The survival horror genre has seen a rather significant transition over the past decade, with many fearing for its future due to higher profile properties seemingly losing their way. Fortunately, this has given rise to new properties, properties such as The Evil Within, which comes from one of the creative minds behind the original Resident Evil. It looks to dig deep within your psyche, providing lots of hairy moments throughout and a story that will probably leave you scratching your head.
After responding to a call for help from Beacon Mental Hospital, Detective Seb Castellanos and his two partners uncover a rather gruesome mass murder "“ something which they get sucked into.
From here, the plot takes many different twists and turns and it's all due to something that's dubbed the STEM project. It ends up with Seb becoming part of a nightmare that he is desperate to escape from, all while his attempts are being thwarted by the evil Ruvik and his hellish creations.
All the way through, there are many different undercurrents and it's never quite apparent what is going on. Even when you finish off the game, you are probably left with even more questions and this can be a good thing, but also a bad thing. It would have been nice to understand a bit more about Mobius and also the STEM project and to get some kind of tangible conclusion. Perhaps there will be further expansions to the franchise that will help to expand upon this, just as Resident Evil's lore has grown over time.
Despite this, the premise is a good one and while the cast of characters comes off as a little bland, the atmosphere that's created as you traverse through the game is nothing short of spectacular.
You will visit many different locations in Krimson City and this allowed the developers to explore so many different elements of this genre. No two environments ever feel the same and they all present their own unique challenges. Even the places that are consistent, such as the Beacon Mental Hospital save area, have so much personality that despite knowing you should be safe there, you are never all that comfortable.
Part of this is due to the visual style, but a large chunk comes down to the sound design. Everything that happens on screen is perfectly transitioned through to the game's sound and it's rather incredible. Nothing ever feels out of place and there is always just enough eeriness to the background noises to make sure you are feeling suitably uncomfortable.
Many aspects of the game's level design also harp on this, as well as the different game design choices. Just as you start to feel a bit more comfortable or you are getting a bit more confident with dealing with what the game throws at you, they raise it up a notch. It's never to the point where the game feels unbeatable, it's always just the little bit more to make you think and to take you slightly out of your comfort zone.
An easy example presents itself at the beginning of the game. You face off against some rather cumbersome zombie-like creatures and while initially they are a little bit intimidating, they are quite easy to tackle on their own. They don't walk that fast and if you're cautious, they can be dealt with rather easily. So what does the game do? Gives you a few more to tackle at the same time, and you quickly will realise that there are just too many of them to deal with. What's your only option? Run.
As you progress through the game, you will acquire some pretty strong weapons and also be able to upgrade Seb's statistics through the use of gel. The same still applies. No matter how comfortable you feel with your setup and your surroundings, something is always added to bring you down to earth. It might just be a random tripwire, it could be a slight modification on a boss or it could be that you are suckered into falling for a trap that ultimately leads to your demise. Sometimes it does feel a little cheap, but you can't help but praise the efforts the developers went to. It ensures that there is always almost always tension.
It's that suspense that is the game's strongest facet. This isn't a game that will provide cheap scares and shock moments, it's going for something much more deep rooted. You will have to deal with elongated passages of play where you're on edge and it makes you glad when the next checkpoint comes around "“ you've made it through. Then you are left wondering what your next challenge will be and your curiosity is piqued.
There are faults, of course. Many of the bosses can kill you in one hit no matter how strong your character gets and for some of them you may find it happens 4, 5, 6 times. The initial tension that's generated from the challenge then goes and it's just replaced with frustration. There are also other instances of accidental death that can happen which ruin the illusion a bit, but it's a different act to balance. Simple things, like offering the player the chance to skip non-FMV cutscenes, can go a long way to help alleviate this a little bit.
It's surprising in a way that the game manages to draw out such a lengthy amount of gameplay. On Survivor difficulty, you're looking at 15+ hours and the game doesn't ever have much of a lull despite this. There's no sense of it dragging on or there being filler content. If anything, the only feeling is that you just want to keep playing in order to tackle the next challenge and figure out what the hell is going on. Once you do that, even more challenges are unlocked, including the dreaded Akumu mode, which will not be for the faint of heart.
The Evil Within is a welcome addition to the survival horror genre. It won't provide any cheap scares, but it does provide an intense atmospheric tension that's difficult to find elsewhere. The cast is a little bland and the story could do with a bit more explanation "“ especially at the end "“ but all of the other elements play with you just enough to keep you uneasy, but in a good way.
|No two environments feel the same.|
|Sound design is fantastic.|
|The subtle changes to hinder progression.|
|Cast is too bland.|
|Story needed a bit more explanation at the end.|