Review: The Evil Within

Bethesda announced The Evil Within, Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami’s latest game, in April 2013 and with that came the promise that classic survival horror would be making a comeback. At the hands of the man that is considered the father of the genre, The Evil Within has been hailed by its creators to be the pure survival horror experience that fans of the genre have been craving. Time and circumstance has altered the definition of “survival horror” and as a result fans have been treated with games filled with more action than survival. It is this reason that The Evil Within was advertised in such a way. As a result of this self-promoted dichotomy encouraged by its creators, The Evil Within has and will fail to meet some expectations.

Due to Mikami’s pedigree, fans of the genre no doubt have high hopes for The Evil Within and everything it has to offer in the way of survival horror, but his latest game shares more with Resident Evil 4 than it does with the purely survival focused Resident Evil Remake. It’s worth stating this as early as possible in all conversations about the game as that fact is bound to deter those that were hoping for something more traditional.

With that said, those that go into The Evil Within with their expectations in check will be treated to one of the most intense, interesting, and entertaining horror titles to have been released in the last decade.

Instead of focusing on horror based on mutants from lab experiments or cultists infested with parasites, The Evil Within is a psychological horror romp that takes players into imaginative and abstract environments rooted in horrifying interpretations of reality. As Detective Sebastian Castellanos, players of The Evil Within start their adventure with a report of multiple homicides in Beacon Mental Hospital. Without so much as a slow build of exposition, players are very quickly thrust into a nightmare world of madness, death, and monstrosities.

Sebastian, along with his partners Joseph Oda and Julie Kidman, including Dr. Jimenez, a researcher at Beacon Mental Hospital, and his young patient Leslie, are the main cast in this horror adventure that has a far larger scope than expected. A hooded man named Ruvik, appropriately voiced by Watchmen and Nightmare on Elm Street star Jackie Earle Haley, is to blame for the destruction that ensues.

Initially, The Evil Within‘s frantic narrative put me off as its pacing felt too disjointed to really establish anything or acclimate players. Sebastian will be tossed (a lot of the time literally) from one environment to the next, mostly vastly different, as the world that he occupies does not adhere to the rules of reality. The game’s story at first feels rather throwaway, without much depth to it or solid characters, but overtime its camp charms reminiscent of games of the past begins to grow on you, and it becomes a story less about gluing set pieces together and something engaging enough to warrant intrigue and excitement. Some may not put so much weight into the storytelling of a game such as this, but its psychological horror premise may lead a few to disappointment.

Notes on Sebastian’s past and one character’s hidden motivation also hint at something that may be further expanded upon if The Evil Within becomes a series, or perhaps in the upcoming DLC. After completion of the main game, I’m looking forward to seeing how the story is expanded.

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In what I’d describe as a mix between Resident Evil 4, Siren, and The Last of Us, The Evil Within dons a third person perspective with a focus on both stealth mechanics and resource management. At the start of the game, the use of stealth becomes emphasized as enemies are resilient to damage. Stealth kills can only be done when enemies are not facing Sebastian and will more often than not attract the attention of others when alerted. A careful and methodical approach is best taken to clear an area filled with enemies as Sebastian’s starting health and offensive capabilities leave much to be desired.

Throughout levels, jars of green goo can be found or collected from puddles made by fallen enemies. This goo is used as the game’s currency in a hub world that offers a reprieve from levels and offers the ability to save and level up stats like sprint duration, weapon damage, and inventory space. Sebastian’s arsenal includes a pistol, shotgun, sniper rifle, and a crossbow that has craft-able bolts made from parts found in the environment or recovered from dismantled traps.

Personally, I’m a tad disappointed that the game’s save system is done in such a way that takes away the threat of attack. After coming straight off of Alien: Isolation, which has a save system that requires a sense of agency, The Evil Within appears a little too lax in contrast.

Overall, the furor over The Evil Within‘s difficulty seems to be quite exaggerated as the game does a fine job at limiting available ammunition and health just enough to reward strategy and punish carelessness on Normal difficulty. Any less would be far too forgiving, especially considering the game’s gracious checkpoint system. If it were possible, I’d go so far as to suggest a higher difficulty for fans familiar to the survival horror genre as The Evil Within adopts just the right amount of elements that its gameplay on a higher difficulty will provide the additional challenge that typically comes with more traditional games within the genre.

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Speaking on the game sharing more in common with Resident Evil 4 than Resident Evil Remake, The Evil Within‘s lowest moments (and by low I mean most like the unappealing portions of Resident Evil 4 and even Resident Evil 5 to some extent), don’t come too often, but when they do they leave a sour taste in the mouth. In a stark contrast between the game’s slower-paced and small scale levels, these elements include things such as an armored enemy type with a machine gun, forgoing stealth entirely in favor of waves of enemies, or a even scene where Sebastian has to take cover from a truck-mounted turret. These inclusions seem questionable even when accepting that the game leans more toward action horror than survival horror. It’s as if they were added in a bizarre situation where the developers were unsure of how to make the next 5 minutes of gameplay more “exciting”.

