I considered a lot of options for the first video game review on the site. Do I go for something classic like Deus Ex, or a personal favourite like Mass Effect or Dragon Age, or something that i’m currently playing like Divinity 2: Original Sin?
All of the above are great options, but I went for something slightly different: The Evil Within. Yes, I am currently playing it with friends, but it’s on the PS4 a console which, until extremely recently, I did not personally own. Instead, I was playing it at a friends house and it was more of a group event than just playing a game. You might think that might not be the best way to play and then review a game, but I would argue that with The Evil Within it was the only way to do it.
Let me explain: i’m thoroughly enjoying The Evil Within. Its wacky and fun, but it’s not a game that I would have chosen to play by myself, or at all if my friends hadn’t suggested it. In all honesty, I didn’t know much about the game before playing it and all the assumptions I had were completely wrong. Like, not slightly wrong, in a whole other ballpark level of wrong. I assumed it was a Saw type game, with traps and machinations to escape – which technically I suppose are present in the game, but The Evil Within is a more psychological horror with a combat element much more reminiscent of Resident Evil and Silent Hill, which makes sense when you find out that the last title that the game creator worked on was Resident Evil 4.
Can you blame me for thinking it would be like Saw?
You spend the game wandering around a series of increasingly depraved environments where your character (Sebastian Castellanos, a homicide detective) has to fight off hordes of humanoid creatures whilst trying to make some sort of sense of what the hell is going on. Not too much unlike the player now that I think about it – unfortunately one of the downsides of the game is the story telling, or lack thereof. The Evil Within tries to get into your head and confuse you – and succeeds – by throwing a lot of information and wackadoodle nightmares at the player. Thankfully, the information side of things is largely optional through the use of collectibles which explore the backstory of the characters within the game. That’s not to say that the collectibles aren’t good, they are, but they’re ultimately pointless in a game that doesn’t care about stringing along a cohesive narrative.
Another downside is that Sebastian is pretty much lifeless: he takes everything in his stride to the point of it being comical. He acts like this is just another day at the office, whereas anyone else would probably have many expletive laden rants about how ridiculous and crazy the situation is. Is this is a normal Tuesday in Krimson City for you Sebastian then goddamn you need to move, son. Dialogue is bland too, although sometimes unintentionally comical as only Japanese horror games can be so really I consider that to be a net zero.
The combat is decent, if forgettable. It’s third person with both melee and ranged attacks and there’s nothing at all unique about it; you have guns, axes, grenades and crossbows – you’ve seen it all done a hundred times before and probably done better to boot. It’s not terrible aside from the achingly slow movement which never manages to get you quite out of reach when an enemy is swinging wildly. Whilst we’re briefly on the subject of movement, the fact that Sebastian can only sprint for 5 second max before he literally doubles over and stops dead in his tracks is laughable. There will be so many times that you hold the sprint button down just a tad too long, and suddenly find yourself getting battered around by whatever was chasing you as Seb is too busy wheezing into his knees. It’s hard to take it seriously when you know full well that in real life you would be running on pure adrenaline if you had to. Stitches mean nothing when some chainsaw dude is right behind you so GET YOURSELF TO THE GYM, SEBASTIAN, EVEN I CAN SPRINT FURTHER.
The combat is satisfying though; melee in particular is fun if slightly risky thanks to the aforementioned slow movement, and head shots from weapons usually end up in an explosion of gore like you would hope for. Some enemies are a tad bulletspongey but it’s probably an evil necessity to give you some element of difficulty, and the game’s upgrade system manages to balance things out quite nicely. The green brain goo needed to upgrade things like abilities, damage reduction, items you can carry etc is plentiful enough that I found myself running out of things that I was interested in upgrading by about Chapter 12. Everything that was left was onto its final upgrade tier, and at that point it costs a hell of a lot but still, it’s nice to have something to save for I guess?
To break up the gameplay there is the occasional section where Sebastian has to run down a corridor avoiding environmental hazards as well as the level’s designated big bad so the game does try and keep you on your toes.
The environments are almost entirely linear aside from a handful of faux-open areas outside of buildings but even these are brief. The level design is very good though, it never feels boring or convoluted and it has a good way of bringing you to where you need to be instead of forcing you to back track. Combined with the interesting environments that are packed with assets to make the world feel real, it makes the segments of the game where you’re just walking around quite enjoyable.
The Evil Within isn’t a great game, but it is a good one. It’s has a sense of nostalgia around it which, if you like the earlier Resident Evil’s would be right up you street. Just don’t play The Evil Within expecting a good story, play it because it embraces insanity and isn’t afraid to cut loose. It may be hit and miss, but overall it’s a fun player experience especially when played in a group setting.