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The Evil Within review

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Summary

Our Score:

6

Pros

  • Classic survival horror gameplay
  • Can be very scary and unsettling
  • Fractured narrative keeps you on edge

Cons

  • Hideously frustrating
  • Poor performances and patchy visuals
  • Assorted technical issues

Available on Xbox One, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox 360, PS3, PC

The Evil Within isn’t everyone’s most anticipated title, but for the most ardent fans of Resident Evil it’s a massive deal. Bethesda’s horror game is directed by Shinji Mikami, who first created Resident Evil, then followed up with Resident Evil 2. After that he oversaw Resident Evil: Code Veronica, then transformed the troubled Resident Evil 4 into the masterpiece we know today. In short, this is the man who invented the modern survival horror game in 1996, then came back to reinvent it nine years later. Can he do it again another nine years on?

To raise excitement levels further, The Evil Within is widely seen as a spiritual successor to Resident Evil, taking survival horror back to the good old days before the second-rate Resident Evil 5 and the wildly incoherent Resident Evil 6 all but wrecked the leading brand. The Evil Within has been seen as a return to slow-burning tension and lurking fear after those more action-oriented titles. If the Resident Evil games were Bond films, then Resident Evil 6 would be Octopussy, and The Evil Within Never Say Never Again.

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Well, fans expecting a continuation of Resident Evil 1 and 2 will get some of what they’re looking for in The Evil Within, but also quite a lot of stuff they might not expect. There are elements of the early Resident Evils in there, but also chunks that could have come straight from Resident Evil 4, and signs of more surprising influences, particularly Dark Souls, Sony’s Siren and Silent Hill.

Meanwhile, anyone hoping for a straightforward mix of puzzle solving, combat, investigation and exploration could also be in for a shock. In some ways, The Evil Within is looser and more experimental, shifting abruptly from one scene or setting to another like a vivid nightmare, and shifting tone and style just as quickly. In other ways, it’s worryingly generic, hitting beats and working set-pieces that you’ll have seen many, many times before.

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The Evil Within

At first the plot seems simple, and perhaps knowingly reminiscent of the opening of Resident Evil. Three cops answer a distress call at a lunatic asylum in the middle of a city, and find it’s been torn apart by dark forces. Separated from his colleagues, down-at-heel detective, Sebastian Castellanos, finds himself in a desperate battle to survive. We won’t tell you more for fear of spoiling The Evil Within’s many curveballs, but it soon becomes clear that not all is what it seems.

The action spans two distinct worlds, areas blur or warp suddenly from one to another, and the scenarios seem to reflect shifts in psychological state as much as any conventional chain of cause and effect.

Along the way we get a tour of horror idioms, ranging from slasher movies and the torture porn of Saw to the creepy hospital corridors and rusting barbed wire of Silent Hill. Nor is Mikami averse to rifling through his own back catalogue. The over-the-shoulder viewpoint and general controls ape Resident Evil 5 – basically Resident Evil 4 but with movement while you're shooting.

Elsewhere the scenery is familiar. Here’s an eerie mansion from Resident Evil 1, there’s a spooky, zombie-haunted rural village straight from Resident Evil 4, now here’s a bit where you’ll be swamped by hordes of mutants, or attacked by some big, near-indestructible with a chainsaw. It’s not exactly original, but what worked then still works now.

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The Evil Within

The big idea with Resi 4 was to mix survival horror with action. Here it’s to mix survival horror action with stealth. You’ll spend a lot of time sneaking around in The Evil Within, trying your best to sneak past or behind enemies and dispatch them quietly with sneak attacks. You can spend hours in some chapters scoping out the area, investigating houses and doing your best to pull some weaponry together.

In the early stages of the game you’re pitifully weak, consigned to hiding under beds and in lockers in order to survive. Running away can be a good option, but Castellanos seems to suffer from some respiratory malady, to the point that after two or three seconds of sprinting he has to stop and take a few deep breaths.

The enemies, meanwhile, are not so weedy. Even your most basic rank-and-file zombie monster takes two shots to the head or more to the body to go down. Melee attacks aren’t so much a last ditch defence as an utter waste of time. Bigger boss enemies soak up damage like a luxury, super-sized sponge. The combination of our Seb’s all too human weakness and the toughness of the enemies can make for a fiendishly challenging proposition.

