The Evil Within / 17th of October 2014
When Shinji Mikami created Resident Evil 4 in 2005 it was met with near universal praise as a forward thinking game, with new ideas on how to deliver a survival horror experience. The same cannot be said about the famed director’s most recent creation The Evil Within. It’s an unashamedly old fashioned game, one that revels in the tried and tested gameplay familiar to anyone who’s played a survival horror game before, and it’s bloody marvellous.
There’s something to be said for how Japanese game development is handled, as the majority - or at least the memorable ones - tend to be led by a single director. Much in the same way the film industry operates, Japanese games are, for better or worse, a product of a singular vision, and that’s certainly the case when playing The Evil Within. It’s a game so certain of what it wants to be, and how it wants to present itself that it’s unwilling to compromise itself to make things easier, or more accessible to those who dare to pick it up.
Take detective Castellanos, the main protagonist of The Evil Within. Unlike Resident Evil 4’s Leon Kennedy, he isn’t a veteran of Racoon City, he hasn’t endured an ordeal of this kind before. And as such he doesn’t have the strength or resolve of Leon, instead he’s a man who’s barely hanging on, always an inch away from some gruesome death, and it’s something that makes for some truly tense gameplay. In The Evil Within you won’t be throwing enemies through windows or performing outrageous suplexes, instead you’ll be running away, most likely while clutching a recent wound and gasping for breath.
It’s this sort of gameplay that underpins The Evil Within, as you struggle - and often fail - to stay alive. You’ll often weigh up the benefits of avoiding enemies altogether, luring them into booby-traps, or trying to dispatch them silently with your knife. And when things don’t go according to plan, do you then burn through precious ammo or run for your life? Such freedom of choice gives a real meaning to death and so when you die, you’ll have only yourself to blame.
Still, the choices don’t end there, as you’ll be able to recycle existing traps into parts for crossbow ammunition or, as mentioned, use them as weapons by luring enemies into their path. Even deciding what to do with apparently dead enemies becomes an uneasy decision. This constant weighing up of risk versus reward - along with the excellent lighting and deft sound design - serves to keep you constantly uneasy, constantly unsure of the best approach and is survival horror at its best.
Because The Evil Within knows it’s keeping you in this constant state of unease, chapters are broken up by dedicated menu screens, and are there to give you a breather before diving back in. As well as this the save system, which makes excellent use of the game’s theme of psychological horror to blur reality, transports players to an eerie hospital allowing a brief respite from immediate danger, whilst simultaneously casting doubt over which reality is the real one.
As for the bulk of the gameplay locations you’ll journey through, they function as almost a Mikami greatest hits selection. The second and third chapters in particular being a very obvious homage to the start of both the original Resident Evil and 4. However the almost Silent Hill-like psychological horror of the game’s spiralling plot allows for you to jump from dark and dilapidated hospitals, to sunny cliff side villages and crumbling mansions without raising an eye.
Where your patience may well be tested however, is during the games occasional boss battles. Unlike the recent Resident Evil games, boss fights thankfully don’t consist of bullet sponging enemies. Instead you’ll be locked into enclosed spaces and have to figure out how best to use your surroundings to overcome your enemy. These action puzzles, of sorts, are innovative and can certainly be satisfying when they come together, but unfortunately that seldom happens. The game’s traditional controls - which serve you admirably during normal gameplay - and inability to sprint for more than a couple seconds, mean that even though you’ve figured out exactly what needs to be done, doing it can be a real cause of frustration. That coupled with the fact that several of these bosses have the ability to perform one-hit kills, means you’ll often be dying and reloading over and over again. It’s especially disappointing when you consider any deaths outside of boss fights generally tend to feel justified, and those within feel like nothing more than bad luck.
Thankfully these boss sections are few and far between for the majority of the game. But as The Evil Within begins to build toward its finale, the slow burning survival horror begins to give way to more action focused gameplay and you’ll be faced with mini-bosses, repeat instances of bosses you’ve already faced and even a vehicle based section that wouldn’t feel out of place in something like Gears of War. It’s a disappointingly predictable conclusion, but thankfully the final few chapters are brief enough as to not spoil the whole experience.
Such a bombastic conclusion to the game serves to show that when it comes to The Evil Within, you must at times take the good with the bad. It’s unapologetic in its decision not to try and evolve the survival horror genre, instead opting to stick with a formula it believes works, but with that it seems, there must come some occasionally frustrating gameplay mechanics. In truth the only real innovation compared to the likes of Silent Hill 2 or Resident Evil 4 is the step up in graphical fidelity. But that’s absolutely fine, The Evil Within takes its inspiration from those games to spin its own story and in doing so provides us with a survival horror experience just as good as, if not better, than those that came before it.