As you’d probably expect from Shinji Mikami (the brains behind the original Resident Evil game), The Evil Within is an almost textbook ‘survival horror’ game. It follows all of the genre’s usual conventions, sometimes to the point of being clichéd – in fact, often way, waaaay beyond the point of being clichéd. Strange goings-on in a mental hospital: check. Wandering around in a big ol’ creepy mansion: check. Mirrors that act as portals: check. Weird gloopy stuff on the walls, bad-ass baddies with considerably more arms/legs than you’d expect, lots of things trying to eat your brains: check, check, aaaaaannnd check!!
Obviously, if you’re a fan of the genre, you probably won’t mind any of that in the slightest, and there’s every chance you’re playing The Evil Within precisely because of these very tropes. In fact, given The Evil Within is also a 3rd person-over-the-shoulder, gore-and-blood fest, if that is you, you’ll be in pretty familiar territory all around. Whether you’re blown away by the game, though, is an entirely different matter.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed The Evil Within, it’s just that I was left with the feeling that it could have been a lot, lot better. There is, on the whole, a lot to really like about it, but there are also a few, mostly little things that, in my opinion, kept it from being really great.
In terms of NARRATIVE, The Evil Within – as I’ve already suggested – is pretty much what you’d expect. As Sebastian Castellanos, a detective in Krimson City PD, you’ll find yourself pulled into a weird scenario involving bizarre characters, and world(literally)-falling-apart type shenanigans. As you progress through the story, you’ll find documents, recordings, newspapers etc that’ll add to your understanding of what’s going on – to a point, anyway. There’ll also be that ever-present doubt that, actually, everything’s fine, and it’s just you that’s gone insane and, finally, you’ll be treated to weird flashbacks, ghostly visions, and an increasingly grotesque array of monsters standing between you and the truth. Most of this, and the dialogue etc., is hilariously cheesy – but I chose to see that as knowingly meta, or at least a big part of the fun. After all, it wouldn’t be survival horror if your square-jawed hero didn’t make a painfully unfunny wisecrack now and then, right!?
Likewise, the ATMOSPHERE is just about spot-on throughout the game, and the many dark tunnels, caves – together with the feeling that just around the next corner is something truly hideous – all create a sense of claustrophobia and dread that rivals the best examples of the genre. Similarly, as you approach that next corner, you’ll find yourself torn between equipping a weapon that might just give you a chance, or saving it for the guy around the next corner, who might be bigger and even more hideous. There’ll undoubtedly be times when, as the level clear screen pops up, you’ll realise you were a little bit on the tense side – and you’ll slump back in your seat and take a deep breath. Again, what good’s a survival horror game if it doesn’t really mess with your stress levels, eh!?
There’s also a fairly good LEVELING-UP system, and you’ll be able to collect “green gel” (yeah, I’ve no idea either!) which you can cash-in to upgrade your character’s attributes, weapons, or the amount of ammo/stuff you can carry. This means that you’ll be torn between running through a level (but ultimately surviving), and creeping into that little dark room which might just contain a generous amount of green gel – or equally might just contain a big guy who wants to kill you all different kinds of ways. And how you spend the green gel you’ve managed to obtain is a feature I really liked in The Evil Within – and it added a nice element of thought and personalisation to the game. There was always a trade-off, or a subtle cost-benefit analysis to consider, and I thought the whole thing was done – and ultimately worked – really, really well.
However, the overall PACING in The Evil Within didn’t work quite so well, in my opinion. That might’ve been deliberate (as in – we know how you think this shit works, so we’re going to do it differently), but I’m (personally) not sure it was totally successful. I’m all for playing with our expectations, but I think there’s a fine line in Survival Horror, and if you peak too early with your scares, or action, or whatever, it can leave your audience a little underwhelmed when everything’s over. Without wanting to give too much away, The Evil Within left me feeling like the big-bad-boss-dude was a bit of a joke, at least relatively speaking.
Which brings me to the DIFFICULTY of The Evil Within. Whilst the last guy’s pretty easy, you’ll notice I said relatively so, and that’s because he’s a piece of cake compared to some of the other bosses. Aside from creating the aforementioned pacing issues, I found that the earlier boss fights were, if anything, too difficult. Or at least overly frustrating – and for a variety of reasons, not least because it felt like TEW was using, let’s say, cheap and dirty tricks to make things difficult.
In Survival horror, for example, we know we’re going to have to manage resources, solve puzzles, fight boss characters, and probably do so with limited save options, staggered checkpoints etc., and for the most part, I enjoy this as much as the next person. However, The Evil Within often just throws all of the above at you, AT THE SAME TIME, and without apparently thinking it through properly.
