The Evil Within Review: Gore-geous And Tense, But Not Much Else

out of 5

Creating fear in video games is not an easy thing to do. You need a perfect balance of danger and seriousness, with imagery of pain and death, and then you need a good story and mythos to hold it all together. When done right, the experience can be frightening. When done wrong, the experience can be laughable.

In Bethesda’s new game, The Evil Within, the balance is always shifting and while the game is able to generate true tension and some dread, other qualities work to bring down the experience to the point that it teeters on ridiculousness. And not in the good way.

The Evil Within is the convoluted story of Sebastian Castellanos, a detective for the Krimson City Police Department. Sebastian and his partner, Joseph and a “junior detective” named Julie Kidman rush to investigate a call of a police action at a local mental hospital. Once inside, Sebastian finds piles of dead bodies and lots of blood and while investigating what happened, he and Joseph discover the security room. Sebastian watches on a monitor as KCPD officers are murdered by a mysterious man in a hood and then suddenly, that man is standing next to our hero. Before Sebastian can react, all hell breaks loose.

Sebastian wakes to find himself in the bowels of torture hell, curated by a butcher-like man who is chopping up human bodies. Sebastian has to get past this monster and make his escape, and when–and if–he does, he finds the world around him is falling apart (literally) as quickly as his psyche. This is the crux of The Evil Within.

From this point, the game shifts to a rural setting outside of Krimson City, and the true exploration and survival horror aspects of The Evil Within take hold. Sebastian must unravel the mystery of what is happening, all the while surviving hundreds of tortured zombie-like monsters that litter the countryside–including some ridiculous bosses–on his way to a mysterious lighthouse beacon, an escaped mental patient, and the truth.

The Evil Within is developed by Tango Gameworks and is directed by Shinji Mikami, the father of survival horror as he created Resident Evil for Capcom. Mikami is only the director here, but his signature is evident in how the characters interact with each other, how the action scenes dip into cinematic-quality events, and even in a neat little homage to the game that essentially started the genre, which happens early in The Evil Within. But Mikami cannot take the blame for what The Evil Within fails to do, and that is generate good quality scares.

In Resident Evil, dogs jumping through windows and over-powered monsters created high tension and jumps. The Evil Within goes a different route, focusing more on gore (and there is a ton of gore) and white knuckle moments like running from things much bigger than Sebastian. This isn’t a bad thing, but when the game opens at a mental hospital after a mass murder and then shifts to a dark countryside full of murderous citizens, the scares could have been more plentiful.

Konami’s Silent Hill 2, in my opinion, is the most frightening game I have ever played. That game did it with what you didn’t see. Very little gore, sparse monsters, and a story so tight and meaningful that I related to James on his macabre quest. The Evil Within fails to show us Sebastian as anything other than “generic male protagonist.” And while previous survival horror games have used mystery and ambient sounds to create mood, TEW goes for the gore factor, showing body parts, excavated organs, and blood, gallons upon gallons of blood. It is one of the goriest games I have ever played and I feel like I need a shower after each play session.

What The Evil Within does get right is in how beautiful it all looks. The lighting effects and shadows are cinema-like and the character models look great, especially on new gen (I played this on a PS4). The trees sway in the gentle breeze and everything in the environment looks so life-like that it’s almost photo realistic. Even the game’s many structures get some love as tiny details like chipped paint and photos/paintings on walls and documents sitting on a desk look fantastic. And yes, even the gore is beautiful to look at, as excessive as it is.

The play control, which has always been an issue in survival horror games, is better than, say the original Resident Evil games, but not as tight as the last few RE titles. There is a major emphasis on stealth, as Sebastian can sneak up on enemies and kill them with his blade without wasting precious ammo. This adds a layer of player thinking as the best way through an area crawling with enemies may be to crouch in the tall grass and use the shadows rather than going in all guns a’blazing.

Like Resident Evil 4, the camera resides behind Sebastian and combat is third-person with a targeting reticle for aiming, and our hero has his choice of a variety of weapons that he discovers on his journey. There is also a customization component where players can raise Sebastian’s skills after collecting jars of green ooze that he injects into his brain after traveling through various mirrors found throughout the game and sitting down on a very uncomfortable looking chair. That may be the most ridiculous sentence I have ever typed. The brain upgrade elements play into the story in the later chapters, but in the beginning, they don’t make too much sense and players just have to “go with it.”

The Evil Within isn’t going to change the genre, nor is it going to remembered as a classic in the way that past survival horror games are often thought of. It is a good, but flawed game, with a weak story and characters, some incredibly tense moments, and an inordinate amount of blood and gore. In the end, I’d much rather see new games in the survival horror genre than another Resident Evil remake (coming in 2015 from Capcom, of course), and for that reason, The Evil Within is worth playing. There are different difficulty settings and even DLC to keep the game fresh, even if the story is stale.

The Evil Within was reviewed on PS4 and furnished by Bethesda Softworks for the purposes of this review. It is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC.

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