The Evil Within PS4 Review

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited that Shinji Mikami has returned to the survival horror genre he pretty much defined back in 1996 with Resident Evil. That’s not to say that I don’t like the other games he directed. In fact, everything he has directed seems to turn out fantastic (you could argue P.N.03, I’ll let you have that one, but mechanically, I found it rewarding to play). Just look at the guy’s catalogue of titles, which includes the stylish Vanquish, a game that supplies the player with so many “that’s flipping awesome” moments throughout its creative design, God Hand, the best fusion of the classic side scrolling brawlers (think Streets of Rage) and 3D beat-em-up gameplay, and of course the game that defined a generation and inspired the design of countless third-person shooters that came after it, Resident Evil 4.

Moving on from his time at Capcom, Mikami has been crafting a new survival horror entry, The Evil Within, since 2010 with his new studio Tango Gameworks. This time around, the release of The Evil Within doesn’t bring as much of a significance to the genre compared to Resident Evil and Resident Evil 4, but instead offers the foundations created by Resident Evil 4 to bring a game that could be looked upon as a spiritual sequel with a thematic difference, along with including mechanics taken from the remake of Resident Evil on the GameCube (a HD release is due next year) to bring a psychological gritty game which honours the glory days of 2005. Fans who love that blend of action and horror will appreciate what The Evil Within is returning to a genre that has grown through the indie scene, which is often less focused on action and more about a character’s helpless, lonely, horror journey.

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The Evil Within fully endorses the current Hollywood horror trend of gruesome films by throwing the player straight into an opening involving a mass murder at Beacon Mental Hospital, where on arrival, the game’s protagonist, Detective Sebastian Castellanos, is introduced to mutilated bodies spread across the room, blood painting the once clean white floors with its distinct red. It only takes minutes before Sebastian sees a strange man that seems to be teleporting to his fellow police officers and stabbing them in the neck before getting behind Sebastian and putting him to sleep. The following completely feels like it would be a scene taking from something like the film Hostel, where a unknown man is chopping bodies and leaving intestines hanging over the table, as Sebastian escapes the nightmare scene, bypassing traps and other devious Saw inspired devices to escape the hospital and get on his way through 15 chapters of psychological madness that made me think “what in the hell just happened there?!” countless times.

Infusing the psychological aspect into the story means that the plot can go places that break the barriers of reality. It’s used to trick the player by setting up scenarios that mess with their mind, and it works, because The Evil Within creates confusion over the course of the story that you kind of have to sit there, take it in and simply accept what is going on. Don’t ask too many questions, because you simply won’t get answers that feel satisfactory. While the story doesn’t offer a fantastic tale, its progression does allow for some disturbing scenes, great locations and mind screwing situations that offer some seriously good set-pieces. You’ll remember what you did more than who you play as, as Sebastian is a rather stale detective who can’t even charm his way to be on your guilty pleasure list, unlike Leon S. Kennedy.

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Mikami’s influence over the game is recognisable throughout most of The Evil Within, with the gameplay and mechanics feeling like they could have easily made it into a Resident Evil 4.5. The key word is most, because the initial two chapters veer off the typical formula by including simple stealth sections that make up the most of those chapters and sour the overall experience. The argument could be used that it was added to do something different, and while that is the case – it certainly works towards adding tension to the scene when all you can do is creep past a wall with a group of inhuman people making a meal out of their fresh victim on the other side – the mechanics for stealth don’t feel great. Getting behind an enemy to perform a stealth kill, a one hit knife stab in the head, is handy during those sections, but issues surface later on where some enemies seem to have a sixth sense and know you are coming behind them, invalidating the move. There are also options to hide in cabinets and under beds, but after the first time the game demonstrates hiding in a locker in chapter 1, I never felt the need to use those features again. Stealth does come in handy to conserve ammo, but as I progressed further through the chapters, the concept of using stealth slowly was forgotten as I became better at managing my ammo and using my weaponry.

The Evil Within begins to pick up and shine at Chapter 3, when an all too familiar setting of a remote village filled with people who want to murder Sebastian becomes the setting. Funny enough, it also includes a scene with a chainsaw wielding enemy, although this one doesn’t wear a sack on his head. From here, it feels like the gameplay of Resident Evil 4, as you gain a pistol, shotgun and an inventive crossbow that comes with multiple bolt types that Sebastian can craft from trap spares gained from disarming various bombs, trip wires and bear traps that litter the world. It’s a very handy weapon to keep stocked up, because having the ability to freeze or stun an enemy is incredibly handy in the later chapters.

