The Evil Within – Review

Title   The Evil Within
Developer  Tango Gameworks
Publisher  Bethesda Softworks
Platform  Windows PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 (reviewed)
Genre  Survival horror
Release Date  October 14, 2014

Gaming is all about opinions, and it is up to us to respect those opinions lest we become fanboy scum. That goes for all consoles, games, developers, and publishers (although if you’ve got a favourite publisher, please lose my number). Except for one. If you don’t like Resident Evil 4, you and me? We’re not cool. Not at all. You see, Resident Evil 4 was exceptional. It had great gameplay, an engrossing plot, the best set-pieces ever, moments of true horror and just a sense of spectacle that said ‘I’m not like other games.’

So when Shinji Mikami, the creative mind behind Resident Evil 4 and godfather of modern survival horror, revisits his roots, we take notice and with The Evil Within, he’s back on safe ground with a spooky tale of supernatural weirdness that combines all of his favourite survival horror staples with enough blood to paint Tokyo red.

The game starts with Detective Sebastian Castellanos (LOL) and his partners investigating a crime scene and before long a shadowy figure that moves at terrifying speed starts murdering other crime scene officers. Eventually this figure attacks Sebastian (arf!) who wakes up in what appears to be a supernatural dimension full of dirty wallpaper and rusted gates. Basically Silent Hill. Instead of freaking the fuck out like any normal person, Sebastian (chortle!) starts investigating and soon you begin to realise just how much trouble he’s in. Not only is he in some sort of survival horror hell, it’s a Japanese survival horror hell. Nothing will make sense again, and from now on you’d better be ready for rooms full of weird zombie people who want to kill you when all you have is a pocket with three bullets in it.

The denizens of this place are called the Haunted (some sort of emo band?) and they move and act exactly like the Ganados from Resident Evil 4. Essentially they shuffle around with a least some capacity to understand their world, or at least remember their former lives, and then when they see you they come at you with fists, teeth, axes, or weird explody body horror faces and limbs and to put them down you need to score a least a couple of headshots.

It’s so much like Resident Evil 4 that at times this could be a sequel or even a (very long) DLC campaign. You’ve got the same viewpoint – just over Sebastian’s (giggle!) shoulder – and all the usual array of explosive traps, spinning blades and spiked ceilings to worry about. This would be absolutely fine if The Evil Within added its own spin to things, but where the game really lets itself down is in how dated it all feels.

Resident Evil 4 was great but it is almost a decade old, and if I wanted to replay it, I’d just fire up the HD remake that is still installed on my Xbox 360. The Evil Within follows the formula so closely that it just doesn’t have nearly the same impact and it still has the slightly clunky player controls and camera. That won’t do. And in many respects the game is actually a little worse than Resident Evil 4.

The upgrade system isn’t nearly as enjoyable as Resi 4‘s attache case Tetris inventory system, the game feels a little slower, the puzzles are rubbish, most of the bosses aren’t as impressive, and the story isn’t really up to much. The game likes to suddenly change the environment on you to keep you off your game. That’s fine but if you’re going to do that, don’t expect me to bother suspending disbelief for you.

It’s not all bad though. Okay, the first few hours are as you trudge from area to area, not really knowing where you are meant to go or what you are meant to do while wondering if you can even be bothered with this dated nonsense. But after a while The Evil Within starts to work and even throws in some big scares. Indeed for five or six acts in the middle there, I was genuinely enjoying it. I’d got over the things that had annoyed me and it was starting to feel good. But then a mission in a mansion with a randomly appearing chap that kills you instantly started to wear on my patience again.

When the scares are good and the battles are intense (and they often are, matching the siege moments of Resident Evil 4 at times), The Evil Within works well, especially during its more linear moments. It looks great and has a fantastic lighting engine that adds to the already creepy atmosphere (although the creative decision to waste a fifth of the screen with big black cinematic bars is about as stupid as it gets) and while the plot is basically trash and Sebastian (snigger!) has no personality at all and is seemingly the worst cop who has ever lived, it’s quite easy to ignore for the most part.

Sometimes I wish I were a professional playtester. Admittedly it sounds like a terrible job, but if I could have had ten minutes with Shinji a few months ago I would have said ‘Shinj, mate. Put in a mini-map and an objective marker, lose those black bars on the screen, speed up the movement, start again with that plot, rethink any set-pieces that aren’t as good as Resi 4′s and make the levels a lot shorter‘ and he would have listened and we’d be happily reviewing a nine out of ten game. Instead we’re stuck with a Resident Evil 4 cover version that not only fails to be as good as Mikami’s finest hour, but it’s not even as good as Resident Evil 5 either.

  • When The Evil Within gets it right, the scares are big, the combat is satisfying and it feels like a Mikami classic.
  • Saving ammo by shooting traps. It's an old trick but it's still fun to do.
  • That lighting engine adds a least 25% to the creepiness of the game.
  • Well-defined, scary enemies.
  • Still better than most modern survival horror games.
  • Too much wandering around getting annoyed.
  • Feels dated. Almost as if intentional.
  • Some unfair moments.
  • Stupidly letter-boxed display.
  • Plot is trash.
  • Overly long levels that you dread starting (for the wrong reasons).
  • Crap puzzles. Pulling out a sigil from a door to put in another door. In 2014. Really.

While it lacks the wow factor that Resident Evil 4 once gave us, a least a little of that Shinji Mikami magic has rubbed off on The Evil Within. This isn't a bad game at all but it is full of missed opportunities that turn The Evil Within from a potential classic into just another survival horror game.

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One Comment

  1. Tim Tim says:

    I had really high hopes for this. Like you say, it’s not bad, but all it does is make me want to replay Resi 4. Sounds like a good idea actually.

    However, I would argue clunky controls and camera movement are survival horror staples that add rather that detract from the experience. They almost certainly were intentional.

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