With imagery evocative of the Saw franchise and a pedigree that includes Resident Evil, I had pretty low hopes for The Evil Within. This is not a joke. Gore is not scary, once you get to the gore you are already past the bit that’s actually scary.
Scary is not knowing where the threat is coming from. Once you find it, then it just becomes an obstacle to get around.
Let me give you the official description:
While investigating the scene of a gruesome mass murder, Detective Sebastian Castellanos and his partners encounter a mysterious and powerful force. After seeing the slaughter of fellow officers, Sebastian is ambushed and knocked unconscious. When he awakens, he finds himself in a deranged world where hideous creatures wander among the dead. Facing unimaginable terror, and fighting for survival, Sebastian embarks on a frightening journey to unravel what’s behind this evil force.
“Unimaginable terror” sounds unimaginably terrifying. But it just isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments of creeping dread and some excellent work done in creating set pieces meant to disorient you, but overall I was disappointed in a game that seemed more interested in showing me poorly rendered pools of blood than trying to frighten me.
I should probably address the more concrete problem I have with the game first. The game is a 3rd person horror survival game. This means pick-ups are limited and sneaking is better than head-on combat. So I found it odd when the game would essentially force me into a fight. The review copy of the game came with a helpful guide which allowed me to figure out how to beat some of the stronger opponents that I was required to kill, I’m not sure how long I would’ve sat watching Detective Castellanos be mutilated by a monster before figuring it out.
Also running away isn’t always the best option. You can sprint, but not for long (where has the Detective’s academy training gone?) and the 3rd person viewpoint means that while you may turn to run, the camera doesn’t always follow suit. More than once I found myself running into a wall, or another obstacle, while a monster slowly beat me to death.
On the flip side, I actually liked the monsters (I’m not saying what they are because it’s part of the story, so you can find out for yourself). They are fairly generic in their construction, but how they stalk in the more open environments has been done quite well. They don’t always follow set paths, meaning at anytime they could turn around and spot you. And when they spot you, especially early on, it’s often better to just reload your last save point rather than waste resources on killing them. They are also not shy about smashing through doors both while chasing you and while just wandering about.
The game uses a system with two eye icons: one tells you if a monster is nearby, the other tells you if they can see you. You can use the environment to distract the monsters in order to get by or perform a sneak kill. You’ll also need to sneak to disarm some of the traps, unless you want to use the traps to help kill the monsters. Some areas actually encourage you to use the entire environment to your advantage.
For the most part a dead body will stay that way, but some of the stronger monsters may get back up after a while. This is where your matches come in handy because dead monsters turn out to be super flammable. You can also use the bodies as fire traps, setting bodies aflame then fooling other monsters to walk through that flame will kill them. Though oddly you can’t simply ignite a monster, they have to walk through the fire. Moreover, sometimes the monsters stop chasing you and won’t be lured further, even when there’s no fire. The converse is also true as I have seen monsters walk through fire unharmed (which sounds almost biblical).
The creators have done a lot to make the game feel creepy. A lot of the scenes reminded me of the first Scarecrow sequences in the Arkham Asylum games, where you thinks there’s a glitch in the game, or that the door you walked in through is now just a blank wall. Sometimes doors will open on their own and creepy noises abound. There’s also quite a few encounters where all you are supposed to do is run away.
This is where The Evil Within really shines. Not when you are wading through yet another blood filled abattoir pit, but when you are alone in a creepy place and realise that you need to get out as fast as you can. Even the place where you save your game (there is an autosave function at checkpoints too) doesn’t feel 100% safe.
You travel through broken mirrors to a phantom asylum where you are greeted by a creepy nurse, whose dress is sometimes blood-splattered and sometimes clean. Here you can also gain upgrades to your current equipment and unlock bonus gear. You want to upgrade as much as possible.
In the end, The Evil Within was pretty solid, and those who love the “guts everywhere” genre of games will love it (I have to say I chuckled at the various over-the-top ways Detective Castellanos can meet his untimely demise). I still don’t know if I would call it “horror”, but it’s certainly survival and there are moments when you think “that’s just downright creepy”.
It’s a slow game that has excellent pacing, by which I mean, nothing feels rushed. The parts where you realise that you have to run, rather than fight are handled well and the acceleration into these scenes feels natural. The issue you may have (and I sure did) is with the story. It bounces all over the place and feels directionless. You start doing one thing, then suddenly you give up on one task and are doing something completely different. And not because you completed the first task, but just because the game suddenly pulls you away to do this ‘other thing’.
In this sense The Evil Within becomes less of a game and more of a haunted house ride, where you just roll with the changes and wait for the scares.