So, you’ve got hardly any ammo, and you’re fighting a big boss, and you need to solve some kind of puzzle whilst said boss (who’s usually pretty quick) is trying to rip your face off, and there are few-to-no-checkpoints so when (inevitably) your face does get ripped off, you’re going to have to take a mahoosive step back in the game. When the puzzles aren’t obvious (and no clues are offered), you’ll die many times just looking for stuff. Once you’ve found the thing you need to shoot/press/whatever, you’ll die many more times trying to press/shoot it (and run out of ammo in the process), then, when you do finally pull it off, you move on to the next section, but because there’s no checkpoint, and you’re back to square one in terms of cluelessness, you’ll not only die many more times trying to figure out/find the new stuff, but when you do die, it’s right back to the beginning of the whole encounter.
There are parts of the game where there are, essentially, three or four distinct sections to a boss fight, but either no checkpoints, or possibly one. The cumulative trial and error nature of these is so utterly, utterly time consuming that it left me really, really frustrated (not helped by the huge load times, it has to be said), and I felt like I was being mugged, not challenged.
Now, this would all be more acceptable, or bearable, if the game wasn’t so GLITCHY – but it is. The evolution of survival horror into the 3rd person, over-the-shoulder viewpoint has mostly been a good thing, but it also has a few consistent issues, and The Evil Within suffers many of these, plus a few others all of its own. There’s the usual camera issues, which means fighting bosses with the move-turn-shoot thing is sometimes extremely frustrating, and I often found my field of view inexplicably absorbed by the scenery when I turned to shoot the Spider Lady in the face. Some games have overcome these issues with a decent dodge/quick turn option – but TEW, not so much. Then, when the scenery’s not ballsing up your viewing angle, it might be inexplicably grabbing onto your leg so you can’t move – again, often a bit of an issue when there’s, say, a mutated dog trying to use your face as a chew toy.
Next, bearing in mind the resource management, limited checkpoints, and having a millisecond to press/shoot/grab something to progress thing, imagine how utterly frustrating it would be if any of your (few remaining) bullets inexplicably passed through an opponent/switch, or if you had to walk around in circles next to a lever about a millionty-billion times for the ‘press’ command to appear on screen. Annoying, right!? Well, all of that happens a lot in The Evil Within. I’ll freely admit that my reactions aren’t what they used to be, but nothing annoys me more than (finally) doing what I need to do – only for it not to work because of a glitch. If it then means going back half an hour in the game (over and over again), there’s a very real danger that my PS4’s going through a window.
Also, the partner AI is sometimes hilariously bad. Now, when we’re playing a game, and there’s another person on screen, we pretty much know that they’re going to do some really daft stuff, triggering cut-scenes where afterwards we have to save their sorry asses, but in TEW it interferes with the actual gameplay way too much. I lost count of the number of times I’d slowly, cautiously approach a bomb to disarm it, only for my partner to bound towards me like an over exuberant (if slightly dim) spaniel, blowing us both to bits. Likewise, I’d frequently line up a shot with an explosive bolt, patiently waiting for the perfect shot, only for Detective Eejit to wander right in front of me when I pulled the trigger. Boom – both dead.
Actually, whilst we’re on the subject of the crossbow, the makers of The Evil Within seem to have fundamentally misunderstood how they work. As far as I’m aware, one of the major benefits of the crossbow over, say, a regular bow, is that it has a trigger, not just a string, so once the bolt’s actually loaded, you just have to fire. You don’t need to hold the trigger to increase the length of the bolt’s flight, or wait for the requisite tension, yet in TEW that’s exactly what you have to do. It’s a minor detail admittedly, but it bugged the hell out of me, particularly when it led to more stuff munching on my face than was strictly necessary.
And in CONCLUSION, that was pretty much my overall experience of The Evil Within. It was mostly a good game, and I mostly really enjoyed playing it, but there were always just these little things that bugged me, and that ultimately stopped the game being something genuinely great. Sometimes it was a particular glitch, sometimes it was just the overwhelming feeling that the makers hadn’t thought x, y or z through properly, and then, when it was all over, I sort of felt a little disappointed that the game wasn’t as good as it could’ve been. Although we may’ve come to expect (and often love) certain core elements of particular games and genres, we also like it when somebody mixes up the formula now and again, or adds something new and exciting. The Evil Within hasn’t really done that, instead relying on the old ‘if it ain’t broke….’ strategy, rather than taking any risks that could’ve elevated the game above and beyond. I’ll freely admit that a big part of my disappointment might’ve been because I was really looking forward to playing The Evil Within, and therefore my own expectations did it an unfair disservice, but hey, them’s the breaks game-making people!
All that said though, The Evil Within is just about good enough – and if you are a fan of the survival horror genre, it’ll provide you with enough to really enjoy. And even though I wouldn’t say it was awesome, I’m absolutely positive that I’ll get many more hours of enjoyment out of it as I take advantage of the New Game +, and whenever I’m in the mood for a bit of shooting mutated/”haunted” people in the head – it’ll definitely be a serious contender. Indeed, many of my issues with the game were personal, and perhaps overly gripe-y, but setting those aside, The Evil Within is a reasonably good effort, and on balance, there’s considerably more to like than dislike.