“We’re going back to the roots of survival horror!”. That’s a phrase that’ll make any fan of the sub-genre’s ears perk up and start foaming at the mouth. And this was exactly what Shinji Mikami and Tango Gameworks promised when they announced that they were working on a new franchise called The Evil Within. With the father of survival horror and creator of Resident Evil at the helm of the project I could have nothing but high hopes!
Speaking in generalities, we all know that survival horror games haven’t had the greatest track record. Especially since the heyday of Resident Evil and Silent Hill. There were some great titles in between, but for the most part these games are given a wary glance and an untimely pass. As fans though, we stand true to our namesake and always end up purchasing the latest and “greatest”! Lying to ourselves saying “it’s the best game ever made!” and accusing people of being blind to it’s artistry. I kid of course… but not really.
To say I was excited for The Evil Within’s release would be a grossly understated claim. I was eager to play a “true” survival horror on my shiny new next gen console and the instant it was released all the way back in 2014 I picked it up and played it. After completing it that first time I had mixed feelings. The game scratched that survival horror itch but, ultimately left me feeling a bit unsatisfied.
But my time with it back then isn’t what we’re here for! With the recent release of it’s sequel I thought I’d replay The Evil Within, including all of it’s DLC, and do a retrospective of the series as a whole. So let’s hook ourselves up to a STEM pod and dive into the twisted and grotesque world of The Evil Within!!
Atmosphere is The Evil Within’s nom de plume and it absolutely does it right. There is a sense that you are no longer in the real world. Although everything looks like it could belong, there is always something a little off. Around every corner there is run down architecture, grimy piles of bloody corpses and an overwhelming sense of dread. If I didn’t know any better I’d say we were in one of those grindhouse horror flicks, you know, the kind that your mother walks out on when she realizes what the f-bomb she just took her child to go see in the theaters. True story.
Hints of what you’re getting yourself into can also be seen on the game’s cover art. The title font invokes classic horror movies such as The Evil Dead or maybe even Fright Night. While the depiction of an ensnared Sebastian, the main character, screaming in agony reveals the game’s obsession with tetanus riddled barbed wire.
The game is bloody as well, and I mean bloody. If the designer’s obsession with barbed wire was a passing interest, their obsession for bodily fluids would be considered a full blown addiction. Family intervention levels. Everything from mutilation, to slimy brain juice, to internal organs, you name it they got it. Coupled with the grotesque and malformed enemies you encounter throughout this hellscape the world you must traverse is truly a nightmare.
The attention to detail found in all of the environments is impressive. The world is immersive, rich. Every inch of The Evil Within feels and looks like it was hand crafted. Not once did I encounter a corner or a door that felt out of place or systematically generated. The character models on the other hand were kind of like the games atmosphere. They look like they could belong in the real world but, there is just something a little off. Maybe it’s just Sebastian’s weirdly wrinkly and yet flat face.
If I was to complain about one thing with regards to The Evil Within’s presentation it would be the inclusion of the film grain effect that the developers thought would be a good idea to turn on by default. I get it, it’s supposed to give the game a more cinematic and “horror-esque” feel. But if I’m to be perfectly honest all it really did was make the graphics look blurry. It also made it extremely difficult to take nice crisp screenshots!!
In a lot of ways the disturbing imagery you find throughout The Evil Within does make sense though, considering the context of the game’s world. You (Sebastian Castellanos) and your ragtag posse of Krimson City PD detectives are called in to investigate an incident that occurred at Beacon Mental Hospital. Before you know it you are thrust, unbeknownst to you, into a dream like world that is being overrun and controlled by a homicidal psychopath who tortures and kills his patients as he studies them. Truly an interesting concept and I was all in for the long haul. Who was this killer and what the fudge is this world?!
But as interesting as the story was, the pacing was the arrow in The Evil Within’s knee. The game starts off strong and creepy as all heck but as you progress it just became more and more confusing. Like a fever dream you are swung through scene after scene with no real logical transition. It’s a cool effect and definitely echoes the experience you have in said dreams but, it leaves all continuity by the wayside. Your partners pop in and out to help or abandon you in the same fashion with no real explanation as to where they came from or where they went. Fortunately, if you have access to the first two DLC featuring Kidman (The Assignment and The Consequence) this is improved. Many of the gaps and WTF moments you encounter throughout the main story line are fleshed out and explained. There are a lot of “ah ha!” moments playing through it and that was exciting!
Mirroring the story’s progression, the gameplay balance in The Evil Within is also skewed. From the beginning of the game you are encouraged to be stealthy and cautious. Each singular encounter with an enemy is tense and exhilarating the last thing you want is to be spotted for fear of being swarmed. But without notice you are forced into many situations where the only way to progress is to defeat a horde of increasingly difficult enemies, with a pittance of ammo! The limited ammo really is played up as well, almost to a fault. It quickly becomes a game of frustration. More often than not you are thrown into a boss fight directly after a large encounter that ate up all of your supplies. There are strategies that help prevent these situations like shooting an enemy’s leg out from under them and lighting them on fire but, that isn’t always enough.
One of the things advertised as being a big part of the gameplay loop was traps. It was a fun inclusion that added some depth and strategy to encounters but, as a whole they felt a little under utilized. Instead of hiding around a corner and placing trip wires and such you mostly just ended up sticking the explosives directly to an enemy’s head and watched them explode into bits and pieces. The upgrade system was fun and reminiscent of Resident Evil 4, which is definitely a good thing. You collect your upgrade currency (green brain goo) and use it to level up Sebastian’s stats or the fire power of his weapons. The variety of weapons you are given is decent enough and more than gets the job done. The fact that you can unlock some super powered weapons after beating the game though adds a lot and brings a smile to my face. Unfortunately, with great disappointment, I must inform you that there are no secret costumes. That was always one of my favorite things in survival horror games dangit!! Resident Evil + 1.
Although The Evil Within was supposed to be the answer to the then modern Resident Evil games, it ended up suffering from many of the same problems. By no means is the game terrible though, in my honest opinion it’s much greater than the sum of it’s parts. The DLC especially showed that when compressed and distilled to it’s core mechanics there was really something there. I may not have been overly impressed with it when I first played it and it does certainly have it’s flaws but, removed from the hype I really enjoyed it. It’s a compelling and bloody ride with some twists, turns and lots of barbed wire. I highly recommend this game to any survival horror fan that can look past the typical tropes of the genre and doesn’t mind a good ol’ fashioned jump scare or two. For those who aren’t fans of the genre or think the gore and violence may be a little much stay tuned for part two of The Evil Within Retrospect. You might be surprised with the turns the series takes with it’s sequel. Until next time!!!
In the mood for more horror?? Check out our review of SOMA!
Need something a little more light hearted?? There’s always Rune Factory 4!