I’m going to cut to the chase here. I did not like this game. It’s certainly not a bad game (although it has its flaws), but I didn’t enjoy it for a number of little reasons rather than a single big one. Certain aspects of the games difficulty, controls, and story weren’t perfect but as a whole it should have been more enjoyable. Let’s have a little dig into it!
We play Sebastian Castellanos, a detective sent with his partners to investigate Beacon Mental Hospital where a massacre has taken place. During their exploration of the hospital, the team are attacked and rendered unconscious by a mysterious hooded figure. Sebastian awakes, alone, in an insane version of his world with the task of reuniting with his friends and figuring out just what the hell is going on (spoiler: I still have no idea).
The early game has us sneaking around to avoid a chainsaw wielding monster that culminates in a chase down a corridor and confronting The Haunted, humans covered in barbed wire (because HORROR). We’re introduced to stealth kills, traps, general combat and the usual array of survival horror tropes. Combat should generally be avoided at early stages in favour of stealth to conserve health and ammo. As the game progresses, more weapons become available including the usual shotguns and rifles and the pretty cool Agony Crossbow which can use a variety of different bolts, from harpoons to freeze shots. The crossbow was probably one of my favourite aspects of the game, but the limited carrying capacity for bolts (understandable for a survival horror) meant using it wasn’t an option in most situations. We carry on, fighting bosses, avoiding traps and not understanding the plot until the comparatively easy final boss fight. Cue final cut scene and set up for a sequel!
So here’s the thing, the game sets up the rules for you early on. Avoid combat! Stealth kill enemies! Disarm traps! Then it starts screwing you by having enemies that inexplicably can’t be stealth killed, invisible monsters (a gaming no-no unless very well implemented) and traps that Batman would struggle to spot. The bosses are creative in most cases, but they have surprise attacks that can, and will, one shot you. There are so many aspects to this game that just felt cheap and lead to the game replacing its horror with irritation. Knowing there was an invisible enemy nearby didn’t fill me with dread but annoyance that I would have to put up with another irritating section. Unpredictable stealth sections with enemies that occasionally can see through obstacles or out of the back of their heads lead to more than a few of my near 150 deaths. Controls that don’t feel quite sharp enough cause precious ammunition to be wasted. As a package, this should be great, but so many little annoyances put me off.
On a positive note, the game looks gorgeous (although I noticed a few framerate drops on the Xbox One version) and is well voiced. The bosses are fairly inventive if you ignore their cheapness and the run up to fighting some of them can be genuinely tense and unnerving. The build up to confronting one of them was quite unsettling; seeing (and hearing!) it scuttle around inside a cage and knowing you’d have to release it to continue was excellent. Environments are varied and interesting, although seemingly disconnected (for plot reasons I think) with urban environments quickly followed by crumbling medieval European architecture keeping the world fresh from moment to moment.
The key thing with any horror game really comes down to whether or not it’s scary or unsettling. The Evil Within goes mostly for body horror with its unpleasant monsters and gallons of blood and gore which certainly can work. If there is an intention to have moments of foreboding and dread then they were few and far between, and this is its main problem. Due to the regular (cheap!) deaths, the horror aspect rapidly disappears. The fear of the monsters rapidly became a fear of repeating sections, which descended into annoyance. I realise Shinji Mikami defined survival horror through the Resident Evil series (side note: I loved Vanquish too), but gaming has moved on in the decade since he last created a game in the genre. This feels like an attempt to recapture his glory days whilst avoiding looking at how horror gaming has evolved in the interim. Or maybe I’m just playing it wrong…
The Evil Within was developed by Tango Gameworks and published by Bethesda. I played the game on Xbox One and I’m not sure how to recommend this one. If you can overlook the flaws then maybe you’ll enjoy this for what it is. I was not a fan though, and found myself wishing the nightmare was over for all the wrong reasons.