You play as Detective Sebastian Castellanos and when he is called to a gruesome homicide with his partner Joseph Oda and Detective upstart Julie Kidman, it soon becomes apparent that this is no mere gruesome murder crime scene. After being knocked unconscious by an unknown entity, Seb awakens within a living nightmare that has a strong connection to Krimson City’s Beacon Mental Hospital. Can Detective Castellanos discover the truth about the asylum and its residents? Perhaps his biggest challenge will be to distinguish what’s reality and what’s a living nightmare.
The visuals to The Evil Within are dark, muggy and rather quite grungy, which fits the tone perfectly. Its visuals may not blow you away and you will certainly see better looking games on the new gen, but that’s not what’s really important in this department, it’s more so with its hellish world that you find yourself indulged in. The world of The Evil Within is text book horror stuff and when I say it’s like playing a living nightmare, I mean it. In a real nightmare and much like dreams, locations can suddenly switch, sometimes with no explanation. This happens a lot in The Evil Within; you could find yourself in a creepy village one minute and then an asylum the next. While this may frustrate some gamers, I believe it helps keep the game fresh and on your toes.
Also the enemies themselves are downright disturbing and exactly what survival horror fans would have hoped. You may think this to be quite a given, but if you’ve played the questionable Silent Hill: Downpour, then you may know that enemy design shouldn’t be taken for granted, even from the most established of franchises. Thankfully enemy design is one of The Evil Within’s strongest assets; the artists at Tango Gameworks really are a talented bunch. I won’t go into much detail, but the game is full of fantastic and downright scary creatures.
From the common Haunted, The poster-boy villain known as The Keeper (or Box Head), the chainsaw wielding Sadist and the longed ‘The Ring’ like spider-women crawling demon! (that’s the best I could have described her without giving too much away). As a side-note, if you’re a fan of game art, then I would strongly recommend picking up ‘The Art Of’ The Evil Within, it features some fantastic concept and designs that never made it into the full version of the game. As a fan of videogame art books, this is one of the best I own and it gives you a great insight to the work that went into creating this game.
If I was going to have one minor gripe with the visuals of The Evil Within, it would be that the framerate appears to suffer at times. Throughout the playthrough of the game the screen will have the black bars above and below the action on screen that you would normally associate with a movie. In the movies it’s referred to as Letterbox, which is used to widescreen, the aspect ratio, some may prefer this look and some may not. But something tells me that it was perhaps a tactic used by the developers to compress the action on screen to help reduce any framerate issues, but I could be wrong. Recently a PC update was released that allows you to remove the Letterbox bars and allows you to switch between 30fps and 60fps; it would be nice to have those options on the console versions too.
With The Evil Within being a Shinji Mikami game, the comparisons are always going to be inevitable to his baby, the Resident Evil series. Out of all his games from the illustrious series, The Evil Within is far closer to Resident Evil 4 than any other game from the franchise. With the over the shoulder viewpoint, to the bare essential combat with firearms it all feels very familiar, but in a good way. Though you won’t get any Leon Kennedy-esque suplex’s here. While The Evil Within does have its fair share of action, suspense and tension is most definitely the key tone here. When you’re not exploring spooky villages and the odd outdoor daylight sections, the majority of The Evil Within is the claustrophobic, ammo-shy that many fans of the survival horror genre will appreciate.
You really do have to make every shot count, as poor aiming and ammo spraying will cause you all sorts of troubles, especially later on in the chapter. So I implore you to get into the habit of going for the headset as it will not only inflict more damage on the enemy, but it will also have reserve that precious ammo. In fact The Evil Within features its own upgrade system, where you can upgrade anything from increasing health and your stamina bar for when running, to the amounts of ammo that you are able to carry right on through to weapon efficiency and more. One of the weapon efficiency upgrades that you can acquire is the Critical Hit, meaning that you will increase your likelihood of inflicting extra damage with a headset. Sometimes you may be lucky enough to pop that head with one shot or it may result in that enemy being temporally downed, giving you the option to either make a run for it and save your ammo, or set that enemy on fire knowing that they will not come back to hunt you down.
