The Evil Within – As We Play

Version – 1.03

The Evil Within is a bit of a dream come true for fans of the first bunch of Resident Evil games. A survival horror exploit from the brilliant mind that spawned the genre itself? Nothing could possibly excite us more. But now the game is out in the open, there is one question that begs answering: is it actually any good?

As far as gaming has come, one must sometimes take steps backwards to truly progress. As C.S. Lewis once said, the first person to step backwards can sometimes be the most progressive, and The Evil Within is a great example of how survival horror has lost its way. These games, that are supposed to challenge us with entering into a nightmarishly difficult to survive situation and making it out alive have become more like shooting galleries. The Evil Within takes it back to a purer time. A time where booting up a survival horror game meant preparing mentally for some harrowing shit.

This little sweetheart uses all of the tricks of the trade to induce a sense of fear in the player, while employing a few newer techniques too. This isn’t survival horror as we know it in 2014, don’t expect shooty gameplay like that of Dead Space or more recent Resident Evil’s. You’ll spend the majority of your play time creeping slowly down dark corridors, hoping and praying nothing turns up to ruin your entire life.

EvilWithinResidentEvil

I wonder what this reminds me of…

The Evil Within is an extremely tense game. The atmosphere is unsettling to the point where every part of my seat was left cold but the very edge. The events portrayed also lend to this, ensuring there’ll be at least one point where you choose not to look at what’s happening on the screen. It’s also very difficult, which adds another layer to the tension on display. As you battle to survive piles pressure onto your already overworked stress capacitors.

The game’s – borderline infamous – aspect ratio plays a big role in this. The Evil Within displays at 2.5:1, as opposed to a more standard aspect ratio and it does this by cutting off the screen with black bars at the top and bottom. It’s a smart move and, although many have claimed it to be the result of technical shortcomings, adds a great deal to the game’s claustrophobic presentation.

The technical shortcomings I mentioned come mostly in the form of frame rate drops, which were largely fixed in the game’s day one patch. Various websites have already ran stories about the game being near unplayable at times without these upgrades, which is a great shame. I don’t want to imagine a time when I try to come back to this in 40 years and can’t get a hold of that patch anymore.

You embody Sebastian Castellanos, a police officer on his way to the scene of a multiple homicide with his two faithful compatriots. Upon arriving at their destination, our gallant protagonist finds himself separated from his besties and at the mercy of a chainsaw wielding, human butchering psychopath. From here begins a journey that will take you across many places and times, as you shoot, stab and silently weep your way past obstacles.

Ammunition is scarce, enemies are plenty and those enemies can survive a whole lot of punishment. You might have previously thought that blowing off one entire side of a man’s head would stop him, but not here. The standard enemies you’ll meet here can only be killed by being knocked down and lighting them on fire (or blowing them to smithereens). If your timing is spot on, you can use the bodies of downed enemies to light other, more active, enemies on fire. If you try this, you’re risking a kick in the teeth, mind, or worse.

evilwithin-the-evil-within-for-xbox-one-ps4-first-review

You’re constantly being chased by some form of big scary enemy.

Combat is very satisfying, with each weapon blowing off chunks of human flesh with fittingly meaty sound effects and graphically messy results. Enemies react believably to being clocked in the shoulder with a revolver round, although they rally themselves faster than any human ever could. The first time you fire off a round into a man’s skull, before watching horrified as he gathers himself for a renewed attack is a demoralising experience. Not least when you realise that those 4 bullets you thought would do you fine if you nailed the headshots might not even get you through a single enemy.

This creates a conundrum, forcing the player to decide which conflicts are necessary and which can be avoided. Even finding different ways of dealing with the monsters that are after you, rather than simply unloading guns into them. For example, you could use up all of your remaining shotgun shells on defending yourself against a horde of angry humanoids, OR you could take advantage of your surroundings to preserve that precious ammo. Use yourself as bait to lead the hapless fools into traps and you’re trading risk for reward the next time you find yourself in dire need of ordinance.

Thankfully there’s a little bit of leeway granted the player in the form of the Agony Crossbow, a weapon for which you can craft a myriad of different ammunition from parts you’ll find lying around. With this weapon you can fire stun bolts, flash bolts, explosive bolts, you name it. It acts a little bit like the original Resident Evil’s grenade launcher in that you generally save it for an emergency. Bosses aren’t quite so tough when you can freeze then with a bolt filled with liquid nitrogen and lay into them with everything you’ve got for a few cathartic seconds. You also find materials for crafting these bolts through disarming the numerous traps you’ll find around the world, adding another layer to the risk/reward gameplay.

And let’s talk about the game’s traps for a second. They will kill you, and they will kill you often, but once you’ve gotten used to it you’ll find yourself supernaturally aware of your surroundings. Scanning walls and sensing trip-wires, falling prey to these traps will get less and less common as you play and it feels good to notice this. Even when you do find yourself with no body parts because you nudged a piece of string pulled across a hallway, it’s really not that annoying given that this game exists in a genre that is supposed to test you. If a survival horror game doesn’t obliterate you because you got careless then it’s doing something wrong.

evil_within_1

You often don’t get the chance to take a good look at what you’re being assaulted by, which makes it all the freakier.

So, is The Evil Within any good? Absolutely, it’s a credit to its genre and I hope we’ll see a resurgence in actual survival horror games because of how damned good it is. It’ll take you back to the good old days if you’re a fan of the genre, and it’ll grant you an education if your first experiences were with more modern examples.

That said, it’s a game that will likely not gel with a lot of today’s players, and understandably so. Next to today’s standards of handholding and covering up all a gamer’s wee mistakes, The Evil Within seems unnecessarily brutal. Come to it in the right mind-set, however, and you’re going to have a hell of a time with this wee gem.

The Good Stuff

  • Great, tense atmosphere
  • Beautifully claustrophobic presentation
  • Plenty of horrifying enemies
  • Strong combat
  • High level of difficulty should please genre fans

The Bad Stuff

  • Difficulty could turn off newer players
  • ‘Psycho Break’ is a much better name than ‘The Evil Within’

Final Analysis

The Evil Within is a child of its generation. It’s knock you over and happily kick you while you’re down, should you let it. In the end getting the most out of this game requires that you approach it with some level of acceptance as to what you’re letting yourself in for. This is not a pleasant game to play, it won’t make you feel powerful or heroic. It won’t cast you as some godlike powerhouse smashing enemy after enemy. It will go out of its way to make you feel weak, alone and afraid, and if you can get in the right frame of mind then The Evil Within comes close to being the perfect game.

Technical Competency – 8/10

Graphical Quality – 7/10

Entertainment value – 9/10

Sound quality – 9/10

Overall Quality Grade – 9/10