The Evil Within doesn’t mess about. Within ten minutes, after a b-movie-like intro cinematic, you find yourself in a room full of corpses and blood. Another cut-scene later and you are in a kill-room, a single hulking butcher wandering the grime infested, grisly environment and hacking bodies in half. Oh, and you’re hung upside down witnessing it all happen.
To say that Mikami’s new horror game is gruesome and gory would be like saying that sugar is sweet. It’s vile, detestable, almost to the point you want to turn away and stop playing. It’s truly one of the most revolting games I’ve ever played, and nary a moment will pass that something awful isn’t happening to someone, somewhere. Yet crucially, it’s immensely playable.
The story is utterly bewildering to begin with, skipping about so much that you have to initially accept it, and just go with it. You play Sebastian Castellanos, a detective investigating a multiple homicide case, before everything just turns to rot. After a while, it becomes fairly obvious what’s actually happening – though I won’t spoil it – and you’re left wondering if the game really is that up-front about its themes with constant references to them, or if the jarring narrative is to unsettle you more.
And it will unsettle you. Such is the gruesome nature of the world, and so palpable is the tension, that this game will affect you as you lay awake at night, your eyes flickering from shadow to shadow as you try to not think about it. It’s the kind of game that makes you question the mind that created it.
“The world shifts
as the story
“The world shifts
as the story
Much of this is thanks to Mikami’s direction, and it’s seen and felt everywhere. The world shifts as the story progresses, and one room will swiftly morph into another, disorientating you, never letting you rest. Blood will suddenly pour from the walls, and then a wall might appear where a door once was. The director is playing with you, and you both know it. Elsewhere, the environments are dank, dimly lit places. Your lantern is an important source of light, illuminating objects to pick up, crates to smash, and places to hide.
In fact, an early sequence brought to mind Alien: Isolation. As a chainsaw wielding psychopath hunts an injured Sebastian (and he’s limping slowly from danger), you hide in a locker, waiting for the murder-crazed hulk to pass, so you can escape. Moments like these are surprising in a game that otherwise mixes third-person shooter with stealth rather well.
It’s as though Resident Evil 4 had a baby with the mechanics from The Last of Us, and you will be holding R1 to crouch and sneak around, crafting bolts for your Agony Crossbow, before throwing a collected bottle to distract the disgusting enemies. Following that, you’ll creep up and shank them in the head to put them down. Only that’s not it. Going one further, enemies can reanimate unless you use collected matches to burn them. There is no break from The Evil Within; no recourse, and often no escape. The atmosphere here is as oppressive as any game I’ve played before, which makes a two hour session feel like a lifetime.
The combat revolves around numerous weapons (pistol, shotgun, sniper rifle, grenades), but the key one is the Agony Crossbow. It can fire a variety of different shots, from the simple bolt to an explosive one, and this different ammo will be more useful depending on the enemy or boss type. You will find ammo for your arsenal by killing (and burning, remember!) enemies, smashing crates, or emptying lockers and drawers. Additionally (and importantly), you can craft crossbow ammo by disarming any of the numerous traps that litter the environments. This actually presents a conundrum: often traps are more plentifully armed near a boss encounter, so do you disarm them and use them to make bows, or do you use the traps against the boss?
Saving is done via a central hub, accessible a few times per level. You can save after each chapter, but in this hub you can access lockers that you find keys for, to assist you with extra ammo, or gel. This green goop is also found throughout the game, and is how you level up your skills. Whether you simply want to upgrade your overall health, or increase the efficiency of a specific ammo type, even here, the creepily oppressive world makes you feel uncomfortable.
“The creepily oppressive
world makes you
“The creepily oppressive
world makes you
Where The Evil Within falls down slightly is the audio department. While the enemies put the fear of god into you, there just isn’t enough here. It’s clear that you need to scavenge to survive (draining the world dry of ammo and upgrade gel), but doing so means you can reveal some obvious trigger points in the levels. Take chainsaw-guy, for example. Like Resident Evil 4, he’ll come back to haunt you at points, but the first time you can successfully take him on, it’s patently obvious that it’s going to happen. So you leave him well alone until you’ve grabbed everything from that level. He’ll moan and rattle his chains every time you go anywhere near him, but he won’t attack until a certain point is triggered. This causes his scary audio to become irritating. Elsewhere, NPC dialogue (you do hang out with people, but you don’t have to babysit them – even though it feels like you are) will repeat the same lines over and over, reminding you that you’ve got to get on, meanwhile you are exploring and grabbing much-needed ammo and gel. It’s not that the audio is bad (the dialogue isn’t great, though the rest of it is superb), it’s just that it’s a little at odds with the core aspects elsewhere.
There are other minor irritations, too. Trying to pick up items isn’t always easy, and you might have to reposition yourself a few times to do so. In the heat of battle, grabbing that ammo you desperately need has to be quick – and it isn’t always the case. At times it also feels a little too much like fan service for its own good. Another mansion, multiple puzzles to unlock a single route forward – this stuff will please some, and make others roll their eyes. Some chapters are straight up standard third-person shooter fare, too. It’s nice to have a break from the darkness, but that doesn’t mean a daylight sequence should just turn the game into a basic shooter.
Visually, The Evil Within has been slaved over. While not the best looking game you’ll see this year, the art direction is often incredible, helped by the decision to use a letterbox aspect ratio. It’s surprisingly effective and the visual impact is clear. The enemy design is as grim as you’d expect, with the base-level grunts strikingly similar to the Resi 4 villagers, and moving up through the gears to create some horrifying creations that I just don’t want to talk about. Most of the enemies will require some form of strategy, though. I initially felt a little cheated when one particular enemy was introduced. How is it fair that I can’t see them? But while the Evil Within may be challenging, it’s not unfair. I quickly realised I could see them, as they would bump into things, giving away their position. One quick stun-bolt later and they were lit up and dazed, allowing me to instantly kill them. Other enemies will kill you with a single touch, but the trick is to learn when to fight, and when to flee. You’re just Sebastian, a comparatively under-powered generic detective who hasn’t the foggiest idea what’s going on.
Mikami and Tango Gameworks have proved that horror is most certainly alive and well in gaming, and if you can stomach it (and only certain people will be able to), you’ll thoroughly enjoy The Evil Within. The horrible feeling that creeps over your skin as you play makes you want to stop, but the gameplay is good enough that you’ll keep going regardless. If you’re fed up of where Resident Evil is at, then The Evil Within might be the foul-smelling breath of fetid air you are craving, even if it might have benefited from being a tighter, leaner affair.
Channels those Resi 4 vibes
Gameplay is great
A bit too long
The story isn't up to much
Will prove too much for some