Released: 14 October 2014
Developer: Tango Gameworks
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360
Shinji Mikami joined Capcom in 1990 and worked on a number of successful handheld, 8- and 16-bit titles during his first six years with the company. In 1996, though, Mikami developed the first Resident Evil (Capcom, 1996) videogame, which not only popularised the “survival-horror” subgenre but was an incredible success upon release. Since then, Mikami spearheaded or was heavily involved in Resident Evil’s sequels and spin-offs, including taking over as director of Resident Evil 4 (Capcom Production Studio 4, 2005) and changing the direction of the franchise. However, by 2010, Mikami had left Capcom to develop new properties and titles under Tango Gameworks; the first of these was The Evil Within (known as Psycho Break in Japan), a title which Mikami aimed to return to the roots of the survival-horror genre, which had become increasingly action–orientated over the years. Despite some criticism regarding technical issues, The Evil Within was received rather favourably; while some struggled with the game’s difficulty and convoluted plot, the atmosphere and horror elements were notably praised. The game was also the second-best selling game in the United Kingdom upon release and earned an even more highly regarded sequel in 2017.
After arriving at a brutal massacre, Detective Sebastian Castellanos is pulled into a distorted world full of nightmarish locations and horrid creatures after pursuing a mysterious, seemingly supernatural hooded figure known as Ruvik. Trapped with limited resources and relentlessly hunted, Sebastian is left to fight for his survival and uncover the mystery of Ruvik and the horrific world Sebastian’s found himself trapped in.
The Evil Within is a survival-horror videogame very much in the style of Resident Evil 4 in many ways; my experience with the Silent Hill franchise (Konami/Various, 1999 to 2014) is sadly limited but, from the bit I’ve played of the first game, The Evil Within is clearly heavily borrowing from the more nightmarish and twisted reality of Silent Hill than the virus-heavy narrative of the Resident Evil franchise. Like in Resident Evil 4, you have full 3600 control of your character and the camera rather than being restricted by tank controls and set camera angles, and you’re also given much more options in terms of combat. You can melee attack with Y using your fists or bottles, interact with the environment with A, burn bodies and pools of gasoline with your limited supply of matches with B, aim with LT and shoot your weapons with RT, reload with X, and spring with LB. you can’t hold the sprint trigger down for too long, though, as you’re hampered by a stamina meter and Sebastian will be left vulnerable and out of breath if you run for too long.
One of the big mechanics of The Evil Within is the sneaking and stealth-based gameplay that is pushed as a big thing in the first few chapters of the game’s story and then all but vanishes for the bulk of the gameplay as you’re given more ammo and weapons, before rearing up again near the finale of the game. You can use RB to sneak around when enemies are nearby and a helpful eye-themed “Enemy Alertness” icon will let you know when enemies are unaware of you or actively searching for you. When the eye widens, you should sprint out of site or hide inside a nearby locker or wardrobe until the danger has passed but be careful as enemies will pull you out of your hiding place if they see you try to hide. Still, if you manage to sneak up behind enemies, you’ll be able to pull off an instant kill move with a press of the A button but I found enemies become very aware of your presence even when you’re being super stealthy so this was often quite tricky to pull off. As much of the game is seeped in an unsettling darkness, you can also use your lantern by pressing in the left analogue stick to light the way but this will also attract nearby enemies (though, again, this becomes less of an issue hen you gain more resources).
Like all great survival-horror titles, The Evil Within excels in building a horrific, foreboding atmosphere thanks to its unsettling, often gruesome visuals and twisted, reality-bending narrative. To help with this, the heads-up display (HUD) is extremely sparse to increase your immersion in the game’s horrifying locations and narrative. You’ll see your health, stamina, and currently-equipped weapon and ammo and that’s about it unless you’re joined by one of Sebastian’s partners, like Joseph Oda, who often help you out with some additional firepower. If they’re attacked, you can fend off their attackers and heal them by holding down A (which helpfully doesn’t waste your own healing resources). You can set your weapons and healing items to the directional pad (D-pad), which helps you to quickly switch weapons or replenish your health without going into the inventory wheel, which slows the in-game action to a crawl but doesn’t pause it completely and can thus leave you vulnerable.
