Posted on November 5, 2014, Phil Hornshaw The Evil Within Review: Resident Evil Chore
The problem with The Evil Within is the burden of its history.
Think of it: You’re the game representing the return of Director Shinji Mikami to the genre he helped create. You’re the spiritual follow-up to Resident Evil 4, one of the best-regarded games of the last decade and a title that helped reshape both survival-horror and console shooters.
And you’re a straight-up, psychological, gorey horror game in a time when the genre has fallen out of vogue and is propped up almost solely by indie efforts — and there are fans out there clamoring for a strong, big-budget return of horror.
That’s a lot of pressure for a game, and a lot of expectations. It’s those many expectations that stretch and pull at The Evil Within, forcing it in several directions, creating uncertainty even moment to moment in what it wants to be and how it wants to work. It’s a compendium of horror and action ideas without a clear goal in mind. It’s a game that doesn’t know how it wants you to play it. It’s confused about whether it means to provide a strong third-person shooter experience or a strong horror experience.
It thinks it can do both. It’s wrong.
The Evil Within
Platform: PC, Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Developer: Tango Gameworks
Release Date: Oct. 14, 2014
There are elements of The Evil Within that show a great deal of promise and work to create powerful atmosphere throughout the game. Chief among these is the presentation of the entire experience as one giant mindfuck. It starts with a police investigation of a massacre at Beacon Mental Hospital, where protagonist character Detective Sebastian Castellanos is attacked by a hooded figure who seems to be able to teleport and murder at will.
Suddenly, everything goes topsy-turvy. Sebastian awakens hanging upside-down among other bodies, arranged like meat cuts in a slaughterhouse. He plays dead and manages to escape, only to be pursued by the butcher, a disfigured, chainsaw-wielding madman. The opening portion of the game introduces a lot of The Evil Within’s core concepts, like an emphasis on sneaking and stealth, the ability to hide in certain objects like lockers and cabinets, and the need to be careful about boss characters who can kill Sebastian with one blow.
Multiple daring, near-death escapes later, Sebastian finds himself leaving the hospital to discover a city ruined by cataclysmic earthquakes — stuff that shouldn’t seem possible. Before too long, it becomes apparent that something weird is going on, as Sebastian finds himself walking down a mansion hallway one moment and transported to a hospital the next. Occasionally, he wakes up on a dirty cot in the cell of some asylum, which is staffed only by one aloof nurse, with no idea of how he got there.
These ideas are The Evil Within’s most interesting, but they ultimately play a small role in actual gameplay. The shifting landscape or sudden arrival in a strange location serves mostly to confuse and to drive the plot — there’s never a moment in which gameplay is significantly altered, or in which the untrustworthiness of the very world around you is something you have to consider. The strange asylum room actually serves as your save point and upgrade station, and Sebastian is able to use broken mirrors to transport there and back at intervals.