By: Trevor Thompson
I’ll admit it: I was not excited for The Evil Within. I had read very few positive previews, and Resident Evil gameplay has given me a bad taste in my mouth since the series’ 5th installment. Out of sheer curiosity, I decided to review this game, and I must say, I’m glad I did. Resident Evil mixed with Silent Hill is an apt way to describe The Evil Within. Shinji Mikami demonstrates what he does best creating a tense, frightening, and addictively fun experience that only the king of survival horror could pull off. The story and characters are boring at best and laughable at worst, but they serve their purpose by providing a conduit for the dark and twisted imagery of your worst nightmares.
In The Evil Within, you play as Sebastian Castellanos, a detective for the Krimson City Police Department. Upon receiving an assignment to investigate a multiple homicide at Beacon Mental Hospital, you and your team of detectives head to the scene. Shortly after arriving, you are sedated by a strange hooded figure and awaken into a living nightmare. Over the course of the 15-hour story, I was subjected to some of the more disturbing aspects of the human imagination. From giggling zombies in porcelain masks, to a terrifying demon with a safe for a head, I truly felt the Silent Hill aesthetic that I have been missing since the release of Silent Hill 4. The Evil Within takes you through classic horror genre locations including haunted mansions, underground catacombs, and mental hospitals but manages to make each one uniquely twisted. Unfortunately, the characters are almost humorously emotionless in the face of danger, especially Sebastian whose tough guy exterior seems impenetrable even in the face of his worst fears. Likewise, the story loses itself about halfway through as it attempts to shock you through random and often jarring plot twists. By the end, I found myself severely underwhelmed and seeking additional answers. Luckily, the story does a good job at explaining the varied and dark settings in which the game takes place.
The Resident Evil nature of The Evil Within presents itself through the gameplay. You slay zombies, monsters, and demons from a third-person over-the-shoulder perspective, minus Resident Evil 4’s cumbersome tank controls. As Sebastian, you will utilize pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles, and a crossbow to take down your foes, and each weapon feels effective and powerful. In classic survival horror fashion, ammo is scarce, and it’s not unusual to find yourself carefully lining up a head shot, praying for a critical hit as you release your final pistol round. Ammo and health scarcity, limited stamina, and enemy abundance combine to make The Evil Within rather difficult; so don’t expect the game to hold your hand past the first few chapters. Boss fights are also very common and effective at creating heart-pounding suspense. Stealth is presented as a viable strategy early in the game, but quickly becomes obsolete once the enemies gain seemingly superhuman awareness. Additionally, nearly every enemy walks faster than Sebastian does when crouching, making it frustratingly difficult to pull of a silent kill on a moving enemy.
The Evil Within boasts a robust upgrade system, utilizing “green gel” found throughout the game’s world. While the standard health, stamina, and melee damage upgrades exist, the various weapon upgrades allow you to fine tune your play style and beef up your load out. The game is also host to a large number of collectables including audio logs, diaries, maps, and keys to unlock equipment caches in the hub world.
By far the one aspect of The Evil Within that has stuck with me the most is just how beautiful this game is. Every environment is gorgeous, terrifying, and effective at creating bone-chilling uneasiness. While the epic, moving set pieces often take center stage during cut scenes, the small nuances are the stars of gameplay. The unnerving nature of walking into an asylum cell bordered with red curtains and hosting a lone torture chair, while a crazed women giggled uncontrollably off screen will stick with me for many a sleepless night from here on out. The character animations and lip-syncing is solid, but the enemy art design is where the visuals truly shine. Zombies are the main enemies of The Evil Within, and they are effectively designed to create a feeling of dread when you witness a horde of the creatures sprinting towards you. Boss designs are superb and feature everything from giant zombie dogs, to four armed spider ladies with massive claws, and everything in between. The one boss that truly stands out, however, is the Keeper. Equipped with a spiked hammer and a bag full of severed heads, this safe-headed foe is reminiscent of Silent Hill 2’s Pyramid Head and could easily go down as a classic horror game enemy.
The Evil Within’s sound design is superb. The score is epic during boss fights and big battles, but drops to eerie minimalism during a majority of the game. Environments rely heavily on creepy ambient noises such as the ticking of a grandfather clock or the soft caw of a nearby murder of crows. Enemies all have unique audio tells to signify their presence before a fight, and whether it’s the haunting moan of a zombie or the sound of a hammer beating against a safe, every new sound sent chills up my spine. The voice acting is passable, if not a bit disappointing, but I get the feeling that the actors were more held back by the script than anything else.
In more ways than one, The Evil Within is the Resident Evil 5 we deserved. Shinji Mikami has given us a glimpse into his twisted, talented mind once again, and it does not disappoint. While a lack luster story and poor characters hold the game back from its full potential, the haunting atmosphere, stellar combat, and excellent sound design signal a return to the more action-orientated subgenre of survival horror. Whether you love the suspense of Resident Evil 4 or the terror of Silent Hill, The Evil Within is a title worthy of any gamer’s time.