The survival/horror genre seemed to be almost dead a few years back. However, with the help of a bunch of terrifying indies, and some new horror games from various studios, it seems to be making a comeback. The Evil Within was supposed to revive the terror, but can it really bring the fear?
The Evil Within follows Sebastian Castellanos, a police detective in Krimson City with a personality as unique as a slice of toast. As this gruff and wounded middle-aged man arrives at a crime scene with his younger, more clean-cut male partner and the rookie cop lady, everything goes horribly awry. The world quickly becomes twisted and bizarre as Sebastian must escape from a chainsaw wielding lunatic. With such a creepy opening, you would think the game would be terrifying… but it’s not.
Each environment is a bizarre interpretation of the world. This is explained in the storyline, and it could have worked excellently to build suspense as anything seems to go in this strange world. However, the environments aren’t as grotesque or impressive as hoped. While there are some excellent visuals, there are also some broken textures and weird glitches. Due to the nightmarish qualities of the levels, it was hard to gauge whether these were actual glitches or purposeful irregularities, but they certainly appeared to be immersion-breaking visual issues.
Each area is unique, and exploration is highly rewarded. With ammo at a complete minimum, each extra room with a few spare bullets is highly appreciated. Of course, with extra exploration comes the possibility of death as most areas are riddled with traps and enemies. It comes down to risk management each time you open a door or go down a new hallway. In the quieter levels, the tension is excellent as you sneak around in the dark, disassembling traps in order to get parts for your crossbow and stealthily taking out as many enemies as you can to conserve ammo.
Unfortunately, that tension simply can’t be maintained. Outside of those quiet moments that encourage stealth, there are other times when the game devolves into a run of the mill third-person shooter as you need to kill hordes of enemies in waves before you can move on to the next section. After skulking around in the dark, these combat moments break the tension and turn the game into an average action game.
Things get worse when it comes to boss battles. While the bosses themselves are terrifying, the fights against them are ridiculously hard. It generally boiled down to me entering boss fight, dying. Trying again, finding the first set action to move the fight forward, then dying again. Due to long load times after each death and the repeated visuals making me desensitized, the horror of boss fights soon devolved into a form of trial and error instead of trial and terror.
The game features an excellent upgrade system, allowing players to improve Sebastian’s health, combat and stock carrying. I still don’t understand how games justify that a character can carry a range of weapons but only seven spare bullets, but at least that can be improved with upgrades. This RPG light aspect adds some investment into the character, and could increase the odds of players making use of the New Game+ option in order to replay and fully upgrade Sebastian’s options.
Unfortunately, neither the upgrade system nor the various collectibles and background on Sebastian are really explored. Everything seems to be a red herring and even the main storyline is poorly handled. The whole game ends up feeling like a meander through various creepy environments with the excuse of it being nightmarish – sure, it’s justified with the bizarre story, but it ends up feeling like a cop out. With a psychological experiment gone horribly (predictably) wrong, the game fails to resolve or explain things in a way that justifies the experience.
The enemies start to feel copy and pasted, without any real variety. There is the crazy knife-wielding woman, the wild and screaming torch-bearing man, the fatter men who absorb more bullets than a famous rapper and the same guys repeated but this time with masks. I’m sure there are a couple more, but having seen so many of these ones, it seemed that there were only a few variations of run-of-the-mill enemies. The only thing clunkier than enemy design is actual combat. Despite having a knife for stealth kills, Sebastian can only flail wildly at enemies if attempting any form of melee attack; weapons used in melee fights are powerful, but only last against one enemy before disappearing. Fire rates are abysmally slow, making close quarter combat unrealistically difficult. Add to this the ridiculously close up camera angles (that can’t be modified) and the game becomes artificially punishing. Unlike the difficult but rewarding Dark Souls, The Evil Within simply doesn’t give you the information necessary to succeed without trial and error, which instantly kills the tension and minimizes the horror.
It seems that The Evil Within is trying to play on our enjoyment of classic horror games. Unfortunately, archaic design choices kill any form of nostalgia. Similarly, the punishing nature of the game isn’t rewarding ala Dark Souls, instead it feels designed in such a way to seem unfair to players. When it gets the horror, gore and tension right, it has excellent moments. Unfortunately, those moments are simply too few and far between.
While a noble attempt to bring a new survival horror game to the table, The Evil Within relies too much on previous horror tropes instead of innovating and creating something new and truly terrifying. Unable to sustain the fear, the game ends up falling flat, feeling like a gory action game instead of a fight for survival.
Last Updated: October 27, 2014