I’d prefer a little more evil
I grew up happily playing Shinji Mikami’s games, and he’s probably one of the most influential directors/producers that ever lived. I remember the first time I played Resident Evil, the day I bought Devil May Cry from EB Games, and the exact moment when my friend showed me God Hand.
All in all Mikami has worked on over 20 major games that have impacted the industry in some way. Even if The Evil Within is one of the worst in the bunch, it’s still in good company.
The Evil Within (PC [reviewed], PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One)
Developer: Tango Gameworks
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Released: October 14, 2014
The Evil Within really doesn’t waste any time. After a brief cutscene that sets up a psych-ward murder scene, detective Sebastian Castellanos is immediately thrust into a precarious situation involving a chainsaw madman and giant pools of blood.
It’s definitely one of the best intros I’ve seen in some time, and the entire premise of “What is or isn’t in your head, and what is reality?” is very easy to get on board with; it also facilitates some great pacing and setpiece changes. Don’t expect much in the way of exposition or character development, as Evil falls in line with some of Mikami’s cheesier work. You’re going to see a lot of that permeating throughout the game, and into the core mechanics.
Although the game is billed as survival horror, it really feels more like the former than the latter. Ammo is scarce, your character is absolute shit at doing just about everything from punching to sprinting (seriously, sprinting is terrible in Evil Within, partially by design and partially by the fault of the mechanics), stealth is generally preferred, and enemies can slice you to bits rather easily. To deal with this, you’ll use a hybrid stealth and action scheme, which is modeled most notably after one of Mikami’s finest works — Resident Evil 4.
For the most part, both mechanics blend rather well. There are a number of situations that function like challenge rooms from the Arkham series, allowing you to approach them with a combination of different strategies. Once you get the agony crossbow, a harpoon gun of sorts, it opens up your options with a variety of elemental blasts, from freezing properties to stun-locking lightning traps. Stealth kills will become your best friend, as ammo conservation actually matters for once.
In terms of its tone, The Evil Within isn’t so much scary as it is gory and exciting. Rather than rely on real psychological tension, Mikami and company basically throw a lot of hanging guts, blood, chase scenes, and decapitations your way. This works for the most part especially given the conceit of the aforementioned imaginative realms, but only a few enemies give off a vibe of something you haven’t seen before. In a sense, it’s a loose collective of old-school action survival horror tropes, which has its own set of merits and flaws.
Speaking of old school, The Evil Within looks like it came from the last generation of gaming. Although the giant black bars plastered across the screen are allegedly a design choice, it’s clear from the art style down to the animations that the game looks dated. If you can get past that fact as I did, you’ll find a plethora of rich environments that have the signature of a seasoned developer. Going along with the dated look, Evil Within has a few obtuse mechanics as well.
There is little to no explanation for anything, and near the beginning of the roughly 15-hour adventure, the developers kind of leave you to fend for yourself. For example, there’s a part in the game where, if you explore every nook and cranny, you may not have a checkpoint for over 15 minutes. After carefully making your way to the end of a path, there’s a crank you can interact with to open a door — and as soon as you touch it, two enemies rise up from the ground at a point in the game where you barely have any defenses. You can “burn” bodies to kill latent corpses outright, but even though I saw them first and tried to burn them, I couldn’t.
This is a stark contrast to the Souls series, where practically every mistake is your own fault. In Evil Within some areas just feel unfair, and the save system won’t do you any favors — especially if you get stuck in an area with low health and very little in the way of actual defenses. While I definitely welcome added difficulty in games, there were a few instances where I took a short break in frustration. It wasn’t enough to deter me however, and I pressed on from one exciting moment to the next despite the occasional hangup.
On the topic of the somewhat clunky controls, I don’t mind the legacy mentality, even in today’s climate. (To be clear, The Evil Within doesn’t have strict, tank-like movement.) Although there are plenty of titles that have updated systems and still maintain tension, I think there’s a certain charm to be found in that older feel, and if a few other design choices were spruced up around it, the controls wouldn’t be a problem on their own.
But while I did have fun with the majority of the game despite its flaws, it’s important to note the problems with the PC build of the game. To be frank, the PC version is going to need a lot of work. Although you can use console commands to make it run at 60 frames per second, it’s not consistently operating at that level, and there are some performance issues abound if you go that route.
I also had a few issues with the “developer splash screen” intro crashing on me (until I disabled it by adding +com_skipIntroVideo 1 to Steam’s boot options), and your resolution options are limited without using the console. Even then, some resolutions are not fully supported, as information can be concealed off-screen. It’s clear this was a quick console-port job, right down to the mouse lag in the menus. Having said that, the game is very much playable, and once it was running I had zero crashes in-game. Just don’t expect it to be up to par with the majority of PC releases theses days.
If you like old-school third-person action games with horror elements, I’d recommend picking up The Evil Within on a console, possibly at a price cut. It will definitely scratch the itch of someone who has been pining for a return to the older days of gaming, but everyone else who has come to expect that certain layer of polish likely won’t be amused.