I’ve been waiting for The Evil Within for a year and a half since it was first announced.
Survival horror, as a genre, had suffered some serious missteps with the likes of Resident Evil 5, Silent Hill: Homecoming and Clive Barkers Jericho.
Not even the awesomeness that was Dead Space could save it.
Especially when you consider the 2 lacklustre sequels that followed, effectively killing the initial momentum of the series.
Since then, we haven’t seen a mainstream survival horror game come out that feels like it might give the genre a much needed shot in the arm.
The Evil Within comes with quite a pedigree in that its director is none other thanShinji Mikami.
For those unfamiliar with Mikami, he was the mastermind behind the first 4 Resident Evil games that were leading the charge along with such classic titles as Silent Hill, Alone in the Dark and Dino Crisis (also a Mikami directed game).
This was what many consider the “golden age” of survival horror between 1994 and 2004.
Mikami was also involved in the background as a consultant on such games as Viewtiful Joe and Devil May Cry. He also created Vanquish but let’s not talk about that…
With The Evil Within, Mikami is creating what could become a brand new franchise.
When I play The Evil Within, I’m reminded of Resident Evil 4 a lot. This was the last time Mikami was involved in a Resident Evil game and was considered to be a sort of re-birth of the survival horror franchise, and genre as a whole.
It brought new mechanics, a fresh take on zombies, new environments and bosses, and all round felt like something different. It also started the trend of “over the shoulder” third person games that are now so prevalent in modern games.
The Evil Within hits a lot of the same notes as Resident Evil 4 did. It has countryside environments, over the top boss battles, tense situations and even a boss battle in a burning barn but RE: 4 isn’t the only game that The Evil Within takes inspiration from.
There are moments of Silent Hill in there too, and that’s by no means a bad thing. The tone and the story (which I will touch on in a bit) remind me of Silent Hill in all the right ways. There are other reminders that are less subtle however…
The game stars Sebastian Castellanos, a rough around the edges cop that makes Metal Gear Solid’s Solid Snake look like an emotionally available and sensitive man.
He’s a very dry individual, and doesn’t emote at all. The only real character development offered for Sebastian is in the form of diaries found in save rooms that hint at a much happier life before the events of the game that inevitably takes a turn for the worse.
The story begins with Sebastian and his partner Joseph, along with the rookie cop Kidman (voiced by Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter) responding to a call at Beacon Mental Hospital, and from there, things take a turn for the insane.
I can’t really explain the story of The Evil Within here for two reasons;
- Talking about it robs you of the opportunity to experience the lunacy for yourself.
- It makes very little sense.
So if you’re one of those obsessed with The Last of Us level narratives, this probably isn’t a game for you.
The story serves as a launching pad to get Sebastian from one crazy scenario to the next.
One minute you’re in the middle of a forest sneaking through the bushes to avoid villagers, the next you’re exploring a mansion (a staple of Mikami’s Resident Evil games) while being chased by the main antagonist.
This is survival horror and every other game in the genre from here on out should take note, this is how it’s done!
While the story does take you from set piece to set piece quite elegantly, it invariably crumbles under the weight of its own complexity trying very hard to weave a complicated narrative and hook everything together and while it does come together by the end of the games 10+ hour story, it doesn’t gel as well as they would have hoped.
A lot of this is due to weak characterization of the main players. Sebastian, as mentioned, is an emotionless robot. Joseph is just there to help you when things get tough and Kidman is the rookie with a supposed hidden agenda.
Ruvic, the game’s main antagonist however, is dark and menacing and creates an aura of mystery around him that makes him terrifying and fear inducing despite the fact that he is just a thin pale and short man.
The voice actor for Ruvic is none other than Jackie Earl Haley (Rorschach in Watchmen and Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street remake) so this should come as no surprise, the man knows how to do dark.
He brings a certain gravitas to the role that makes you forget what Ruvic looks like on the outside and realize the power he truly holds.
This, along with the atmosphere is what makes The Evil Within shine. It nails the tense and nail biting atmosphere more so than Alien Isolation did (you can read the review here) and even when it evokes memories of past games like Resident Evil 4 and Silent Hill, it still manages to feel like its own entity.
One thing that I realized when playing The Evil Within was that I really didn’t know what Survival Horror was.
I’ve been playing these games since I was a kid, and while some of them were “scary”, the survival aspect was, more often than not, missing.
The Evil Within takes everything from Resident Evil and Silent Hill that I had thought was tense and difficult, what I thought the “survival” in survival horror meant and amps it up to 15.
I was barely escaping every encounter (big or small) by the skin of my teeth.
The final count when I finished the game was 150 deaths.
I took every corner with anxious purpose and tried (and more often than not, failed) to make every shot count. This is survival horror and every other game in the genre from here on out (provided there are any more) should take note, this is how it’s done!
Gameplay is tight, tense and great. You have to work to make it through most encounters, ammo is in short supply and the enemies are not shambling zombies. They think, learn and move in an effort to survive as well as kill you.
As the game progresses, the enemies change to present new challenges and keep the game feeling fresh.
Another great thing about Evil Within are the save rooms. The use of Claire De Lune by Debussy is peaceful, quiet and soft. Words that can in no way be associated with the game, making it a neat juxtaposition every time you arrive at one.
As with a lot of other things in the game, it reminds me of a previous Resident Evil game.
Unfortunately, for all it’s good, there are some minor letdowns.
As well as the aforementioned characterization issues, the game suffers from some technical hiccups, from bad texture pop-in to some frame rate issues later on in the game when there is a lot going on.
These are minor things that only partially take away from the experience and due to infrequency, I’m happy to let it slide. If they happened every other minute, this might be a bigger problem.
All in all, The Evil Within is a master class in survival horror by a master of the craft.
It reminded me of a time when games made you work to get through them, a time when ideas could be completely insane but still work. I took 15 hours to finish the game and I loved every frustrating minute of it.
Upon finishing the game, I feel emptiness inside that can only be filled by something as good, if not better than this, and that will not be easy to do.