Horror and comedy are actually very similar. I know that statement has you scratching your head, but hear me out on this one. You see, both of these things, while seeking completely opposite reactions, are incredibly subjective. In many cases, it’s just as hard to scare someone as it is to make them laugh. That’s why comedy and horror games are so highly scrutinized, one person may be scared to death, while the other person will just shake it off.
The Evil Within is the next is a long line of PS4 horror games coming to the system. We’ve already seen a few gems like Outlast and its DLC, but this one has been on the radar for some time for a single reason: Shinji Mikami. No, I didn’t sneeze, that’s his name. To hardcore gamers, this name is nigh holy. This man was responsible for bringing us the (good) Resident Evil games. His masterpiece to many was Resident Evil 4, but now he’s back on the radar. So, has the father of survival horror lost his touch, or is The Evil Within the treat you’re looking for this Halloween and beyond?
I’m Not Really Sure What’s Going on Here
The Evil Within starts out with a classic horror premise: Sebastian Castellanos, a detective for the Krimson City Police Department (KCPD) has just gotten off a case, only to be swept up into another one as a mysterious rash of killings breaks out at a local institution called Beacon Mental Hospital. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. You arrive with your two colleagues in tow and proceed to investigate the crime scene.
Spoiler alert: it’s bad, like lots of dead people and bodies. This classic premise quickly turns weird when you’re attacked by some kind of apparition and you wake up in what seems to be a completely different place, though no less gruesome. I don’t want to go any further for the sake of the story, but I wanted to illustrate how it opens because you’re probably thinking you’re going to spend the whole game in a mental hospital.
Uh...no, not at all.
One of the greatest strengths that The Evil Within has going for it, is the variety of environments. Again, without spoiling anything, you’ll be visiting a lot of horrifying, beautiful, and strange locations across the game’s fifteen chapters. If you find yourself halfway through the game and you still don’t have a clue what’s going on, that’s okay. The game’s story plays its cards very close to the chest through most of the affair, but once the answers start to come out, things get very interesting.
I’ve seen some reviews say that the game’s story is too ambitious for its own good. I won’t name any names (IGN) but I would like to respectfully disagree with that statement. If there’s anything this industry needs like a man lost in the desert needs water, it’s ambition. The Evil Within’s story is wide in scope, ambitious as hell, (pun intended) and while it could have been a little more forthcoming with the details, it’s a very unique tale when it’s all said and done.
If I had to find some complaints, beyond the lack of details until the floodgates open, it would be the characters. Don’t get me wrong, Resident Evil fans will feel right at home with these classic archetypes, but Sebastian himself doesn’t have much to say over the course of the game, and when he does talk, it’s usually to say something like “What’s going on around here?” or “Out of ammo?!” nothing that really adds to his character. It’s weird that he isn’t more directly developed, because the villain sure does have a good backstory, and Sebastian himself has been through a lot as collectible newspapers and personal journals will tell you.
Yet, despite all of the darkness is Sebastian’s past, we never really see these things come up in his present character. His lack of input does lend to the immersion to an extent, but his stoic and rock solid disposition can make some of the tense moments feel a little less so. His partner will be freaking out for example, and Sebastian will come back with an “it’s going to be fine” line, delivered with stark certainty.
This is quite the journey though, and with fifteen chapters, it’s no slouch in the length department either. You may find yourself confused, terrified, and wondering if you’ll ever get answers by the halfway point, but I assure you, the answers are there, and they are very cool. Just don’t expect Sebastian to pull at the heartstrings with his passionate dialogue, that’s not going to happen.
Something about This Just Feels...Right
The gameplay in The Evil Within is nigh perfect. Sebastian moves, aims, and shoots like the golden days of Resident Evil, only this time you can actually aim and move at the same time. Still, the comparisons to Shinji Mikami’s masterpiece Resident Evil 4 cannot be denied. It’s clear he pulled a lot of inspiration from the gameplay style of his past work, and it was a good call on his part. The gunplay feels powerful and satisfying.
A solid head shot into one of the grotesque zombie-like enemies will either result in a shower of blood and gore that splatters the floor, walls, and Sebastian himself, or it will leave the enemy with half a head still shambling toward you. Running enemies can be taken down with a leg shot, causing them to reel and stumble onto the ground below. Enemies on the ground can be finished off with a match, setting them ablaze and ensuring they won’t get back up.
