Survival horror has become somewhat of a stagnant genre over the last 10 years. Once one of the most innovative and duplicated styles, it’s now mostly the domain of independent studios.If survival horror stopped being relevant to the AAA years ago, The Evil Within is hoping to turn back the clock. Directed by the father of modern survival horror, Shinji Mikami, Within is ready to return to a more frightening and challenging time.
The Evil Within stars Sebastian Castellanos, a hard drinking, workaholic detective who’s still reeling from a string of personal tragedies. Fresh off a recent case, he and his team respond to an emergency call, a massacre at the Beacon Mental Hospital. Stepping over a dozen of the recently deceased, Sebastian locates a security camera for clues. He immediately witnesses a ghostly figure, teleporting and slaughtering police officers before coming face to face with the murderous apparition.
The series of horrors that occur afterwards are up to interpretation. Within quickly cements the concept of psychics and mind sharing. A good portion of the exposition involves Doctor Marcelo Jimenez, a scientist involved with psychic experiments, and his gifted (but socially limited) patient, Leslie. Sebastian finds himself quickly shifting between worlds, his home, Krimson City has been leveled and monsters wait around every corner to murder the living. Is this reality? Has the evil ghost Ruvik absorbed the cast into their mind? Or is Sebastian rapidly going mad? This is the Crux of The Evil Within’s story.
While the components of a thrilling psychological horror story are present in The Evil Within, none of it comes together. Zombies, demons, and other flesh-based abominations are constantly attacking Sebastian and his partners, but no one seems to notice. At no point does anyone bemoan the loss of an entire city or come to grips with the existence of undead creatures. Dialogue is mostly reserved for strategies rather than theories, it’s almost as if the characters are accustomed to their surrounds. This could work if any of Sebastian’s personal problems were represented, but Within is comfortable leaving his back story in diary notes.
And that’s the real problem with The Evil Within, the protagonist and supporting cast are a bunch of apathetic bores. If a pool of blood and a 6 armed woman can’t scare Sebastian, why should we care? Moreover, how can an audience empathize, fear for, and root for someone so disinterested? The simple answer is you can’t. There’s not one stand out character or inspired conversation. And by frequently hammering the ideas of psychic powers as illusions, it’s impossible to take any one event as significant. Within is quick to answer any mystery before a character can naturally discover it. It’s not scary, it’s not well written, it’s boring.
The majority of The Evil WIthin’s interactions comes from the end of a barrel. Shotguns, rifles, and handguns, as well as a series of bows, help Sebastian survive his twisted surroundings. Zombies will require multiple shots, even if every shot connects to their head. Once down, Sebastian will need to light a match and burn the bodies or risk the undead returning to their feet. All of this is punctuated by a limited amount of ammunition and mobility. While I was rarely completely without ammo, being conservative is a huge part of survival.
Success and failure feel randomized, however. There were moments when I sprinted into zombies without so much as a hint of danger. Other times, the creatures went from a still to attacking Sebastian, despite a good distance. The creatures often use melee attacks, but the same goes for gun-toting zombies. These “Dice-Roll” moments also occur offensively, on more than one occasion, head and body shots were oddly missed. These moments lessened as I upgraded my equipment, but I never had a sense of consistency. Some enemies, however, are unaffected by rifle headshots without any sort of explanation. It’s because of this that my final “Death Count” was well over 150.
Boss fights are also a let down. Large monsters attack Sebastian and he has to shoot them until they’re dead. That’s it. The most unique boss involves a creature with floating eyeball. By shooting the eye, the monster becomes immobilized. As you can probably tell, that idea is as old as games itself and further cements Within’s dated and uninspired feeling.
The Evil Within is at odds with itself. It wants to disempower the player with it’s bullet sponge enemies and limited ammo, but almost the entire 16 hour campaign is rooted in shooting. It has an upgrade system to improve Sebastian’s, but I was rarely rich enough to improve his limited abilities. Sebastian can stealth his way through enemy riddled environments, but the AI is often too dumb to notice distractions such as shattering wine bottles. There is a melee attack, but it requires so much animation and produces such a minutia amount of damage that it’s essentially useless. Zooming in with a weapon is often disorienting, as I found myself missing important visual cues. The game wants players to learn from trail and error, but the awkward checkpoint system can send you back nearly 20 minutes. It’s the basic design choices, not technical issues, that make The Evil Within a tedious chore to play.
Graphically, Within has one foot planted firmly in last gen. Boxy, undetailed environments are common, while character animations are stiff and repetitive. Sebastian’s death sequences are well animated, but often and unintentionally involve clipping through walls and other set pieces. Nearly every cut-scene involves a distracting amount of pop-in. Worse yet, all of this occurs in a “letterbox” presentation, removing nearly a 1/3rd of the screen’s real estate. It’s hard to tell where that extra processing has going as the overall game comes off as a port of a last-gen game.
In the realm of horror, The Evil Within is a low-budget cheesefest. By focusing on its poorly executed combat, the game is monotonous. Too self serious to be funny, too boring to be taken serious. Taken as an action game, the mechanics feel directed lifted from two generations ago without any modern improvement. There’s nothing exciting, original, or well executed in The Evil Within. Avoid.