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The Evil Within 7

Up to a point, this is great. If The Evil Within succeeds in anything, it’s in making survival horror feel dark and threatening again. The insistence on a stealthy approach and the sheer hostility of its trap-packed, monster-infested world pulls the rug out from under you, much like the narrative and direction do with those sudden shifts of place and tone. Unfortunately, it also makes the game really frustrating at times. Checkpoints are unpredictable and placed few and far between. Save points – though brilliantly done in a way we won’t spoil – are even more sporadic. This can make The Evil Within, like Dark Souls, a bit of a gamble. Do you explore that next house or asylum corridor now, or do you sneak back to the last save point and ‘bank’ that save game while you can?

I’ll be honest. There are points at which I’ve hated The Evil Within. It can be terrible at giving you enough information to work with, and its attitude to ammo and monster numbers is a bit too ‘if you can’t take the heat…’ hardcore for comfort. Sure you can stealth-kill, while you can craft bolts for the game’s signature Agony Crossbow from scavenged trap parts, but sometimes it’s still not enough. At one point I spent ninety minutes sweeping an area, dealing with every threat and scavenging everything I could, only to realize that I hadn’t preserved enough resources to wipe out the end-of-level boss. At another point, I threw everything I had at the end of level boss, only to discover that this chapter had its own epilogue. This isn’t what I call fun.

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The Evil Within

Yet there are points where I’ve loved The Evil Within. It can be incredibly tense and incredibly scary. It tries a little too hard on the gratuitious gore front, but it occasionally times its shocks just right. A handful of the boss battles are amazing, and while the game’s drifts back to familiar scenarios – Resident Evil 4’s crowd-control battles, Resident Evil 1’s taut resource-starved exploration – inevitably result in deja-vu, that doesn’t mean they’re not entertaining. And as the game goes on, and you upgrade your character (again, we won’t spoil how) the frustration eases off a little. Just as you get better at playing it, The Evil Within gives you an easier ride.

Unfortunately, sporadically great isn’t quite good enough. The Evil Within’s unpredictability isn’t a problem, but the pacing is all over the place. For every chapter that there’s room to explore, there’s another that’s little more than walking through a ghost train with scattered fights. Puzzles are rare and barely memorable when they appear.

The Evil Within 4

The big cut-scenes are dragged down by poor performances, bad writing and stilted facial animations. The graphics are superb when the team play to the strengths of the modified iD Tech5 engine, with exemplary use of light and colour to build a creepy atmosphere, but can be hideously patchy elsewhere. Performance and frame rates can be silky smooth over lengthy sequences, but absolutely wretched at other points – usually the points when you most need responsive controls.

Some of the design decisions are just bizarre. An axe or a torch can be a one-shot, one-kill weapon, but both disintegrate immediately on use. You’ll find weapons wielded by enemies or embedded in the scenery, but they can’t be picked up and used even though you’re empty-handed. Foes drop random items or ammo when killed, meaning it’s the luck of the draw whether you’ll get four much-needed bullets or none at all. And while enemy bodies will burn at a flick of a match – taking them out of the picture, sometimes even before they’ve stirred – those same bodies can’t be set alight with a touch of a flaming torch.

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The end result is a game that’s frustrating on two counts: firstly because it can be a real chore to play, but secondly because you can see how with a little judicious editing here, a little oversight and criticism there, it could have been the best survival horror game since Dead Space 2. As it is, it comes just after Alien: Isolation – a game with its own share of minor irritants, but which works much better as an experience overall.

Verdict

The Evil Within is almost the game that Resident Evil fans have been waiting for, but almost still isn’t close enough. For all its great moments – moments where it’s genuinely terrifying and utterly compelling – there are too many sections where it’s unbearably frustrating, repetitive or held back by technical issues and poor, dated games design. It might win a cult following with hardcore fans of survival horror, but it’s just too sporadic in its brilliance to be anything more than another near-miss.

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Overall Score

6

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Matthew Bunton

May 28, 2014, 8:56 am

This is not going to be anywhere near as good as his Resident Evil 4 game.