For those that played the awesome Nintendo Gamecube Resident Evil remake, then you would know of the importance of setting that downed zombie a blaze to prevent them coming back as the even more lethal Crimson Zombie. In The Evil Within not all the Haunted will come back to get you, but many still will, especially if some sections require backtracking. Though you will have to be careful of which bodies to burn as to get them flames flowing, you need matches and you can only carry a certain amount at one time. Thankfully there are other means to scave some unfriendly fire as you can use a torch that a fallen enemy may have dropped or later on in the game you can utilise Incendiary bolts from your Agony Crosbolt.
To assist you throughout the campaign, will be the usual suspects in weaponry. Such as the revolver, shotgun, sniper and so forth, each of which are all upgradable in some way. As long as I have the ammo, my weapon of choice more often than not, is the trusty shotgun. However you will also likely reply on the Agony Crosbolt, especially late on in the game when more bolt types become available to you. The types of bolts that you have include the bog standard harpoon, to explosives, freeze bolts, electric bows, and flash, poison and incendiary. As I’m sure you can already guess, each bolt type has its own unique ability. For example, the explosive bolts I found particularly handy when taking on some of the bosses in the game, electric bolts can fry a chain of enemies when standing close together, flash grenades will temporarily blind some enemies, giving you the opportunity to melee attack then to save ammo or again, run! You won’t get the incendiary bolts until late into the game, but those are patricianly handy because once you hit the common enemies with it, it will dispose of them, meaning you’ll have no need to set them on fire with your matches.
The Evil Within also features its own crafting system, it’s very basic mind, but very helpful none the less. You can craft new bolts for your Agony Crosbolt and this is done by scavenging for parts. The parts can be found hidden away in crates, a vase’s and so forth. They can also be found by disabling some of the many deadly traps that you will encounter throughout the game. You can often see a trap kindly indicated by a red flashing light, but this is not always the case. By slowly approaching the recognised booby trap in the crouch position, you should be able to disable that trap and you will be rewarded with some welcomed crafting items. Or you can always not disable that crap and lure the enemy to it, resulting in their ‘explosive’ demise. When you have the sufficient crafting items, open up your inventory screen and craft whichever bolt you need for your Agony Crosbolt.
Similarly when it comes to upgrading your weapons, skills and abilities, you will have to scavenge or loot to upgrade Sebastian. You can acquire upgrades by collecting green gel, which can be found by smashing objects, fallen enemies or just lying around as they do. Though you cannot upgrade on the run, instead you must find a special mirror (often two per chapter), enter it and here you are able to manually save and upgrade Sebastian. But when you upgrade Sebastian for the first time, it’s quite a daunting and unorthodox ordeal, as you must upgrade him by what can only be described as some sort of torture chair. I won’t say much in regards to the locations of where you upgrade, because it plays a big part in The Evil Within’s plot.
As I’ve already mentioned on more than one occasion, the option to run for the hills is a very advisable tactic, especially when you’re running low on ammo. While it is fun going all guns blazing from time to time, it’s not the most resourceful of tactic at times. So you will come to rely on good old fashioned stealth to bring down a foe or sneak through a certain section unnoticed (hopefully). Most enemies will have three stages of being aware. You will know of an enemy’s awareness, which is indicated by an eye on screen. No eye means your undetected, a squinty moving eye means that the enemy is suspicious and the full open eye means that they know of your presence and they are coming for your blood. When an enemy’s back is turned and you sneak up on them successfully, you can launch a stealth knife kill. Well I use the term “kill” loosely, as this may only temporarily disable that enemy, unless you burn their bodies. But none the less, it’s a great way to reserve your ammo.
Again I will come back to running away, which is something that you will likely do from time to time, especially on the higher difficulty settings. Though running away will not always be a successful ploy, as Sebastian has a lame ass stamina bar. All be it you can upgrade your stamina bar meaning that you can run for a longer duration, but seriously what kind of copper who appears to be fit and healthy, can only initially sprint for four seconds to begin with? I know that adds to the games tension by restricting you from being a Usain Bolt, but come on! Four seconds! Really? As I mentioned you can upgrade your stamina bar, but it does get very pricey towards the higher levels of upgrading.
