The survival horror, it has often been said, isn't what it used to be. Action has taken the place of suspense, while the pace has increased leaving no room for building tension. The question becomes, can Shinji Mikami, the godfather of the genre, breath life back into what many believe is already dead with The Evil Within
The opening moments of The Evil Within
set the pace for what follows and take players back to the glory days of survival horror. Detectives Sebastian Castellanos, Julie Kidman and Joseph Oda, fresh from closing a case, are diverted to Beacon Mental Hospital, the scene of a multiple homicide. From the outside, everything is calm despite a large number of police cars and ambulances on scene. The large doors open slowly, building the tension as the group heads in to find bodies strewn across the reception hall, drag marks and puddles of blood. Your usual horror fare. With a single survivor found in a back room, you check the surveillance cameras for any clue as to what happened only to witness the deaths of three officers at the hands of Ruvik, man wearing a white hood and covered in burn scars, with the odd ability to move distances in the blink of an eye. Within seconds this same man becomes aware of your arrival and knocks you unconscious.
Once awake, you get to the meat of the game’s opening chapter, which sees Sebastian injured, unarmed and pursued by a foe that he has absolutely no chance of defeating. True to Mikami form, this harkens back to the first encounter with Resident Evil 3: Nemesis
’ namesake while simultaneously bringing back memories of being dismembered by Resident Evil 4
’s chainsaw wielding Ganado. While paying homage to the genre's roots, this introduction serves as a tutorial for the game's stealth mechanics, using bottles to distract the lumbering gargantuan and hiding in lockers to avoid his gaze. With the impending dismemberment never too far away, this section drums home the lessons and makes sure you have learned them before letting you move on. Unfortunately, as the story progresses the opportunities to be stealthy become less frequent, and when they do arise the temptation to continue gunning your way through hordes of enemies often feels like the most satisfying option.
As with most survival horror titles, ammo conservation plays a major part in making it through the enemy infested corridors, wasting precious bullets that may be needed later can often leave you feeling unprepared and vulnerable. This isn’t always the case here, though, as The Evil Within
does grant players a few little tricks; a well-timed shot to the leg can down most regular enemies and once they're flailing helplessly on the floor. they can be set alight using matches. If there happens to be a group of enemies around, timing this to coincide with their approach can engulf the entire group in flames. There are also a fair number of traps spread around to hinder our protagonist but they can also be turned against his enemies or disarmed and dismantled to be used to create ammo for the powerful Agony Crossbow. The Evil Within
employs many scare tactics that the seasoned survival horror fan have come to expect. Most will still fall for these tricks thanks to some clever use of lighting or misdirection that draws attention away from the real threat only to be face-to-face with it when you turn back. At times I found myself swinging the camera around and readying my pistol only to discover that the horror I was expecting was in fact a shadow cast by my own lantern. The larger, boss style creatures instil fear in the own ways, too, as if their shrieking wails and disfigured forms aren’t horrific enough. The simple truth is that if they get too close, death is inevitable and most will dispatch Detective Castellanos in a single hit, a scene that many players will have to watch time and time again until they figure out what the scenario is asking of them.
Dying becomes a recurring theme of the game. Players will be beaten, strangled, dismembered, decapitated, crushed, exploded and set alight more times than they will care to remember. Even after so many setbacks the drive to fight on doesn’t fade and the game continues to draw you in. While it may be frustrating to continuously face defeat at the hands of a powerful foe, it never feels like any given encounter is impossible. Patience and perseverance are certainly required, though.
Even if the enemies aren’t enough to rattle the most hardened veterans of the genre, the locations which are dark and unnerving, filled with slumped corpses, pools of blood, body parts and unidentified matter, can shift, revealing doors that weren’t originally there or blocking off corridors to push you forward with no chance of retreat from the approaching horrors. At times, the locations change entirely, moving you from one hellish nightmare to another with little warning and forcing players to adapt to their new surroundings quickly. These transitions are often accompanied by camera filters that aim to confuse and disorient, and they work with great effect, making it difficult to track enemies or distinguish between shapes in the background.The Evil Within
tries to make players feel uneasy whenever possible, even in the save area. The transition between the nightmarish world and the relative safety of the mental institute Sebastian finds himself in is often greeted with the fearful and panicked face of our protagonist, as if waking from a psychotic episode, calling into question whether or not he is actually sane. The actual act of improving skills is no less kind, requiring Sebastian to strap himself into a chair and undergo a painful procedure that resembles a lobotomy.
These upgradeable skills, which vary from increasing sprint duration and maximum health to reducing reload times and the amount of weapon sway while aiming, all cost differing amounts of green gel, a currency of sorts that can be found lying around, on fallen enemies, and in crates or cupboards. Like many games with upgrade systems, choosing exactly where to invest your precious points raises a dilemma: Is it worth upgrading the pistol to deal more damage or would it be more worthwhile to carry more ammunition? Of course this comes down to how each player likes to approach different situations, but the skill building does allow for some sort of customisation. One of the biggest drawbacks to the upgrade system is that, despite including the ability to be stealthy, the stealth-related skills in Sebastian’s arsenal cannot be improved upon; there is no option to make him move more quickly while crouching or to create tools to distract enemies. As such, by becoming more proficient in other areas, the stealthy approach begins to feel less appreciated and more like an afterthought.
While the world is well-crafted and the combat is both tactical and taxing, the game’s dialogue can be very wooden and recurring characters do little to explain how they have gotten into the situations they find themselves in. At a later point in the story, one character's motives seem to change completely with no real explanation as to why. At the best of times, a survival horror game’s story has to be taken with a pinch of salt, but The Evil Within
often left me not just a little confused, but completely lost. By the conclusion, much of the plot had begun to make sense and playing through some earlier chapters again helped to fill in some gaps but certain aspects of some characters' stories still seemed blank. Hopefully some of the upcoming DLC will rectify this, but for those that may not purchase any additional content, certain facts may never quite make sense.
The achievements are well spread out, and contain the usual few for story progression, upgrading a number of skills, using specific weapons to dispatch enemies and dealing with progressively larger numbers of enemies. There are also achievements specific to certain chapters that require players to complete tasks, though most of these can be unlocked without too much trouble if a little research is done beforehand. The trickiest of the achievements are likely to be The Quick and the Dead
, which requires a completion time of under five hours, and It Is What It Is
that asks players to finish the game without upgrading any of Sebastian’s skills, both of which will require nerves of steel.The Evil Within
is a true return to survival horror roots that doesn’t fail to throw out some decent scares, even if not all of them hit the mark. Shinji Mikami and the team at Tango Gameworks have managed to rekindle the genre and bring back what a survival horror should be, though some wooden voice acting, missing plot points and a lack of opportunities for stealthy play do hold it back. If you are a fan of old-school horror games, this is a title that shouldn’t be missed.The reviewer spent approximately twenty-seven hours killing, running, hiding and being killed on many, many occasions. He played on a secondary profile on the Casual difficulty unlocking 21 of the game's 44 achievements, before committing to the Survival difficulty on his main profile. This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game which was supplied by the publisher.