Interestingly, The Evil Within is surprisingly light on puzzles, labyrinthine environments, and the use of keys and other items to progress. Occasionally, you’ll have to acquire a key to open a door or work your way through a grim and grimy location avoiding instant death traps, fending off enemies, and running from Ruvik as you try to open a central door, but these moments are few and far between. Instead, The Evil Within is a much more linear game than its forefathers, meaning that you’re not afforded a map this time around. For the most part, this isn’t an issue but it wouldn’t have hurt to have a map available since a lot of the environments are a bit grey, dark, and look alike so it can be easy to get turned around sometimes. As a result, though, you never really have to worry about pushing statues or getting a bunch of extraneous items or combining them together and, instead, will be more focused on blasting enemies or bashing their heads in than worrying about jewels. However, when puzzles do crop up, they’re fittingly gruesome: you’ll have to insert probes into brains while looking at nearby diagrams and listening to audio tapes, press the right buttons on surgery tables to avoid being skewered and reveal a hidden exit, sneak past wire traps and rush through spiked traps, and shut off valves of steam or activate flames to get past certain areas, and turn a few dials here and there in order to progress, take out enemies, or free your comrades.
During Chapter 11, though. you’ll also have to shoot down corpses hanging above the flooded streets in order to distract and swim past a monstrous creature, which can get pretty tense as your window of opportunity is very small, and you’ll also be chased by chainsaw-wielding berserker’s and suddenly ensnared in traps that you must shoot or run out of or face a grisly end. Indeed, traps and hazards such as these are one of the most recurring dangers in the game; these are dotted around every location, springing up on you when you least expect it and often skewing you or blowing you into bloody chunks with little warning. Many of these will result in instant death, requiring you to retry from your last save point, but others can be disarmed by holding A, sneaking up on them, or pressing A at the right time in a small mini game. Disarming traps such as these will net you additional junk (which you can also acquire by smashing crates and such), which is used in the game’s (thankfully) extremely limited crafting system to create ammo for your “Agony Bolt” crossbow. You’ll also find Green Gel in jars and bubbling on the floor after you defeat enemies; be sure to grab this whenever you see it as you’ll need it to upgrade Sebastian’s abilities and weapons in the game’s haunting save areas.
Graphics and Sound:
Honestly, The Evil Within is quite a bland game in many ways; much of the environments take place in such uninspired locations as a hospital, sewer, grimy caverns, and gothic laboratories, meaning that a lot of the colours are subdued and feature a lot of black, grey, and brown. However, the game excels in the use of lighting and a perverse, macabre atmosphere that really adds to the sense of dread and tension in every area. Things may look perfectly normal one minute and then, very quickly, become warped either by Ruvik, Sebastian’s apparently fragmenting mental state, or the presence of certain enemies.
Bodies, bloodstains, and gore are in abundance in almost every area you visit; you’ll find dismembered corpses, flickering lights, smashed up areas and some truly disturbing labs and operating theatres that more closely resemble torture chambers or slaughter houses. Sebastian’s journey takes him through a variety of locations, all of which are generally seeped in a thick, ominous darkness or carry an menacing sense of dread thanks to the carnage that surrounds him or the use of screams and ambient sounds (mostly haunting, almost taunting voices). There’s also some cool weather effects on display; rain splatters on the screen, wind blows through trees and grass, and environments twist and change as Ruvik bends them to his will with often devastating effects.
When The Evil Within breaks free from restrictive corridors filled with barbed wire, wreckage, and corpses, it really starts to feel much more unique amongst other survival-horror videogames; you’ll wander through the castle-like ruins of weird mish-mash of cultures, venture through a city that is constantly shifting and changing and collapsing around you like something out of Inception (Nolan, 2010), but you’ll also recognise a number of the tropes and references to Resident Evil along the way. The hospital and laboratories of the game, for example, are very reminiscent of Umbrella’s facilities, as is the mansion you eventually explore; you’ll also spot a few familiar typewriters but the game also evokes imagery from Silent Hill through its narrative and horror franchises like The Ring (Various, 1991 to 2019) and Hellraiser (Various, 1987 to present) in its enemy designs.
