombat.

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