The weapon selection is your standard affair, with a new addition to keep things interesting; pistol, shotgun, grenades, and a sweet crossbow. Yes, you heard that right, there’s a weapon called the Agony Crossbow that represents the game’s most creative method of evisceration. This weapon uses various types of bolts ranging from harpoons, to incendiaries, to ice bolt and an electric variation. These are satisfying and offer plenty of options for creativity.
You can craft more of these bolts by using trap parts that you find in the game. You’ll constantly find yourself passing proximity bombs on the walls, trip wires on the floor, and other methods of utter destruction. If you catch these in time, you can disarm them or use them to your advantage, luring enemies in to them for maximum awesome. Disarming them though will reward you with trap parts to craft bolts for your crossbow.
The other guns do their thing just fine, and as I said earlier, the gunplay is quite satisfying. Now you’re probably wondering if all these weapons ruin the horror, but I am happy to report that The Evil Within is (mostly) a true to form survival horror experience. Yes you have all these weapons, but no, there isn’t always ammo laying around for you. The game does lean to the side of action with some bombastic boss fights that have you throwing down lead like 50 cent just won the lottery and he cashed it in for bullets. Even in these boss fights, or the occasional level where you’re stuck fighting through waves of enemies, the game still holds the tension high.
I'll be honest, I was a little sad when I saw the game leaning towards the action side of things, as so many horror games have been doing lately. Even so, the game always finds its way back to the dank and claustrophobic halls of a terrifying nightmare. A few other things to note, the game has a cool save point system but it also has checkpoints in the tougher segments in case you die, and you will. Multiple encounters and enemies in the game will take you down in a single hit, which can be frustrating, but ultimately speaks true to survival horror roots.
The save points are located through broken mirrors that you use as a portal to an area where you can record your progress and utilize a strange machine that grants you upgrades. These upgrades are purchased with a currency that the game refers to as “green gel” but I like to call it “brain juice.” This currency is found throughout the levels in drawers, boxes, and in the dark corners of the game’s levels.
With this currency, you can upgrade your health, stamina, (which starts out low) various aspects of your weapons, the stock of ammo you can hold for each weapon, and more. It’s a robust upgrade system for a horror game, and a welcome addition that allows you to tailor your skills to the style you play with.
At the end of the day, little things like the occasional glitch and the ridiculous method by which you break open boxes and watch them shatter like glass don’t really matter. Sure the frame rate may stutter every once and a while, but ultimately, this is the closest thing to a true horror game that I’ve experienced in some time. Granted, I loved Outlast, but this just felt like the good old days.
So This Is What Insanity Looks like
The Evil Within won’t win any awards for best graphics, but that doesn’t stop it from oozing with style. The textures tend to pop-in more often than not, and the overall detail doesn’t scream next generation. That being said, it looks good, better than most PS3 games ever did, and the art direction that the game employs is a gritty and gory approach that instantly makes your stomach churn.
Whether its giant vats of blood, piles of bodies, or a rotund enemy approaching you with glowing eyes and shards of glass impaled throughout its body like it dove on a crystal grenade, this game doesn’t hold back with the shocking imagery. You’ll see enemy designs and horrific scenes that would make Rob Zombie cringe. This is not for the weak of heart, I’ll tell you that right now. As someone who loves to see how far horror pushes the envelope, I loved every second of The Evil Within’s gruesome and unapologetic style.
With clever use of lightning and an adjustable film grain, you’ll find yourself feeling like you’ve stepped in to the world’s greatest haunted house where the enemies will try to eat you alive and the traps are not for show. I think the style and substance of the game’s environments are the strongest thing The Evil Within has going for it. This game doesn’t hold back, and the twisted mind of Shinji Mikami has never been more so than now.
The Evil Within isn’t perfect, but I couldn’t be happier with how very much it feels like the classic age of Resident Evil and Silent Hill. It has some glitches and pop-in, plus the game can lose focus at times, but overall, this is a very good sign that the PS4 is welcoming the shambling corpse of survival horror back into its open arms. It also proves that Shinji Mikami still has his touch. Like any good horror game, it may not work for everyone, but I’ll tell you one thing: it certainly worked for me.
If you’re looking to get scared, intrigued, and torn apart more times than you can count, don’t hesitate picking up a copy of The Evil Within. Tell the industry that we want our horror games back by supporting this sign of a bright (dark?) future for the genre.
Final Score: 9.0/10
Game Category: Horror
Article by - Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert Date: 10/30/14
Update December 2014
We have learned that The Evil Within's first DLC, "The Assignment," will be available early 2015. While the DLC is included in the season pass, a price has not been revealed for those purchasing the DLC individually.