The Evil Within
Since the release of Resident Evil in 1996, the survival horror genre has gone through as many transformations as the abominations in the various storylines. Most critics and fans agree that Resident Evil 4, under the direction of Shinji Mikami, was the pinnacle title of the genre and paved the way for the state of these games today. There are some, however, who also feel that this was not a good thing, and that what is referred to as survival horror these days is nothing more than a grotesque shooting gallery. Mikami has returned to the genre with a new company, a new generation of consoles and, with the release of the highly anticipated “The Evil Within,” a new title that promises to bring the genre back to its roots and scare the living hell out of you.
As the story opens, Detective Sebastian Castellanos and his fellow officers are investigating the scene of a horrific mass murder. Castellanos is knocked unconscious by a mysterious force as his fellow officers are annihilated in front of him. When he wakes up, he finds himself in a bizarre world full of hideous creatures that walk among the dead. The horrific journey begins… and genuinely horrific it is.
The Evil Within succeeds in this respect, bringing back the genuine sense of fear and dread that made the genre such a success. Despite the fact that the main controllable protagonist (Castellanos) seems to be really emotionally detached from the situation (one that would send the most hardened homicide detective to the rubber room), the player controlling him will have to grapple with claustrophobic environments that do a fine job of forecasting violent death through every shadow, movement and strange noise therein. Much like the survival horror classics of the genre’s infancy, The Evil Within keeps players on edge and anxiety-ridden about everything from “what could be around the next corner” to running out of ammunition. Players will find themselves high-tailing it away from powerful enemies just out of pure survival instinct, rather than that common feeling of “overpowered badassery” present in most titles. Through the collecting of a precious jarred material called “green gel,” players can upgrade Castellanos arsenal or personal attributes and, to some degree, tailor the gameplay to their own style.
Graphically, the game does a beautiful job at rendering all of the disgusting creatures, bosses and convincingly-bleak environments. The roots of the game designers are on display in full force here, as it really looks like a ramped-up version of Resident Evil 4, or what that title may have looked like if it was released today, with a few nods to the Silent Hill series. The framerates on the XBONE sputter a bit here and there, particularly when there’s a lot happening on screen. Also, the story is told in a significantly wider aspect ratio than 1.78:1 (16×9), so the black matte bars on your screen are normal. All in all, the visuals are frighteningly convincing and really succeed into pulling a player into this ghastly world.
The gameplay is tricky. You will be equipped with all of the genre tropes you would expect: pistol, shotgun, sniper rifle and bow. The bow uses several different types of arrow ammunition which facilitate a host of different uses depending on the situation: freeze arrows, flashbangs and landmine types create options for laying various traps for enemies that you would be crazy to try and face head on. Castellanos himself can be a bit janky and sluggish to control at times, and it is going to take players quite some time to adjust to the mechanics of the game which, admittedly, feel unfinished.
Speaking of unfinished, there’s the story. It may be deliberately vague with a view toward DLC that will expand the story and wrap it up in a clearer fashion, but as it stands now when the credits of The Evil Within start to roll, odds are most players won’t come away from the story’s end with any more enlightenment than they had when it began. Of course there’s a lot of RE style talk about genetic manipulation and how that always goes disastrously wrong, but man… WTH?!
Despite its flaws (the autosave system seems to kick in only when it feels like it) and frequently frustrating gameplay, The Evil Within does bring the genre back to its roots with truly horrifying elements and relentless encounters with evil. Despite the many aggravating aspects of the game that continually crop up, the breakneck pace of traversing scene after scene of enraged baddies will keep you coming back again and again, if only to prove to yourself that you can defeat them. For the hardcore gamer who likes a scary challenge, this trip down the rabbit hole will feel like home. For everyone else, it may feel more like a session of electro-shock treatment.
Reviewed By: Russell Garbutt
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
This review is based on a retail copy of The Evil Within for the Xbox One provided by Bethesda Softworks.