But a few unappealing moments can’t detract from how exceptional The Evil Within is when it’s in its element. Sporting the best art direction I’ve seen in a horror game in a long time, environments in The Evil Within are staggering, supplying a diverse range of locales filled with an immense amount of detail. A lot of work went into shaping focal points for players, and it comes through in nearly every instance when players are introduced to a new area, making marvelous first impressions. Barring a few scattered low resolution textures, the aesthetics of The Evil Within, from its fine-tuned lighting system to its use of fog and particle effects, raise the bar and lead to some awe-inspiring moments.

The same praise can’t be brought to the game’s visuals in other regards, though. It’s clear that The Evil Within was developed with the last generation of consoles in mind, and a few elements suffer for it; some character and object models don’t match the level of detail found in the environment, which creates an odd disparity.

When The Evil Within decides to ramp things up, it oftentimes does it exceptionally well. Minus the few awkward design decisions I’ve mentioned, the more frantic moments of the game provide an excellent anxiety boost. Boss battles in The Evil Within happen so seamlessly, without telltale buildup and always surprise in the best ways possible. These creatures include their own special strategies that players have to discover on their own, using their wits (an upgraded running duration doesn’t hurt either) just like the olden days. While most enemy designs are fairly intriguing, the basic herd can be described as zombies with farming equipment stuck allover their bodies. Not very inspired, but made up for with well-paced encounters with the big baddies.

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Having played the game on PC, I felt that it would be worth mentioning that while the concern over the game’s recommended requirements were just, the end result isn’t too bad – if you’re fine with a console quality experience and the bare minimum of PC-specific features, that is. The Evil Within on PC, like its console brethren, is locked to 30fps. Its recommended settings were overblown as I “maxed” out the game with a 3GB graphics card, when a 4GB card is allegedly required.

The port includes options for anti-aliasing, shadow quality, SSAO, and reflections, which isn’t much. Heavy texture pop-in is also apparent when playing the game, and the lack of optimization for 60fps and above is confusing. Hopefully this is something that’s tweaked in a post-release update, but I wouldn’t count on it.

I may be a bit more lenient on my PC port demands having been a console owner up until last year, but the limitations hold back the game on PC and that’s a shame.

Frequently, The Evil Within feels like a spiritual successor to Resident Evil 4, both in its gameplay and its tone. Parallels are easily drawn between the two as the game seems to go out of its way to offer a similarity or shared idea, and one has to wonder if it’s a jab at the Resident Evil series or a nod to past work on the part of Shinji Mikami to fans. In many ways, The Evil Within is the Resident Evil game we should have received after its fourth numbered game, but it does enough to separate itself into something that can stand on its own legs and not those of the Resident Evil legacy. It is trope-laden, but it embraces a type of game that’s genuinely fun to play while giving some tried and true themes an appreciable twist.

The Evil Within is a game that’s not trying to reinvent the wheel. It doesn’t really bring back pure survival horror either, but what it does do is create an exceptional compromise much like Resident Evil 4 did in its day, with its own modernizations, polish, and sense of flair. The Evil Within is a gruesome treat for horror fans, and it surpassed my expectations.

9/10

               
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COMMENTS

  • Morir es vivir

    I love this game soooooooo much. Thank you very much Shinji and team. Nice review.

  • Yudha

    I personally like this game, feels like I’m playing RE in it’s old day. But the plot….. I don’t know, it’s too complicated. And shame about the low res texture though.

    • LoveAnimation

      I love the story and i dont think its very complicated or hard to understand.

      • Yudha

        *spoiler alert* I just still don’t understand how Ruvik make that alternate world lol

        • Alex

          Spoilers:

          Jimenez had him captured and vivisected, and stole his brain to power the STEM machine that everyone is hooked up to. Because it’s based on his brain he has control over that shared reality.

          • Plus it is hinted that beyond his brain, there is also the matter of his spirit, that like in many other horror works, haunts the hospital and can interact with reality (kill people).

  • Andy

    So glad it’s getting good reviews and scores!!

  • ariessiren

    I love the game. Once you get good, the Game does become easier. Yes it is rough around the edges but it’s really fun. The good heavily outweighs the bad. The soundtrack is amazing. Reminded me how much i miss survival horror games like this. Horror Games today are nothing like survival horror of the old days. I would love to play more Games like this vs the hide and seek bs horror Games of today.

  • Demi

    Its a step foward from the action horror found in RE4 and 5.
    I disagree with the score, TLOU was rated 9.5 here, TEW is nowhere close to that game.

    • Different reviewer, different type of game, different overall experience.

      Like I started the review with, I know that this game is not the “pure” survival horror they were hyping, but it was a fun game in its own right.

