Welcome to The Evil Within, a voyage through a nightmare of twisted beings, spike traps, dark-lit rooms, and blood. Lots and lots of blood.
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Survival Horror, Third Person Shooter
Developer: Tango Gameworks
NOTE: I played The Evil Within on the Playstation 3, and this review only reflects that version of the game. I cannot speak to the quality of certain aspects on any version of The Evil Within other than the PS3 version.
The Evil Within is the latest project from Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami. Throughout 15 chapters, you follow police detective Sebastian Castellanos as he ventures through a broken Krimson City, which is experiencing otherworldly seismic shifts and housing a horde of evil creatures thanks to the main antagonist, Ruvik. On his journey, he is accompanied by fellow detectives Joseph Oda and Julie Kidman, as well as mental hospital patient Leslie Withers (that’s a boy, not a girl) and Dr. Marcelo Jimenez, Leslie’s doctor. Sebastian has to fight through the scarred Krimson City and kill Ruvik in order to escape back to the real world, where Krimson City is mostly unharmed.
Mikami intended for The Evil Within to be a return to the roots of survival horror, after saying that modern survival horror games rely too much on action rather than focusing on survival. How does it succeed in that regard, and how does it succeed in other areas?
+ The Evil Within offers a high level of challenge. It requires true thought and skill to survive the hellish series of events that take place.
+ The challenge is brought on partially by the true survival horror elements. For example, you’ll benefit much more from trying to sneak around and take out your enemies by means of stealth, because ammo is scarce, and you’ll definitely need to save it when you can. It’s a great revisitation to the roots of a genre many would say has been lost to modern game mechanics.
+ Intelligent enemy AI also contributes to the difficulty. If you aren’t smart about how you approach a group of enemies, you’ll quickly get their attention, and then you’ll have to use up your ammo to survive the inevitable onslaught.
+ The Evil Within is both scary and suspenseful. It’s not always terrifying, but by the end of the game, you’ll have felt true fear more than a few times.
+ The story could’ve been told better (see the cons below), but it has a good basis behind it, and there are some very well implemented bits of symbolism (most notably how many enemies are tied in barbed wire, showing that they are victims of Ruvik’s world as well).
+ A 15 chapter, 15-20-hour long story (or more, depending on what difficulty you play on and your skill level) makes for an experience that is neither too short nor too long.
+ Ruvik is a well-executed antagonist, especially in the later half of the game. He’s frightening, threatening, and always present, all of which are characteristics of any good horror villain.
+ The Agony Crossbow is a great weapon in what is otherwise a standard arsenal of guns. It has multiple applications, you can create ammo for it using found parts, and it’s simply satisfying to use (unless you’re firing off flash bolts, which are not as fun as the other bolt types).
+ Lighting, or sometimes the lack thereof, is used to a high effect, being the shining part of the visuals here. It provokes the horror feel more than just about anything else.
+ The sound design relies very little on a musical soundtrack, opting instead for realistic effects to take the lead. This was a smart decision, as The Evil Within doesn’t need or call for an orchestra to impress in the sound department. As it is, the sound design is excellent, and it enhances the presentation greatly.
+ Speaking of presentation, the art team did one hell of a job creating the setting for this game. The twisted mind of Ruvik truly is horrific; not just in gameplay and story, but in visual representation as well.
+ The upgrade system is very well-balanced. By using collected green gel (dropped from enemies and found around the world in jars), you can buy upgrades for Sebastian. You can’t realistically get all of the upgrades in one go, and in a game like The Evil Within, that’s how it should be.
= The PS3 version graphics are jaggy, but they still look alright. It’d be unreasonable to call them bad graphics, especially on PS3, because that’s reserved for games that are much farther behind the graphical standard than The Evil Within is. They’re not great, though. Some more work should have been done to make this look as good as possible on last gen tech.
– Even though The Evil Within was supposedly built on the roots of survival horror, it still relies on action quite a bit. For some, this will not be a problem, but in terms what Shinji was trying to achieve, it is a failure. There are many times, especially after the first few chapters, where you’ll be forced to waste ammo and have a shoot-out with the enemies. That’s action, not survival.
– While the actual story is pretty interesting and could be great, the game does it no justice. The plot is so poorly told by playing through it that you won’t understand what’s going on unless you read up on what actually happened.
– The characters are pretty disappointing. Sebastian isn’t as bad as everyone makes him out to be, but he’s a bit stale. Many other characters really end up just being plot devices. They don’t have that much actual character to them.
– The game controls pretty bad. You won’t always feel like you have control over Sebastian’s movements, and even after upgrading accuracy, gunplay can be clunky.
– Level design often fails to inspire. It’s not necessarily a lack of variety, but a lack of good variety. There’s nothing that stands out about confined arena spaces, hallways, and creepy interiors with little stand-out features. You’ll find that the level design peaks early in the game, then fails to keep up.
– Only one or two of the boss battles managed to impress me, while the rest felt forced and unnecessary. Some even damaged the game’s flow.
– I really hated that they put enemies with guns in near the end. While these enemies do make things harder as the game progresses, it’s cheap difficulty.
– The weapon selection menu is a pain to use. I never got used to it, despite being with the game for more than 10 hours.
– The cinematic view breaks the immersion that The Evil Within relies on to be successful with its horror, as the gigantic black bars that frame the image will occasionally remind you of how “It’s just a video game!”.
– There are technical issues with the game, including frame rate drops and the occasional freeze.
The Evil Within is a good game, but it fails to be great. There are many things that The Evil Within does right, and some things it does excellently. However, there are too many flaws and shortcomings for the pros to really shine. A good story is hurt by bad storytelling and stale characters. Good gameplay mechanics are hurt by lackluster level design and poor controls. Strong horror presence is hurt by the cinematic view breaking the immersion. These flaws don’t ruin the game, but they certainly cripple it.
For survival horror fans, you’ll find a good purchase in The Evil Within, but for anyone else, make sure you think before you pick this one up. Again, it is a good game, but it’s not going to appeal to everyone who tries it.