While the game’s use of music and ambient sounds is pretty good, if uninspiring at times, it’s the lapses in sound and use of ominous groaning or wails of some unspeakable eldritch abomination that really add to the game’s unsettlingly atmosphere. The voice acting is okay, for the most part, but kind of reminds me of the B-movie delivery of games like The House of the Dead (SEGA AM1, 1996) and even the original Resident Evil while still treating the events of the game with a grim seriousness that further emphasises that its meant to be unsettling and disturbing rather than thrilling or cheesy. Sadly, thanks to the nature of the game’s narrative, the plot is all over the place; much of the narrative is focused on Sebastian trying to figure out the mystery of Ruvik while the world literally falls apart around him and questioning his sanity but it turns out to be this weird, pseudo-virtual reality environment of sorts that really isn’t elaborate don all that much in the game’s cutscenes or dialogue. Instead, you’ll have to root through the many mysterious and ominous documents and the comments of non-playable characters (NPCs) around you to get a better idea of what the hell is actually going on which, while creating a bit of a disconnect between me and Sebastian’s plight, I found did lend to the nightmarish appeal of the game as it was literally like playing through some ghastly nightmare where nothing makes sense and the world is full of shrieking, gabbling zombie-like creatures and unspeakable horrors and gore.
Enemies and Bosses:
As you desperately plough your way through the game and try to figure out just what the hell is going on, you’ll find yourself besieged by a number of grisly creatures that literally come to life before your eyes as corpses stagger upwards, seemingly innocent blood stains burst free with screaming ghouls, and enemies burst apart into freakish abominations. The most common types of enemy you’ll encounter are known as “The Haunted”; these dishevelled reanimated corpses are like a cross between zombies, Cenobites, and the Las Plagas enemies of Resident Evil 4 and will stagger and rush at you in a blind fury looking to take a bite out of your neck. They’re also capable of attacking as a group and with weapons such as knives, crossbows, and even guns, and will eventually don body armour and wield machine guns, shotguns, Molotov cocktails, and can even activate traps by pulling levers. Thankfully, they go down relatively easily, especially after a few shots to the head, but you’re also encouraged to burn their bodies upon defeat to avoid them springing to life once more.
The haunted come in all shapes and sizes, including much bigger and more rotund enemies who can tank your shots, ones who rush at you in a suicide run, and even ones that appear invisible until the moment before they strike. You’ll also have to contend with some disturbing little baby versions of the Haunted that seep out through walls and drop from the ceilings, but these are easily dispatched with your melee attacks. You’ll also encounter far larger versions (who are best avoided rather than tackling directly unless you have some heavier weaponry on hand) and the disgusting AlterEgo variants who shamble about the place, take far more damage to defeat, and puke up viscera onto you when they got close to you!
Such larger, more grotesque enemies serve as The Evil Within’s mini bosses; the first enemy you encounter, for example, is the chainsaw-wielding Sadist who cannot be harmed. Instead, you have to frantically run from him and sneak around him to avoid being sliced in two but, later in the game, you’ll encounter these brutes as mini bosses in increasingly confined areas; thankfully, by then you’ll be packing a shotgun and some explosive weaponry so they’re not too difficult to put down as long as you keep away from the wild swing of their chainsaws. Similarly, while exploring Cedar Hill Church, you’ll have to fight past the misshapen, monstrous formally conjoined twins Neun and Zehn, who rush at you and try to smash you into a bloody puddle in a confined area. Luckily, Joseph is on hand to offer support with a sniper rifle and you can use your more powerful weapons to slow them and finish them off one at a time.
Another prominent sub boss, of sorts, is the Keeper; these hulking creatures wield meat cleavers and pursue you with a screen-distorting effect and dropping barbed wire mine traps on the floor. Because their heads are protected by a metal safe, the only way to kill these bastards is to aim for the ample chests but, quite often, killing one will simply cause another to spawn out of nearby safes, which can also spring to life and attempt to attach to your face. As a result, a mixture of stealth and tactics are advised when facing the Keepers, which can often be avoided altogether and mainly serve as a formidable distraction while you try to shut off steam valves and progress further.