So what can you do when Sebastian has run out of breath after a few intense seconds of sprinting? Well you can hide under tables, in cupboards and so forth. Much like you can in other horror games such as Outlast and more recently Alien: Isolation. If I’m being honest, I’ve only used the hiding feature a couple of times so far, once during the games opening moments when you are being pursued by the chainsaw man officially known as the Sadist and the other occasion was out of curiosity of what it was like hiding under a table. But this was on the standard difficulty and I have no doubts that I will hide a hell of a lot more on the higher difficulty settings.
Regardless of whether it’s a horror movie flick or a horror videogame, one of the biggest aspects that must be right is its audio. Possibly more important than the voice acting, having the correct soundtrack and sound effects in place is an absolute must. Thankfully this is an area that developers Tango Gameworks have down to a T, the voice acting is wonderfully cheesy and has Shinji Mikami’s signature all over it. The groans, screeches and howls of each and every sinister creature is spot on and the soundtrack does a sublime job in picking up the tension atmosphere when its needed with perfect timing and tone.
You won’t perhaps remember the majority of the soundtrack as all it needs to do is a subtle job, yet effective job. Yet with the majority of successful videogames, there is often one piece of music that stays within your memory and in The Evil Within, it’s the music that signals a safe-ish haven of the mirror that leads you to the manual save and upgrade torture chair. The music that I am talking about is that of Clair De Lune and if you’ve been watching any of the many trailers leading up to the release of The Evil Within, then you will recognise it instantly.
In terms of replay value, The Evil Within is quite a meaty package. The campaign for your first playthrough should give you at least 15 hours (give or take), much longer if you go on the hunt for all the hidden extras and if you miss them, multiple playthrough’s can also be encouraged, especially on the higher difficulty settings. Playing through more than once is also advised should you want to fully upgrade Seb, which I doubt can be done on one playthrough (but I could be wrong). Personally I can’t wait to give this game another playthrough and once I’ve tracked down all those hidden collectibles; I will be giving the harder settings ago. After reviewing Murdered: Soul Suspect, while I enjoyed my playthrough, I never had the desire to playthrough it again, nor did the game put much effort into encouraging it. One of the great aspects of Resident Evil 4 is how willing I was to complete the game over and over, and I strongly suspect the same will be with The Evil Within, especially with it having a New Game+.
Some could criticise The Evil Within for being too much like Resident Evil 4, as there is a lot of similarities. Such as the early level designs, the way some of the Haunted would sway to the side to avoid damage, the chainsaw wielding Sadist, even those silver cases that you will find scattered throughout the campaign is very samey to the ones found in Resident Evil 4. But then on the flip-side, the Resident Evil series is Shinji Mikami’s baby, so if he wanted to bring that influence into The Evil Within, then he has every right to.
In fact the more I think into it, with the action direction that Resident Evil 5 and 6 went after the masterful Resident Evil 4, I can’t help but think that what we’re seeing in The Evil Within, could have been the direction that Mikami wanted to go with 4’s follow-up. I know I’m just self-speculating here, but what if this was the direction that Mikami wanted to go, but he was road blocked by Capcom as they wanted to go in the action direction? It’s certainly food for thought.
In a nutshell you won’t find anything revolutionary in The Evil Within; we’ve had many great horror games recently that have put another spin on the survival horror genre. But what you’re going to find with The Evil Within is a survival horror game that is traditional as they come and being a fan of the genre since the original Resident Evil, it’s a direction that takes me back and one that I fully appreciate, and I know I’m not alone in thinking that. The Evil Within is how the survival horror genre used to be and perhaps how it should be, it has an eerie atmosphere, jump scares, sinister creations, a wacky story and plenty of reasons to come back long after the first playthrough is done.
The best way in which I can describe what The Evil Within is, is that it’s kind of like the lovechild following a two-way between Resident Evil and Silent Hill, with the Saw movies watching gleefully on. It may or may not be your game of the year, but it could very well be the best survival horror that you’ve experienced in a long time.
+This is survival horror
+superb enemy design
+Sinister locations & contraptions
+ Lengthy & fulfilling campaign that encourages replay
-Some minor framerate issues
-At times it feels a little too similar to Resident Evil 4