All gamers sick of the recent trend of overly action oriented survival horror games supposedly don't need to worry no more - because Shinji Mikami is back.
With the return of the creator of titles like Resident Evil, Mikami wants to bring the survival horror genre back to its roots with the new IP, The Evil Within.
Seemingly blending the styles of Silent Hill and Resident Evil into one, Mikami promises a big emphasis on actual survival for example in the form of stealth instead of explosions and overreliance on shooting.
Did Mikami bring to the table what he promised or is Evil Within another missed opportunity to make horror games frightening again?
While investigating the scene of a gruesome mass murder, Detective Sebastian Castellanos and his partners encounter a mysterious and powerful force. After seeing the slaughter of his fellow officers, Sebastian is ambushed and knocked unconscious. When he awakens, he finds himself in a deranged world where hideous creatures wander among the dead. Facing unimaginable terror, and fighting for survival, Sebastian embarks on a frightening journey to unravel what is behind this evil force.
The Evil Within's story starts with detective Sebastian Castellanos and his partners responding to an emergency call from the Beacon Medical Hospital. Once arrived, Castellanos and co. find the police- and hospital staff brutally mutitaled. It doesn't take long when Sebastian suddenly gets attacked by an unknown hooded enemy from behind, blacks out, and suddenly awakens in bizarre, otherworldy places roamed by nightmarish creatures.
The Evil Within's story mostly benefits from a simple yet strong premise, a good pacing and actually pretty creative ideas that for the most part manage to tie together all of Evil Within's tackled themes and plot points fairly well. Without spoiling too much, The Evil Within's story really comes off as both a unique new idea as well as a tribute or love letter to other survival horror classics such as Silent Hill and Mikami's very own Resident Evil series. With that said, there is a whole lot of mind games and surreal imagery happening in the game's entertaining and immersing story that often reminds one of concepts from movies like The Cell or Inception. Yet, nevertheless how ambitious and interesting many of Evil Within's ideas are, the story unluckily often gets a bit too ambitious for its own good resulting in the storytelling often feeling a bit convoluted. In that sense, many ideas sadly seem to just not be delivered efficiently or graspable enough for the player. Therefore, players will often get the feel that they lost track of some of the story's aspects, which makes parts of the story a bit bumpy.
|One bad way to start your day.|
But the biggest downer of Evil Within's story is without any doubt its lack of truely interesting characters. Most notably the main protagonist Sebastian sadly comes off as the blandest of the bunch. With all the horrors happening around him constantly, you never get the feeling that they actually scare or terrify Sebastian nearly as much as they do you. In most cases, Sebastian remains his almost nihilistic coolness and constantly spits out supposedly badass lines.
The side-characters only rarely fare better. They also tend to mostly have lines that come off as pretty cheesy. It all comes down to the characters being "typical Shinji Mikami characters". With that said, no disrespect to Mikami's earlier work, but Mikami's talent never was writing really good dialogue for his characters - and The Evil Within is no exception.
However, Evil Within's pacing is still mostly very confident in putting its focus directly on perfectly established dreading atmosphere. Though survival is always your primary goal, you will often find yourself just being fascinated by the nightmarish places and monsters you are put up against. Yet still, it would be false to call the Evil Within an actually "scary" game but rather a very "tense" one. Therefore, scary imagery is handled way more obvious and way less subtle than in for example the Silent Hill series.
Nevertheless, in its sum of all parts The Evil Within remains a satisfyingly entertaining story that players will easily get the main gist of even despite its occasionally too rushed storytelling, fairly boring characters and its tension running a bit out of steam towards the games mostly action oriented final levels.
|One major gripe with the game is that Sebastian's character is very boring.|
Core Gameplay Mechanics - "It's Not About Winning. It's About Surviving."
In many cases The Evil Within's core gameplay retains some of the fundamentals of Mikami's past works, most notably from the Resident Evil series.
Tension is a constant in Evil Within and that's mostly due to the fact that managing your resources is absolutely critical for the duration of the game. With that said, due to its scarcity, ammo is to be handled quite wisely. Therefore, aiming effectively for headshots is very much encouraged, even though taking your time doing so may leave you vulnerable for a longer time to enemy attacks. If you think about melee attacking your way through the game much like it was possible in Resident Evil 6, good luck, because melee attacking succesfully has been brought down in Evil Within to it only being primarily a defense mechanic to buy you some time with when an enemy gets too close. Enemies can therefore only be brought down by shooting their heads clean off, one-hit-killing them with picked up torches or axes or by ultimately torching them by matches to make sure they don't rise from the dead again. Considering all this, a wasted shot can really feel terrible knowing how precious each bullet is to be handled in the game.
|When all else fails, kill it with fire.|
Yet, despite its strong emphasis on managing resources and making each bullet count, The Evil Within also gives Sebastian plenty of possibilities to defend himself against the undead hordes with five different weapon types being available: pistol, shotgun, sniper rifle, grenades, crossbow and additional surprise weapons after you beat the game. Each weapon type is suited for use in specific circumstances. For example, the pistol is perfect for dealing with lesser enemies to blow their heads apart with a few well aimed shots, while shooting their legs can knock them down to create opportunities to burn them quickly while on the ground. The additional strategic aspect of this, is that if timed correctly, corpses flames are able to light other nearby enemies on fire. Survival therefore becomes less about mindless shooting and more about managing resources while performing specific tactics.
