Being a survival-horror fan, I hold Shinji Mikami in high regard. As the twisted mind behind the Resident Evil franchise, namely the genre defying Resident Evil 4, he is considered by many to be the father of modern horror in video games. Naturally, I was excited to learn about The Evil Within – a new survival horror title by Mikami that promises to deliver a terrifying experience by digging deep into Mikami’s survival horror roots. Unfortunately, The Evil Within ends up just scratching the surface.
That isn’t to say the game has nothing to offer, nor that it isn’t a good horror game; it’s simply that when someone promises to go back to his roots, you expect to find influences from his early works. Instead, The Evil Within borrows heavily from Resident Evil 4 (and not just the title), the last game in the Resident Evil franchise Mikami worked on. We have not-really-zombie enemies, big deformed men with chainsaws, over-the-shoulder camera, and many other elements and ideas taken straight out of that game. True, some of these have become genre staples, but it feels like Mikami has continued right where he left off with Resident Evil 4, adding a few new concepts, but mostly sticking with what made the game such a success. Suffice it to say, if you liked Resident Evil 4, you’ll like The Evil Within.
Now that that’s out of the way, it’s time to talk about The Evil Within proper. You are Sebastian Castellanos, a jaded, semi-alcoholic detective who is called to investigate a disturbance at the local insane asylum. This being a horror game and all, it takes less than two minutes for the blood, guts and chainsaws to literally come out of the woodwork. It also takes less than two minutes for the game to become utterly confusing. This, of course, is done on purpose, so that the inevitable twist will feel even more twisted, but there still needs to be a sense of purpose and direction. Half the time it’s unclear where you’re headed or why; is Sebastian just pressing onwards in the hope of reaching the end of this nightmare? Is he looking for someone? Could it be both? And where the heck did this castle come from? I was just wandering around an abandoned hospital a minute ago! Questions like “how” or “why” have no place in The Evil Within.
The question of “who” isn’t one you’re encouraged to ask either. All we know about Sebastian is that he is a detective with a permanent frown and a flask. Throughout the game we learn a little bit more about him through dialog and collectibles, but none of what we learn has any impact or relevance to the story. For a horror game to work, you need to be able to relate to the protagonist and care about them, and sadly Sebastian is a mostly empty character with no real… well, character.
But The Evil Within doesn’t really work as a horror game, not in the traditional sense at least. Since you don’t really care about Sebastian, all that’s left for the game is to try and create an atmosphere of constant dread and peril, and to make us believe danger is everywhere. The Evil Within succeeds only in the latter. The atmosphere is indeed intense and keeps you on your toes with the sense that at any second some horrid monster will come shambling around the corner. Unfortunately, there’s little reason to fear these monsters. Once you get used to the controls and mechanics, and collect enough weapons, you rarely have to fear for your life. Sure, you’ll probably die occasionally, but not because you were too terrified to react; it will be because you mismanaged the resources at your disposal.
Resource management and ammo conservation were always a big part of the survival horror genre, and in The Evil Within it’s no different. You’ll have to be clever if you want to survive each encounter with the enemy. You can even use stealth as a way of dispatching enemies without the waste of ammo or to avoid conflict altogether. It’s a nice idea, and goes well with the game’s vibe, though once you start amassing weapons and ammo it takes a backseat. Actually, apart from the whole not-that-scary part, The Evil Within has a lot of what fans are looking for in a survival horror game: limited ammo and health items, enemies that are tough to kill, claustrophobia-inducing spaces and weird puzzles.
Like many of Shinji Mikami’s works, this game also has lots of action. There are many occasions where you don’t have the option to run away or to sneak past the bad guys, and must engage them head on. That doesn’t mean the game turns into a full-blown shooter. While some of the bosses are simple bullet-sponges, most of the time you can’t simply empty your clip into the zombie-like enemies and expect them to stay down. You need to target weak points, use the environment to your advantage or sometimes just hope for a critical hit from your pistol. To better your odds of survival you can upgrade Sebastian’s weapons, and Sebastian himself, using a strange green gel you find while exploring. These “RPG elements” do feel a little bit out of place, but since the game gets tougher and the enemies more brutal, it is a welcomed addition.
What the game lacks in atmosphere and psychological horror, it more than makes up for in gore. There is a ridiculous amount of blood in the game, and Sebastian can die in many brutal and very graphic ways. There are also more than a few inspired monster designs and some very cool moments that involve shifting perspectives and clever camera angles. The visual direction is top notch, and if you like the gory kind of horror you’ll find plenty to gawk at. It’s too bad that the over-the-shoulder camera is stuck so close to Sebastian most of the time that you can’t really enjoy it all outside of cutscenes.
While The Evil Within isn’t Shinji Mikami’s triumphant return to survival horror, it does deliver a fun, albeit a little too familiar, gameplay experience. The visuals and the action manage to compensate for the confusing story and lack of character development, and what classic survival horror mechanics present work very well. If you’re an old-school fan of the genre, you might find the game lacking, but those who only dabble in horror every once in a while will find The Evil Within more than satisfies their lust for blood, guts and chainsaws.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.