Horror is back, but not as you might think. The Evil Within, the latest game from Shinji Mikami, screams his trademark look and feel while being in spirit with the likes of Resident Evil 4. The Evil Within surely is a tense game, complete with ghoulish and gross creatures and a tonne of blood, but does it live up to the scare?
The story starts with you investigating a multiple homicide at a (wait for it) mental asylum. From the moment you step into the building you know something is just not right, and from every moment onwards things just get worse. When a man in a hood is teleporting about and killing cops like cattle, you know you are about to have a bad day.
Detective Sebastian Castellanos, the main protagonist, is as emotional as a stone, despite how much I tried to connect with him as a character. He is cold and collected with a mind of steel. Even when he wakes up hanging in meat freezer with some psycho cannibal and his big knives, Castellanos makes it seem like another day at the office. This made it difficult to delve into the narrative and get the true horror feeling out of it because not even the main character seem bothered by what was happening around him.
Even with Mr. Emotional, The Evil Within is a spectacular example of horror creativity. Even with the standard horror troupes you would expect, such as meat freezers, chain saw wielding mad men, mannequins and crazy locals, Tango have done a solid job at twisting it all to create a sense of difference in the over-saturated horror genre.
Linear levels are hidden among the low light and creepy factor, with slight deviations to collect more green goo (will explain later) and the occasional ammunition. Enemies are in abundance one moment, with you trying to duck and dive out the way without getting mobbed, and at other times, scattered, waiting round the corner and only giving off a groan to let you know they are waiting to chop you up.
Even with the linear feel, levels are well made and have a lot of atmosphere to them through creepy shadows, design and a decent composition of eerie sounds. Many a time I was left creeping slowly with my shotgun in hand because I was afraid of what a sound could be or what that shadow was out of the corner of my eye.
The threat and suspension of being found and killed feels terrifyingly real and you will rarely find yourself completely alone. Just when you think ‘that’s just a dead body on the floor’, it will rise up and scare you back to yesterday. They also find their way off hooks and hanging places to come join you later. Enemies range from the average infected Joe to the stuff of childrens’ nightmares.
Your trusty arsenal in the game is the standard pistol, a shotgun, sniper rifle and crossbow with a variety of different ammos (freeze, explode, etc.), and the ammo, as you would expect, is scarce. To add to the fun, health is not easy to find and your stamina is not infinite, either. You will find yourself running away at times and forget about Castellanos’ small lungs. With checkpoints few and far between, not being able to run a marathon while equipped with limited ammo makes the game a breath taking experience which rarely fails to keep you on edge.
If you feel brave enough you can also try and take the stealth route. Although this helps with ammo conservation, it does not help with the stability of your heart. Sneaking up on a big dude, only to realise one jab in the back doesn’t take him down, makes you feel like he is about to grab you through the screen. However, it does feel extremely satisfying when you manage to throw a bottle to distract an enemy and sneak up behind them, leading to a crunching jab straight in the head which brings it to its knees. These moments give you a brief minute of euphoria, as you’re alive for a few moments more.
The upgrade system in the game, which uses an unexplained green gel, makes you less powerless. It enables you to increase your personal combat abilities like health and stamina, as well as improving your ability to use each weapon and how much ammo you can carry. What seems quite cheap to upgrade at first soon makes you realise that you need to choose your play style and weapons and stick to your guns with them. Green gel is a precious, limited resource, and collecting it requires scavenging, building and killing the biggest and baddest of enemies. Shape your own play style and then hope you made the right choice between not being able to run for longer but carrying the entire world’s supply of ammo (yeah not as great as it sounds, believe me).
The only niggle I had throughout the 25 hours I played is that I never felt truly scared. Yes, things were tense and I had moments of panic from the usual antics like being chased by something I could not kill in a small space. It might be the long days of playing horror games while always expecting too much, but the game, while being creative and blockbuster graphically spectacular and gruesome, did not have anything truly horrifying. For an avid horror fan looking to get scared, this was a bit of a disappointment.
The Evil Within is a fun, challenging, gruesome, grotesque and heart-wrenchingly tense adventure, all wrapped up in an eerie, creative world with enemies that push your imagination. The game is always one step ahead of you, keeping you on your toes with odds against you and in the houses’ favour. Often you find yourself wanting to give up hope but with a steady hand, straight and true, you can slowly work through the muck. While the The Evil within may not have lived up to the hype or broken any of the classic horror troupes or themes, it is still a solid horror experience which will give you a run for your money. Finally, though not scary for me, those not used to the genre will most likely need a heart replacement.