THE MIND OF A MADMAN
You are in a dark room that seems to be underground, waist high in water and can only see as far as the light from your trusty lantern reaches. Seeing a dim light in the distance, you wade your way through the water towards it. Reaching the light, you find one of the “Haunted”, a zombie like creature that appears to have been created out of pure hate, munching on a body and still unaware of your presence. You are now presented with a crucial decision. Do you tackle the beast head on, using precious resources, or attempt to pass by unnoticed? The Evil Within is filled with many decisions like this, each yielding many different possible outcomes…a good portion of which usually end in the player’s own demise.
The Evil Within marks the triumphant return of director Shinji Mikami to the survival horror genre since his last hit game, Resident Evil 4. Beautifully creative, tense, and unforgiving, The Evil Within captures the best aspects of what made the Resident Evil series great, albeit with a much darker overall tone.
The Evil Within starts off with Detective Sebastian “Seb” Castellanos, the protagonist, being called to investigate what appears to be a multiple homicide in a mental hospital found in the fictional Krimson City. Backed up by his two partners, it is quickly apparent that something is not right. Immediately thrown into a strange world where monsters called the Haunted populate every corner, Sebastian is forced to fight back and navigate through several interesting puzzles in order to survive.
While Tango Gameworks ambitiously tried to tell an interesting story, the plot quickly becomes muddled and eventually collapses under its own weight. Apart from the attention grabbing introduction and action packed ending, there was very little that I felt compelled to care about. The bland dialogue and cool disposition of Sebastian’s character didn’t particularly help things either. In fact, there were several moments where his apparent apathy for what was going on around him (which I found quite laughable at times) actually pulled my attention away from the seriousness of the situations.
The overall presentation and atmosphere of The Evil Within is one of the best reasons for playing this game. Early in the game, it becomes evident that this was created by an seasoned professional in the genre as Shinji Mikami and his team were able to create some terrifically disturbing locations. From the mental hospital to the abandoned medieval castle, each locale felt unique in their own respective way. In some sections, particularly in the beginning, it felt as if there was a reliance on a large amount of gore to carry the emotional weight of creating an atmosphere for the player to be horrified in. At one point, it almost became comical with how predictable the next section was likely going to be designed. However, thankfully as the game progressed, the game felt like it was maturing as well.
One very interesting thing that caught my eye is that The Evil Within was designed to play at 30fps for the reason that it creates a very “cinematic” feel to the game. Combined with the black bars on the upper and lower portions of the screen, it truly feels as if you are playing a classic horror film. My only criticism is that there is the occasional frame rate dip during a high action sequence and some stiff animations. As well, there were a large number of times in which I noticed that various textures would pop on screen. In an overall sense however, the presentation of the environments and lighting was very well composed.
In short, the gameplay in The Evil Within could be described as pure intensity laced with some intriguing puzzles on the side. However, that doesn’t truly do the game justice, because at its core, it is even more complex than that.
Similar to other survival horror games in the genre, The Evil Within gives the player a scarce arsenal of weapons and ammo deposits are few and far between. As a result, there were seldom times that I felt safe or overly confident that I could tackle a situation without consequence. However, that never stopped me from jumping into an impossible situation during my playthrough, because there are many environmental effects the player can utilize to gain the upper hand.
Out of the selection of weaponry that Detective Castellanos is given throughout the campaign, only one of them truly stood out for me as a wildcard of sorts. Early on in the first couple of chapters, the player can come across a weapon in their search for supplies, an unique bow fittingly called the Agony Crossbow. It uses a variety of specialized bolts that all have various effects on enemies. For example, the explosive and flame bolts can be used as an effective means of crowd control and providing damage to a particularly tough boss, whereas the freeze or shock bolts can be used for a quick escape. The Agony bow is also quite possibly the most useful weapon out of your arsenal, mainly due to the fact it is the only weapon in which Sebastian can craft bolts for out of parts scavenged from dismantled traps. This ability is really useful during stretches in the longer chapters where ammo is much harder to find, or if there are a large number of “bullet sponge” bosses.
The level design in The Evil Within is very linear in nature but when there were dynamic effects scattered around, it truly becomes interesting. While there is an occasional dynamic event that breaks up the action, it is more common to see these effects come in the form of a puzzle that the player is forced to solve. Usually while the player is being chased by a mob of monsters or a boss of some sort. If that wasn’t stressful enough already, the game consistently tacks on a time requirement that results in the player’s death and an inevitable replaying of a specific section if not completed fast enough. I found that this can really crank up the intensity to an 11 for some sections, but also created some serious frustration in others.
The Verdict: 8.2 out of 10
The Evil Within is an overall creative, challenging, and intense addition to the survival horror genre. The game’s overall world feels masterfully crafted, offering many different environments that represent the best parts of classic horror movies. Gameplay, while tough and most definitely challenging in some sections, never felt unfair or too unbalanced. The only notable downfall of the game was its lackluster handling of the overarching plot and character dialogue. While not completely terrible, it left much to be desired during several cut scenes. Though not overly scary,The Evil Within is definitely a fun and ambitious game to play.
For more information about what the score means, check out our official review scale.