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Combat is made more accessible thanks to the ability to move and aim at the same time, yet still manages to feel like it’s from 2005. This isn’t a knock on Mikami’s design to stick with this, but it does feel strange that the only additions to the combat come from his earlier games and not through the evolution of the mechanics in newer third person shooters, so people who don’t like how Resident Evil 4 combat works might not like what’s going on with the call back to it in The Evil Within. Ammo is a scarcity on the normal difficulty, as The Evil Within doesn’t seem to incorporate a mechanic that adds ammo to random broken boxes when low, rather, the game requires you to manage what limited ammo you find hidden away or dropped randomly from enemies.

There are times where the enemies simply overwhelm Sebastian and there isn’t enough ammo to go around. These situations require some strategy. You can try sneak pass them or stealth kill them, use traps in the environment, such as bombs, to your advantage by shooting them when an enemy is close, or do the last resort and run away. If a person doesn’t like having close to zero ammo, then the Casual difficulty will offer a less stressful experience by offering more ammo from drops.

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In addition to guns, Sebastian can kick enemies away from him or pick up flaming torches or hatchets that offer one hit kills on most enemies. These feel similar to the defensive knife in the remake of Resident Evil that allowed you to take out a zombie without damage when it grabbed you for a bite. In The Evil Within, these powerful melee weapons save the day, offering a quick way to despatch an enemy or three if you hit them all with the swing, but be warned, these break after one successful hit. You can only carry one of these items as well, so it’s ideal to keep it handy when times get tough.

Following in the footsteps of the Crimson Zombie from the Resident Evil remake, enemies need to be burnt using matches or the player faces the chance of them resurrecting, often supplying a jump scare as they attack from behind without a warning. Keeping alert is one advantage you shouldn’t put to the side while playing The Evil Within.

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Also helping you survivor are jars full of green brain fluid that are stashed away or dropped from enemies. These are used to level up Sebastian’s stats in the hospital save room; an area reached by walking through a mirror. The hospital embraces the safety of the hero with lockers that can be unlocked with secret keys to reap the rewards. Statistics can be increased in a multitude of areas, such as stamina, health, carrying more ammo or improving the damage of a gun. There are lots of stats to improve that eventually turn Sebastian from a hopeless detective to one that can stand up against the freaky enemies with useful buffed health and weapons.

Some instances of The Evil Within can be frustrating and they often come without warning. I am speaking about some situations where instant-death will happen. I might not be the most reactive person, but these come across like I was supposed to die, so that I could then see it coming the next time and get passed it. This happens in a variety of scripted scenes and multiple boss fights where one hit will kill you. It feels like a sick and twisted way of doing trial and error – something you don’t want in a survival horror game – and made some areas of the game horrifying for all the wrong reasons.

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When these issues aren’t trying to get you to pull your own hair out The Evil Within is genuinely a great game. The psychological concept and enemy designs, which oozes vibes from another classic horror game, Silent Hill, allows for a constant flow of new things to happen. Apart from some boss fights, the game rarely repeats itself, adding new monsters and places in each chapter to keep the action suspense and fresh until the end.

A distinctive vision emits from any media showcasing The Evil Within, as the game brings back the letterbox form of Resident Evil 4, albeit thicker this time around. It’s a little off putting at first, because it cuts away the ground from your view, a scary thought when enemies like to pretend to be dead until your foot is close to their mouth, but you eventually adapt to it. The developers went with id Tech 5 and heavily modified its light engine to bring some impressive use of light and shadow, but this comes at a price, as the frame rate can fluctuate in heavy combat scenarios and texture popup rears its head occasionally, spoiling the overall presentation, but not enough to cause issues playing the game.

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The art direction is superb, offering an insight into the designers at Tango and their disturbing minds that came up with these nightmarish creatures and dark, creepy settings. Just like Pyramid Head in Silent Hill, I can see some of the enemies becoming cult icons in the gaming world at upcoming conventions, as they leave a disturbing lasting impression on your mind. The Evil Within is a dark and grim place that completely succeeds in bringing its hellish world to your TV screen with squeamish sound effects to boot.

While The Evil Within won’t make as big of an impact on the medium of video games as its spiritual predecessor, there’s a few design choices that hold the experience back and the story is more on the side of “what the hell” than offering a satisfying tale, it’s still a great game for a trip back to that atmospheric, tense, semi old-school horror that manages to stand out in this current age, because big budget action horrors aren’t created anymore and no one creates an action horror like the father of the genre, Shinji Mikami.

8 out of 10