As you might expect from the man behind Resident Evil, you’ll also have to battle a number of bizarre and monstrous creatures to progress; one, the Sentinel, is a giant wolf-like creature transformed into a hideous monstrosity and which likes to hide in nearby bushes before pouncing on you and trying to bite your face off. Another is Quell, a massive octopus-like creature that attacks you in the sewers and likes to hide in pipes and grab you with its tentacles; when it does, you have a small window to shoot its face to damage it and save yourself from a gruesome end. Easily the most prevalent and annoying, however, is the Amalgam Alpha creature, which appears to be an eldritch, nightmarish spider/scorpion hybrid that rampages through an underground car park and was, easily, the toughest and most annoying boss fight of the game. This thing is really big and its weak point (an eye on either its tail or within its gaping mouth) can be really tricky to hit; luckily, the car park is full of ammo and other resources but you’ll have to be quick on your feet to avoid its super frustrating instant kill move.
As Ruvik remains elusive for most of the game, the most prominent antagonist you’ll face for most of the game is Laura, an onryō-like girl who emerges, shrieking and wailing, from bubbling bloodstains in certain parts of specific chapters and scuttles after you like a spider, instantly smashing your head in if she gets a hold of you. You’ll encounter Laura three times over the course of the game and she gets more aggressive and difficult to face each time: in the first encounter, you simply have to run around a corner and set alight a pool of gasoline to scare her off but you’re then forced to battle her in an incinerator room. Here, she demonstrates her ability to teleport and emerge from nearby corpses so you’ll have to make sure that you burn these and arm yourself with nearby torches to stave her off but the only way you’ll defeat her is to trick her into spawning inside of one of the incinerators and pulling the lever. The last battle against her is even worse as it has multiple stages that see you fending her off by shoot levers on pipes to spew fire at her and desperately making your way towards an elevator before she can grab you. While it is possible to do her in using nearby flame traps and your conventional weapons, it’s worth coming back after you’ve unlocked the rocket launcher to make these fights easier as she’s basically indestructible otherwise.
Finally, there’s the primary antagonist himself, the mysterious Ruvik, who is apparently the mastermind behind all of the game’s events. Occasionally, Ruvik will spawn into a location and begin to chase you; if this happens, my advice is to run as fast as you can and hide in a wardrobe or under a bed until he disappears as he’ll explode you into bloody chunks otherwise. Later, you’ll encounter Haunted who assume his guise, who can be easily put down without much trouble, and the entire final chapter of the game is dedicated towards making your way to a final confrontation with Ruvik. Here, he merges with the Amalgam Alpha to become the Amalgam, a Lovecraftian beast that you must run from as it chases you up the side of a building before commandeering a machine gun and a rocket launcher to finish him off for good. In this final boss fight, you don’t need to worry about expending your ammo or running around in a panic; you simply have to move to the left or right to avoid his claws, aim for his head, and try not to miss withy our rockets. Eventually, you’re given a split second to shoot the final bullet at Ruvik’s exposed head but it’s okay if you miss as the autosave point is right before this section so take your time and put an end to him for good by stomping on his exposed brain.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you explore the many nightmarish environments of The Evil Within, you’ll find a lot of junk and helpful items to pick up, especially if you smash open crates and open up any drawers or cupboards. You’ll acquire syringes and medical kits to restore your health (these latter will also briefly extend your health at the cost of a few seconds of disorientation), ammo for your weapons, matches, and Green Gel. You’ll want to grab as much of these as you can (be sure to reload your weapons and cycle through your Agony Bolt variants to stockpile as much ammo as possible) in order to have the best chance of success in combat.
Sebastian is afforded all the usual weapons you should expect from a survival-horror videogame; begins with a simple pistol but soon acquires a shotgun, the aforementioned Agony Bolt, a sniper rifle, and even a magnum as the game progresses. These can usually be found in attaché briefcases so be sure to explore your environments fully to get your hands on more weapons and ammo, and Sebastian can also make use of nearby bottles to throw at and bash enemies with, pipebombs, and explosive barrels (which he can also awkwardly kick around to best destroy enemies). In addition, the Agony Bolt can shoot multiple different types of arrows, from explosives to freezing blasts to stun shots, all of which can be either found in the environment or crafted with a simple press of a button from the inventory menu.