The undoubtedly most eye-catching weapon however remains the Agony Crossbow, which uses a variety of bolts that can hurt/kill, stun, blind, explode and even freeze enemies. Especially the freeze bolts turn out to be very satisfying seeing how they make enemies shatter into pieces, while the bomb arrows are even more useful, since they can also be shot at surfaces like walls or the ground to create actual mines for enemies to run into. With that in mind, Sebastian can strategically maneuver areas and achieve a tactical edge even against the biggest hordes of enemies if done efficiently. Aiming precisely, disarming enemy traps, laying out traps and even luring enemies to run into their own ones makes the survival aspect and enemy encounters of The Evil Within to be handled very thoughtful.
|Did I mention that the game is really graphic?|
Nevertheless, despite the respectable array of weapons, The Evil Within is not primarily a shooter. And even if redundandly played so, the game will quickly turn out to become almost unmanagably hard for players due to its limited ammo. Therefore, open combat is definitely to be avoided whenever possible, which makes playing stealthy the most efficient way to survive the game's 15 chapters. With that said, in terms of stealth, bottles can be thrown to distract enemies and succesfully sneaking up on enemies will grant you opportunities to perform insta-kills from behind on them. If enemies discover you, Sebastian can even hide in a selection of locations like in closets, behind curtains or under tables to avoid further detection or attacks.
It just further goes to show that The Evil Within succesfully mixes offensive- and defensive tactics without overly leaning towards one or the other making it a very satisfying blend that results in a true feel of actual "survival".
As already mentioned, The Evil Within is a game rightfully called survival horror, and it's a game that therefore is rightfully very challenging even on it's normal difficulty setting. The game nails the tense feel of making each survived enemy encounter feel like an accomplishment. Each of the big array of various enemy types shows to have significant weaknesses that have to be exploited, which make even the most impossible feeling situations be beatable or "survivable" in the end, since attacking isn't even always the best choice of action. It makes especially boss encounters very exhilirating, even though some players might easily find some boss encounters or some vaguely desribed mission objectives to be more of a trial-and-error kind of nature.
|Rule No. 1: Bathrooms are generally to be avoided in horror games.|
Upgrade System - "Braaaaaains!"
The Evil Within's currency is "Brain Gel", which is scattered throughout the game's environments and which can be collected from the corpses of killed enemies. Brain gel is used for upgrading purposes when Sebastian occasionally returns to a specific hub zone, for which entry points are frequently stumbled upon throughout the course of the game. You can use brain gel to upgrade aspects like your health, melee damage, individual weapon stats, etc. It's especially the feeling of upgrades making you significantly increase your power and most importantly your odds of survival, that will most likely make you embark on finding and collecting even optional and dangerously placed brain gel cannisters throughout the game.
The hub zone also offers lockers, which can be opened by hidden keys, that you can collect during levels, which provide you with much needed supplies like additional ammo, med-kits, etc. It's nice that the items stored in those lockers can either be instantly picked up immediately after opening them or even saved for a later time when the circumstances become more critical.
Last but not least, the hub zone is also the only place the game actually lets you save the game - at least manually. Players fearing frustration to due this seeming restriction need not to worry because the game's auto-save feature in the form of frequent checkpoints during chapters avoids making the game feel too punishing.
Even despite it's very questionable black bars due to its locked letterbox format, which is supposed to give the game a more "cinematic" feel, The Evil Within is a very good looking game. Though some character models occasionally feel a bit too polished, it's most notably the nightmarish artistic design and its execution in the form of creative level- and enemy designs that rightfully steal the show. Due to the game's plot-related primary concept, which we won't spoil here, The Evil Within has you make your way through a vast variety of richly detailed different locations. Additionally, pretty much perfect lighting work and atmosphere-inducing details like the good use of fog convey The Evil Within's horror tone very well.
It's only a shame that some of the more action oriented, drab final stages occasionally make the game feel less interesting to look at. Yet, luckily this is only rarely the case.
The sound overall is a bit of a mixed bag in The Evil Within. While overall sound design in terms of enemy sounds, weapon sounds and music are all perfectly fine and satisfying, it's the aforementioned dialogue that at some points breaks the previously established tense feel of the game.
Therefore, it's most notably some of the just unfittingly put in lines and comments of the characters (most notably the one's from Sebastian) that will make some players shake their heads or even make them chuckle during supposedly intense cutscenes. Yes, it's a horror game and there are terrifying things happening but even the game takes some of its material just overly serious to a point that some of the aimed for tension and dread just feels forced in at times.
|Monster- and location designs are varied and well crafted.|
Shinji Mikami's The Evil Within is pretty much as close as a game might come nowadays to once again recapturing the terrifying feel of being hunted by hordes of enemies like in the classic that was Resident Evil 4.
With that said, The Evil Within's gameplay mechanics easily steal the show compared to it's entertaining and well paced but ultimately inconsistently delivered storyline. Through a very effective blend of offensive and defensive gameplay mechanics, that have to be flexibly used in the right circumstances, in combination with scarce ammunition and crucial resource management, The Evil Within succesfully makes the game feel like actual "survival" through strategically encountering seemingly impossible odds. It's rarely in today's gaming that a game makes you feel more like having survived a level than actually beaten it.
Even despite it's story related shortcomings and one or two slightly more action oriented final levels, Shinji Mikami kept his promise when he said that he wanted to recreate the feel of actual "survival horror". While The Evil Within isn't actually "scary" as much as it definitely is "tense", it's without any doubt a must play for lovers of the Resident Evil series (not counting 5 & 6) and gamers that are into quite challenging experiences. And with 15 chapters that take roughly 16 hours to complete on normal difficulty on your first playthough, The Evil Within has quite some intense moments for you in store.
Final Verdict: 9 out of 10