We all love Resident Evil 4, right? It wasn’t only the pinnacle of the entire Resi series, but was also one of the best games from the PS2-era of consoles (and arguably one of the best ever made). Imagine my excitement then, when I discovered that The Evil Within was being headed by none other than Shinji Mikami – the godfather of the survival horror series. This guy’s responsible for the entire Resident Evil saga, which means that The Evil Within must be just as amazing as that…right?
Well, almost. The game begins with the stereotypical detective protagonist Sebastian Castellanos headed for a mental institution which is apparently under attack from a very dangerous threat. When Sebastian arrives with his partner Joseph, he discovers that the asylum is the scene of multiple violent murders, and is just in time to catch some security footage of the seemingly paranormal killer before being knocked unconscious. When he awakes, Sebastian finds himself in a nightmarish world of evil and death, and is plagued by strange visions of what appears to be an alternate timeline of sorts. This is all you’re given to go on for a large proportion of the 12-hour campaign, as information is gradually trickled to you until you finally manage to piece things together.
The problem with the plot isn’t that it’s slightly unknown for the most-part, as this would create a sense of intrigue and mystery which keeps you guessing. No, the problem is that the plot is incredibly nondescript for an unbearably long amount of time, and the multiple attempts at hinting at something greater fall flat due to the lack of information given causing you as the player to lack any empathy for the characters. Sure, Sebastian is likeable at times and even occasionally replicates the cheesy yet lovable dialogue which is attributable to Resi 4’s Leon S. Kennedy, but for the majority of the game’s run-time he’s nothing more than a boring, flat cut-out from a “How to make vaguely interesting characters” guidebook. As for Sebastian’s supporting characters, they’re nothing too memorable either. The time spent with both Joseph and the female detective ‘Kidman’ never become monotonous escort-missions, but both of these allies are utterly forgettable.
When you’re not in the nightmarish world of The Evil Within, Sebastian roams around a crumbling asylum ward which acts as a hub; accessed only by entering cracked mirrors throughout the world. In this ward, you can unlock special item safes, save the game, and most importantly, upgrade your abilities through the spending of green gel. This gel can be acquired throughout the 15 chapters within the game, and can be spent on a plethora of options, from stamina to weapon upgrades. You never become incredibly over-powered, but it allows for a small sense of progression.
Regardless of your progression however, expect to die. A lot. By the time the credits rolled on my first playthrough, I had racked up around 90 deaths in total. Most of these were my own fault, but there were more than a few incredibly irritating boss encounters, whose death inevitably came down to luck as opposed to any sort of skill. This wouldn’t be the case if Sebastian was more manoeuvrable, but the game decided to replicate the rigid movement also found in the Resident Evil series. This means that when you come to fight bosses which lunge quickly at you or run in your general direction, all you can attempt to do is run slightly to the side and hope for the best. There were countless occasions when the game stopped feeling fair, and began becoming a grinding game of chance. Thankfully the worst of these encounters are left until the final 5 chapters, which means that you have around two-thirds to properly enjoy the combat.
And what enjoyable combat it is. Aside from the irritating lack of movement, The Evil Within is often a really enjoyable experience. Guns pack the kind of punch you would hope for in a third-person shooter, and other alternatives such as melee weapons work just as satisfyingly. Regular melee with your fists is completely useless however, and should be avoided at all costs. For every two hits you get in, your opponent will get in a single, far more powerful blow, which renders any kind of hand-to-hand combat swiftly redundant. The game also tries to offer the option of playing stealthily and avoiding encounters, but as you progress this becomes far less prominent, with all-out combat becoming the norm. This is a real shame, as the stealth elements are fun whenever they’re available.
Overall, The Evil Within is a fun, albeit very flawed game. The combat is largely enjoyable, but the moments in which it grows infuriating stick-out in your mind far more by the end. This won’t be the only thing in your mind by the game’s conclusion however, as the ending itself it overly-convoluted to the point of being laughable. However, if you can ignore the silly plot and occasional annoying segments, The Evil Within is a genuinely good game which will no doubt appeal to fans of survival horror. It’s not quite classic-Resi, but it’s spooky and engrossing nonetheless. And the inclusion of a New Game+ mode means that there’s plenty of replay value for those craving another platinum trophy.
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