The smiths

August 15, 2014, 3:10 am

Sounds like it needs more time..

fire lion

August 30, 2014, 10:36 pm

I wanna see open world horror. A true master of horror can scare you without a closed environment.

Not-A-Troll

September 27, 2014, 2:41 am

So, you've played enough of both to know conclusively?

Matthew Bunton

September 27, 2014, 2:49 am

No of course not.

However Resident Evil 4 in my opinion was a masterpiece of gaming. From the extensive footage that I have seen of this game it looks more akin to a Silent Hill/gruesome horror type of game.

He seems to have gone more for the shocking imagery rather than innovative gameplay.

Hey I hope i'm proven wrong and it turns out to be another masterpiece.

Guest

October 14, 2014, 11:16 am

That hope PT will set things right....

Lafo

October 14, 2014, 11:17 am

Let's hope PT will set things right

Salazaar

October 14, 2014, 12:42 pm

Sorry but... Frédérick Raynal, Alone In The Dark, 1992.

Stuart Andrews

October 14, 2014, 12:53 pm

Hi Michael. You're right in a way (I actually bought my first PC to play Alone in the Dark), but I'd still say that it was Resident Evil that set down the template for survival horror as we know it today. I'm not suggesting AITD wasn't influential, but it didn't have the mainstream impact of the first Resident Evil, or do so much to define the conventions of the genre and its tone.

ExK

October 15, 2014, 4:04 pm

yup. hate this game. tooo many sudden deaths brought on by traps and zombies that came from no where.

Kaleb Hernandez

October 15, 2014, 5:58 pm

you guys aren't use to scary stuff like this alright so let it go you guys only like call of duty s.hit and it's annoying that everyone gave the game 5 1/2 stars so stop it's suppose to be hard ok

professerclever

October 15, 2014, 8:47 pm

Downloaded it from the Playstore an hour ago and am already regretting it!

CrossEyedJack

October 17, 2014, 6:45 am

Based on the reviews, I'm going to pass. Maybe pick it on Steam Deal in the future. I watched some walkthrough vids and seems boring and not scary at all. Kinda looked likes a poor man's Last of Us, with Bad AI and even worst Story. The Clumsy camera/Controls,flaky graphics and voice action/story is a deal breaker. Its a shame I was looking forward to this game. Seems like people are being more loyal to the Creator then the actual game.

CrossEyedJack

October 17, 2014, 6:45 am

It doesn't look scary or hard.

CrossEyedJack

October 17, 2014, 6:55 am

I want to see game that has Good Suspense, Mystery and full of tension, Story that's realistic and based on reality. Zombies, Monsters and Super Natural stuff doesn't scare me, personally I find the real world much scarier

Something that has a pace that is slow, but with unpredictable fast paced moments that gets your heart pounding and hands sweating. Small amount of Enemies that have strong AI that adapt, hunt, hide and even at times toys with you.

Levels that you have to creep and hide and places that back you in a corner and force you fight. For crying out loud Excellent Sounds and Visuals. In this day and age there is no reason a "AAA Blockbuster" game shouldn't have good graphics.

StaticShockFather

October 17, 2014, 11:09 pm

You should totally get this game.

Leon

December 21, 2014, 9:32 pm

Your review is almost word for word exactly how I felt about this game. Good review man :).

RenegadeVictim

January 8, 2015, 1:01 pm

There's a difference between "Hard" and ridiculously stupid. Ammo should not be extremely scarce in Normal. No-one wants to be that noob who plays on Easy. Not being able to take down a boss because you used up all your ammo is not fun. Especially not when that "Boss" happens to chase you down a narrow hall to where you finally escape it only to be chased again and find yourself in the predicament of not being able to get ammo because you've already killed all the enemies and looted everything in sight. The Evil Within is a game that requires you to have perfect precision. If you can't take down small fry with one bullet, then you may as well sell the game. With Ammo being too scarce and melee being suicide along with stamina being that of a morbidly obese person, this game is not what you would call Hard; it's ridiculously stupid and poorly done.

Ross Laney

March 4, 2015, 9:23 am

Upgrade your sprint, increase your ammo capacity and smash crates and loot lockers to find ammo. It's not that difficult. The best part about the game is the challenge of working out how to defeat a boss using little resources or the things around you.

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