      I would be curious knowing about why those more unfavorable moments made it into the game. They could easily have been removed – most being tweaks to enemy encounters and the removal of at least the armored type with a machine gun.

      • ShinyBrownCoat

        I would imagine a lot of that has to do with pacing. I agree with you that they were really weak moments in the game. I thnk the worst part about the machine gun horde type is how out of place they feel. Agony crossbow guys I get (But god do I ever hate them), and even the shotgun and pistol dudes. But the game has such good design in regards to its enemies that they just feel lazy. It’s like they were a paint by numbers shove in which is really a shame.
        I don’t think action sequences hamper what it means to be “Survival Horror” though, and I feel like this game might be a testament to that. The action sequences, while still probably the weakest point of the game still serve a purpose in terms of survival. A cornered animal will fight tooth and nail using everything at its disposal to survive. These sequences are no different. You’re right when you state some of these seem way out of place though, especially the mounted Humvee section. I wonder if it wasn’t included for its later purpose to make some sense later in the game.

      • Yudha

        I think Mikami was trying to balance the pace. If I remember correctly, he said he’ll bring a perfect blend between survival-horror and action genre

        But it’s still is fun.

  • Yudha

    I just hope capcom learn from this

  • Steven Bayne

    I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Evil Within. I hope Shinji decides to make this a series. I would be on board for more Evil Within.

  • Henrikm

    Its cool thus far have not had the chance to play it much though…

    However when I heard about Project Zwei as it first was called and Bethesda and Mikami in same breath and took a look at some of the concept art first revealed.

    I thought cool awsome an open world horror ala Skyrim with touch of Skyrim.

    Bethesda only realesed or published the game cant the right terms.

    Anyway I still hope Bethesda and Mikami could cooperate for real and make me that open world horror, I think that could be cool.

  • Carl Johnson

    It feels like it’s the RE4 he wanted to create, but wasn’t allowed to. So… good, is what I’m saying. I really, really loved the RE1 callback when you first meet the enemies, too.

    • Jeremy Kaminski

      This is what I get as well, you can see a lot of elements from the original scrapped RE4 aka “RE 3.5 Hook Man version”. I am only on chapter 7 at about to go down the stairs after getting the 3 stone faces so I haven’t played all the way through yet. I will say this though, I can really see a great series coming from this especially if the next iteration is built completely for current gen consoles and they fix the shitty aiming camera.

      • Yudha

        Aggred about the aiming camera, quite frustating.

  • Megan Schneider

    I was watching a few walkthroughs of this game. It looks great.

    I have a question, why the need for upgrades all the time in games these days? I understand it in the Dead Space setting, you have technology with suits and stuff.

    I’m not bashing the game or any games like this, just curious. I loved The Last of Us, and I guess I never thought about it until now.

    • Morir es vivir

      The main reason for upgrades is for when you play harder difficulties like “Nightmare” or “Akumu”.

      • But you can’t increase the difficulty in New Game +, unfortunately.

        • Morir es vivir

          Really?, oh nooooo!!, so now i’m gonna have to play nightmare from scratch? Noooooooooooo!!!!!, lol well maybe is actually a good thing challenge wise but dam!!

          • Xuchilpaba

            Seriously? How can all the difficulty system make sense otherwise?

          • Morir es vivir

            Pffffffff…….Fag

          • Watch your language here please. We don’t tolerate insults like that.

          • Morir es vivir

            Well, i don’t tolerate fags either, and as much as i liked your review i have to say i don’t like my comments deleted Mr.

          • Perhaps be more tolerant and less vile on our site then.

    • ShinyBrownCoat

      It gives you, the player a feeling of progression and growth. When you actually interacting with a setting through an avatar versus say watching a movie, you want to feel like your getting stronger. Also it allows you to customize your experience in a way by allowing you to taylor your skills to the way you want to play.

    • Xuchilpaba

      Because this is an action/fighting focused game. Almost all the games emphasize fighting like this have upgrades. And because of that they have new+ modes.

  • Liam Mountain

    Awesome game can’t wait for the DLC with Kidman as a playable character.

  • recordatron .

    So glad you guys liked this game, I had a great time with it and the more I think about it the more I like it. Can’t wait to play through it again, minor irritations aside I think the game really holds up well 🙂

  • Jake_Indiman

    I am on Chapter 9. I am having a blast. I don’t find this game scary. Gross, creepy, and unsettling, with a few jump scares, yes. I just wished controls would be a bit more refined. Picking up items is a bit unwieldy. Camera feels a bit unhinged. Otherwise awesome game!

  • seb

    I loved this game because its ‘pure survival horror’, it feels similar to RE4. I would of liked more puzzles and the final part of the game is disappointing, but it’s still by far the best horror game on the PS4 if you exclude games like Alien Isolation and Soma which are a different type of horror game. Don’t miss this one out!

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