The Evil Within Review

Richard Walker

The Evil Within doesn't waste time getting started. Forget all that building atmosphere rubbish; this game just wants to chuck you straight down a chute into a big vat of blood, like a sort of sadistic Fun House with less Pat Sharp and more Saw-inspired nastiness. “Smells like blood”, The Evil Within's protagonist and stater of the bleedin' obvious, Detective Sebastian Castellanos remarks upon entering the scene of a bloody massacre. It's an early precedent that sets the tone for the rest of the game. There will be blood. Oh, yes. Lots of it.

Almost presented entirely in grainy saturated, almost monochrome colours, The Evil Within revels in taking you on a wilfully bizarre head trip that will see your brow stuck in a rigid furrowed state throughout. It's weird, that's for sure, leaving you second guessing just what the hell is going on as realities distort and change, and nothing is ever quite what it seems. And while all of this is entertaining in a head-scratching 'ooh, mysterious' sort of way, it ain't particularly scary or all that tense.


MIGRAINE!

It can get desperate, especially on higher difficulties where you don't have a visual aid to tell you when enemies are near and resources are far more scarce, but in terms of generating a genuine sense of dread, forget it. The Evil Within is better described as strange or surreal, but it never really shreds the nerves all that much, and at times feels a bit old hat. What's more, the story is complete and utter nonsense that only makes sense on a very rudimentary level. Try to analyse it too much and your head will hurt. It's ludicrous.

There's nothing inherently wrong with The Evil Within's core game mechanics, and in some instances it almost reaches Resident Evil 4 levels of excellence. And then the game will inexplicably throw an irritating boss encounter your way with all of the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face. In some small way, The Evil Within is a throwback to the B-movie stylings of the old Resident Evil games, with its hokey dialogue, over-the-top abominations and buckets of gloopy viscera. But its structure is peaks and troughs; moments of survival horror bliss mixed with moments of total exasperation.

Like Resident Evil (it's hard not to draw the comparison, especially with its creator Shinji Mikami at the helm), The Evil Within's weapons are brilliantly robust and fun to handle, with well-aimed shots resulting in heads exploding in chunks of brain and skull. You can then nonchalantly throw down a match and burn the corpse, just to be sure. Enemies come in all shapes and sizes too, from the 'Haunted' grunts to the chainsaw-wielding Sadist and his buddies, the safe-headed Keeper, and the lank-haired spider-girl freak thing, the identity of which is revealed as the story unfolds.


This place looks familiar...

It's hooded moody psychokinetic spirit Ruvik who's at the centre of all this evil within (see what we did there?), and you'll have a run in with him on more than one occasion. Don't bother shooting at him though; he's good at dodging bullets. The nature of Ruvik's existence also becomes clearer as you progress, yet the game leaves so many questions unanswered by the time its convoluted and utterly interminable final chapter and horrid boss battle plays out.

Like why does Sebastian journey through mirrors to a mental hospital where he's free to roam the corridors, having woken up in an open cell? It's here that you're able to open item lockers with keys you find hidden inside white statuettes, observe how your collection of map fragments is coming together, upgrade Sebastian's weapons and abilities using the green gel found scattered around, and save your progress. Each time you visit the hospital (“smells like medicine”), you'll find newspaper clippings and missing persons posters that fill in some of the narrative gaps, revealing more about Sebastian's dark past (which is never really addressed) and the game's other mysterious characters, including Sebastian's annoying sidekicks.

Mystery envelopes every inch of The Evil Within's rusting facade. A twisted world packed with visual detail, from the filth and blood-encrusted rooms and corridors to the old paint peeling off the walls, there's no shortage of grimy nastiness on show. It's a deliciously disgusting game to behold, which is why it's a shame that The Evil Within is such a mixed bag. For every creepy set-piece, there's a silly action sequence or infuriating boss battle. For every brilliantly surreal scenario, there's another question mark that hangs over the story, and by the time it's all played out, you'll probably wonder why you even bothered.


Arachnophobes look away now.

Even at casual difficulty, the game proves rather tough, but ramped up to the recommended survival difficulty, The Evil Within becomes a major slog. Even bypassing the opening moments will become a real test of patience, as you need to sneak past enemies. Arguably, it's survival horror in it purest sense, but The Evil Within is an example of where the genre was about ten years ago. Things have moved on, and with games like Alien: Isolation and P.T. really showing off what can be achieved, it feels like The Evil Within is lagging behind.

There are achievements to nab, of course, with objectives attached to playing through on each difficulty and various goals to complete for a selection of chapters. Defeating numerous enemies, upgrading all of Sebastian's attributes, unlocking every locker in the mental hospital, gathering every single collectible and other such tasks offer a range of things to do, but you'll need to play the game multiple times to unlock everything. It's a fairly standard list for the most part, with a few original aspects peppered in.

Displaying rare flashes of brilliance, The Evil Within as a whole is something of a disappointment. Visually arresting and oddly haunting, it's nonetheless let down by an incoherent story, naff dialogue, a lack of tension and any real scares, as well as a palpable sense that we've pretty much seen it all before. At times a truly exasperating experience, The Evil Within is a generously proportioned game at 15-20 hours, with New Game+ to boot, but you can't help but think it could have been edited down into something far more streamlined and terrifying.

As it stands, The Evil Within is a bloated, flabby mess that's only occasionally enjoyable and frequently irritating. The Evil Within isn't an awful game by any means, and is certainly worth persevering through at least once, but you'd probably be better off playing Resident Evil 4 again instead.

The Evil Within

A throwback to survival horror's heyday, The Evil Within's story is daft and convoluted, featuring a mad scientist who might as well be Krieger from Archer. Frustrating and entertaining in equal measure, The Evil Within falls short of offering any proper scares.

Form widget
70%
Audio
90%

The music is superbly subtle, unlike the game itself. 'Clair de Lune' in the game's safe zones is a neat touch. The sound design in general will have you wincing as bullets, teeth and blades cut through flesh and bone. It's nasty but nice.

Visuals
90%

Drenched from top to bottom in dirty detail, The Evil Within's world is filled with glistening blood, dense rust, filth and decay at every turn. Delightful.

Playability
70%

Sebastian's initial ability to sprint for only three seconds is laughable, but otherwise the game's interface and controls are fairly slick. The camera can be a bane on rare occasions, but the real sticking point is in the crummy boss encounters and drawn out set-pieces that really outstay their welcome, highlighting the game's shortcomings.

Delivery
70%

A long campaign is nice, but not when it's stuffed with so many patience-testing moments. The story is a twisty-turny pretzel that piles on too many ambitious ideas and fails to deliver a satisfying conclusion.

Achievements
70%

Perfectly fine. It covers the bases and even chucks in a few creative tasks to look out for.

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