At numerous points throughout each chapter, you’ll find mysterious cracked mirrors that transport you to the save room. Here, you can use any keys you find from breaking special statues to open up lockers and access some extra ammo and also use your Green Gel in a very ominous looking chair. This allows you to upgrade Sebastian’s abilities, such as his maximum health and stamina and melee damage output, and weapons, allowing you to increase your maximum ammo capacity, reload time, accuracy, and overall effectiveness for each weapon. It’s worth stockpiling Green Gel and spreading it wisely to increase Sebastian’s health and the amount of matches he can carry while also focusing on each weapon at a time; I favoured upgraded the shotgun and saved that for the more troublesome enemies but you may prefer to upgrade the Agony Bolt or sniper rifle.
There are forty-one Achievements on offer in The Evil Within, many of which require a bit more strategy to unlock than simply clearing every chapter. Indeed, almost every chapter of the game has a specific requirement to unlock an Achievement, such as defeating a Sadist with a stealth kill, surviving an onslaught of enemies without Joseph being hurt, or killing Laura rather than simply outrunning her. You’ll also get Achievements for more mundane things, such as stealth killing five enemies in a row without being discovered, upgrading weapons and skills, or killing a certain number of enemies in specific ways, as well as finishing the game on higher difficulties or without any Green Gel upgrades.
The game has four difficulty settings, with two available right from the start; while you can lower the difficulty at any time, you can’t raise it and, after finishing the game, you’ll unlock additional weapons to use in the ‘New Game+’ mode, which allows you to replay any chapter on the difficulty you cleared it on. You’re also given 50,000 Green Gel points to spend and unlock a model viewer but, annoyingly, your rocket launcher and machine gun have limited ammo, meaning you can’t just plough through the game’s chapters willy-nilly. Still, it does give you the edge in tracking down any statue key, map pieces, and documents you missed the first time through and working toward 100% completion. There are also a couple of expansion packs available to download that add an extra thirty Achievements to the game in addition to expanding upon the story with new playable characters and enemies to battle. I haven’t actually bought this, however, so it’s not my place to comment upon it but the game was appealing enough that I may explore this extra content later down the line (or if there’s a sale on).
The Evil Within certainly was a disturbing head-trip of a videogame; very little about it makes sense as you play it, with the events appearing to be the result of Sebastian slowly going insane but eventually being revealed to be the results of some bizarre experiment that, even now, I’m a bit unclear on. The result is a very unpredictable and gameplay experience full of unsettling imagery and enemies, gore, and ghastly creatures of all shapes and sizes that pull from a variety of other media and horror elements and mash them together in a truly nightmarish and ominous videogame that maintains a constant sense of dread and anticipation as you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next as Sebastian is battered and tossed all over the place through a constantly shifting nightmare world.
Having said that, though, there were a few flaws in the game. It’s not always immediately clear where you need to go as environments tend to look the same (especially in chapters set within the hospital or similar locations), some of the boss battles and enemies were ridiculously unfair thanks to them having one-hit kill moves in their arsenal (something I’m always frustrated by), and expanding Resident Evil’s save rooms out to a whole area was a bit laborious at times when I just wanted to quickly save without having to trudge about in the slowly-dilapidating hospital foyer. Still, it was a harrowing experience, one that really conveyed a tangible sense of dread and horror; Sebastian might not be the most compelling or dynamic character but his “Everyman” persona worked well with the increasingly insane and macabre things he was faced with and it was nice to feel that sense of foreboding menace once again, even if the game does veer more towards action than survival-horror thanks to you have just enough ammo and resources to get through each chapter rather than having to constantly worry about inventory management.
Are you a fan of The Evil Within? Did you enjoy the game’s ominous atmosphere and mind trip of a story or was it too derivative for you? What did you think of Sebastian as a protagonist, his supporting cast, and Ruvik as the main antagonist? Did you enjoy all the allusions and references to other survival-horror videogames and horror media or do you feel like that got in the way of the game’s more unique qualities? Would you like to see more from the Evil Within franchise? Which survival-horror videogame or franchise is your favourite and why? Whatever your thoughts on The Evil Within, or survival-horror in general, drop a comment down below.