Gaming's horror maestro is back.

The Evil Within is the game the Resident Evil series should be.

It’s a bold claim but one that I’m prepared to make. It’s not the future of survival horror and it doesn’t make any giant strides that advance what’s come before, but it’s been helmed by Shinji Mikami, the creator of Resident Evil, the man behind the series’ rejuvenation with Resident Evil 4 and one of the most talented video game developers in the world. And it shows.

Created by Mikami’s own company, Tango Softworks, and published by Bethesda, The Evil Within is essentially the gloriously twisted love child of Resident Evil and Silent Hill, taking the twisted monster design of the former and the psychological intrigue of the latter and mashing them together into a big pulpy delight.

Detecting Horror

The game follows detective Sebastian “Seb” Castellanos, who encounters a malevolent and powerful force while investigating the scene of a gruesome mass murder at Beacon Mental Hospital with his partner Joseph Oda and ‘rookie’ Detective Juli Kidman. After seeing the slaughter of his fellow officers by a man wearing a white hood and covered in burn scars, Sebastian is ambushed and knocked unconscious. He awakes in a deranged world with Krimson City undergoing massive earthquakes, unreal shifts in terrain and hideous creatures called Haunted wandering the landscape. He encounters a doctor named Marcelo Jimenez, who is searching for his patient, Leslie Withers. Once Seb and the doctor find Leslie, they encounter Ruvik, the man who slaughtered the officers in the beginning, who seems to have control over reality through teleportation and changing the terrain. He separates the trio by trapping Seb in different horrifying locales that seem to be tied to the memories of different subjects, one of which looks suspiciously like the village from Resident Evil 4.

For a main character, Seb is certainly a curious one.

For a detective, Seb doesn’t really do much investigating other than wondering out loud what the hell is going on at frequent points throughout the game, though it could be argued that shifting realities, hideous monstrosities and omnipresent burn victims aren’t covered in most police handbooks.

For a main character, Seb is certainly a curious one. The majority of his story is told through his journals, which pop up regularly throughout the game just before you approach a save room, but he never exudes much in the way of personality. It’s hinted that his traumatic background has led to him becoming withdrawn and focused entirely on his work, so there’s an in-story explanation for it, but Seb’s approach to the game’s events are certainly curious.

Seb takes in the story’s escalating levels of batshit insanity with a surprisingly calm demeanour while at the same time displaying a growing sense of being absolutely done with the world and everything it’s throwing at him, continually perplexed and frustrated by what’s going on while simultaneously accepting it all with the weariness of a man who knows things are going to keep escalating and is just waiting for it to happen.

"Ask me if I practice SAFE sex again. Go on. I dare you."

“Ask me if I practice SAFE sex again. Go on. I dare you.”

Gunning For Supplies

Scavenging for supplies and learning when to fight or run are key factors in surviving. Ammo is scarce and the enemies plentiful – if you try to stand and fight them all, you’ll die horribly and frequently. Using the environment to your advantage and setting traps for the enemy is essential and add a welcome sense of strategy that has been sorely lacking in survival horror as of late. One example comes early in the game when Seb finds himself trapped in a sewer with hordes of enemies rising from its murky waters. There’s not enough ammo in the world to take them all head on. Lead them to an oil spill and you can set fire to it, incinerating some of the ugly blighters before they reach you. Run into an adjacent room and you can roll a barrel over to the doorway and shoot it from a distance as they pile in, blowing it up and reducing them to a giblet-splashed mess that no amount of Domestos will bleach away. There are always multiple ways to deal with the nightmares snapping at your heels, and it’s incredibly satisfying when one of your setups pays off.

Using the environment to your advantage and setting traps for the enemy is essential.

That’s not to say weapons aren’t important. Seb has access to a range of pain-inflicting tools such as a revolver, shotgun, sniper rifle, knife, grenades, and the Agony Crossbow, a projectile weapon that fires bolts capable of impaling, freezing, blinding, electrocuting, or exploding enemies depending on the type of bolts you find. Ammunition for weapons is scarce, but mechanical components can be harvested to craft additional bolts. Bombs, tripwires, bear traps and other snares set by enemies to try and ruin your day can be disarmed and harvested for spare parts which, again, can be used to make extra bolts. Melee combat is also an option but is mostly used to create distance between the player and enemies so you can flee past them, although the player can instantly kill some enemies by sneaking up behind them unnoticed.

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Fire Starter

In a clever – and at times frustrating – twist, enemies that are downed or incapacitated don’t always stay dead and will happily get back up and take a swing at you when your back’s turned. The only way to kill them for good is to set their downed bodies alight with a match, of which there is a limited supply available, so think carefully about which enemies you want to use them on. Items such as bottles can also be thrown to distract enemies or disarm traps.

Even using healing items requires an element of strategy. Seb can inject himself with syringes full of suspect-looking liquid to restore chunks of lost health with little hassle, but woe betide anyone who uses the scarcely-found medical kits at the wrong time – the buggers cause hallucinogenic side effects that would make Lewis Carol blush. The screen fades in and out of focus and distorts right in front of your eyes, making them a liability to use unless you’re safely away from enemies and preferably standing stock still. Try and DIY yourself with one at the wrong moment and you’ll find fighting back nigh-on impossible.

Using syringes doesn’t cause any screen distortion but you’ll have to wait for a few precious moments while Seb stands still and injects himself, leaving him wide open to attack from all angles. The amount of thought that’s gone into the game’s mechanics is reflected in how much thought the gamer has to put into their approach – wade in guns blazing and health items a-flying as if you’re playing Resident Evil 6 and you’re in for a world of frustration, especially in the later stages of the game where the difficulty level suddenly skyrockets.

Throw your hands in the air like you just don't care

Throw your hands in the air like you just don’t care.

The amount of health restored by syringes can be upgraded along with your weapons and Seb’s abilities by collecting vials of green fluid, which translate into spendable points. To upgrade yourself or to save the game you’ll need to find a special door (they’re marked and music tinkles out of them, so they’re damn easy to spot) which leads to…well, that would be spoiling things, but it’s somewhere tied to Seb’s past. Once you get there you can purchase upgrades by sitting in a terrifying-looking chair that alters your brain. You’ll also find a different newspaper there each time adorned with a headline that fleshes out the game’s backstory, along with missing posters and various other collectables. It’s been tied to the story in a wonderful way and never feels tacked on or pointless. Soon you’ll catch yourself wanting to visit it not just to save or upgrade, but to see what’s new and how it impacts on the main storyline.

The Evil Within delights in drip-feeding you hints.

But is the story any good? For the most part The Evil Within delights in drip-feeding you hints and allusions to what’s coming, with every answer opening up another question. If you’re the sort of person who needs things to be explained quickly, chances are you’ll find yourself frustrated. The game does tie up its loose ends nicely but there’s a slight lingering sense that more could have been done with its psychology-heavy storyline. The characters also feel a little underdeveloped and devoid of personality at times.

Aside from the odd glitch that sees enemies managing to punch you through solid objects, the game’s mechanics work extremely well. The framerate is smooth, the AI far from dumb (try not to swear as an enemy ducks or sidesteps just as you line-up what could have been a perfect headshot) and the graphics utterly gorgeous.

The Evil Within was reviewed on PlayStation 4. 

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