Horror has a box on its head.
Fear is a very subjective thing. Some gamers will avoid videogames that claim to be scary, whilst others will run headlong into the fear to try and overcome it. Does The Evil Within, the latest survival horror game from Shinji Mikami, his team at Tango Gameworks and Bethesda, have what it takes to challenge the horror hunters and warrant avoidance from the scare shy?
Gamers have become accustomed to the blood, guts and general gore that can be found in many videogames. The Evil Within manages to pack in plenty of entrails, body parts and gruesome scenes. Whilst this type of thing can give rise to feelings of disgust, revulsion or uneasiness, it rarely gives way to the feelings of fear that players will be looking for. Fear of the unknown, anticipation, strange noises, muted mutterings, anything that makes the hair on the back of the neck stand up, those are the scares we want.
Police detective Sebastian Castellanos, the main character from The Evil Within, is perhaps perfectly suited to face up to the games’ high levels of gore. Called to a hospital to investigate a massacre, it doesn’t take long for reality to warp and everything to get confusing. The setting changes regularly, often without much by way of notice and even less by way of explanation, yet detective Castellanos stoically gets on with the job in hand, that being survival. So, he is not the most touchy, feely of characters, or the most likeable, but he does what needs to be done.
And what needs to be done is, beyond staying alive, work out what the hell is going on. The story in The Evil Within is not exactly forthcoming, with unexplained happenings coming far quicker than any sort of explanation, at least in the early game. Things become more apparent later on, but I am not promising that the revelations will be particularly satisfying. Still, it’s entertaining and serves to move the action forward.
The Evil Within is a third-person action game at heart, although the action is much more thoughtful and considered than most games of that genre. The challenge is set high, in both the enemies that the player faces and the tools at their disposal. Ammunition is always nearly running out, so a more stealthy approach is required for most of the game. To this end, an instant kill stealth attack will take care of most enemies, if the player can approach them unseen. This in itself raises the tension of the game, with the player questioning if they have been seen as they sneak up on an enemy or try to hide from a wandering threat. Adding to the threat is the possibility that dead enemies will come back to life unless burnt, and the player only has limited matches.
It is not just the enemies, who come in a variety of different, mutated, suitably horrific forms, that the player has to worry about. All manner of traps will try to trip the player as they explore the small open areas. But the traps are not just there for the player to fall foul to, but can also be used against any nasties that the player needs to take care of. In fact, using the traps in this way is a necessity for many of the evils, especially the more challenging bosses that can be found. Traps also have another purpose though…
Players are not limited to their police revolver with its hard to come by ammunition, a knife for tricky stealth kills and triggering traps to ensure their survival. Other means of defense will become available to. Many of these items are still limited, such as the instant kill melee weapons that only have one use. However, the player will also gain access to a rather nifty crossbow, and will be able to craft different types of ammunition for it from parts obtained when they disarm traps. Bolts with various different effects, such as blinding the enemy or doing electrical damage, open new tactics for the player to use. It also makes exploration more attractive in the open areas, with the player having to weigh up the risks for the potential rewards. In The Evil Within, resources are scarce and make a big difference to survival.
Another thing that the player can find during exploration is a rather toxic looking green substance. Heading back to the asylum, the player can then use this substance to upgrade themselves, in a slightly unsettling way. While this won’t give access to any dramatic new skills, it does improve on the character, including increasing the amount of ammunition that the player can carry.
Actually playing the game does take a little getting used to. The controls are fluid for the most part, but the camera’s position does make it tricky to see everywhere when moving. It is in tight spaces that this becomes more of a problem. There are a fair number of other little bugs in the game, but none of them are particularly game breaking.
So, does The Evil Within provide the type of scares that will have gamers hiding behind the sofa? Shinji Mikami’s latest certainly leans more towards the gore than the chills, but the game is not without its genuinely creepy moments. These are at their best in the more closed in areas – darkened corridors where sudden noises inspire dread. There is a lot of imagination in the game, both in the settings and the enemies. The bosses are a highlight, with some really weird creatures that will leave the player feeling uneasy. But when it comes to causing outright fear, The Evil Within does come up slightly short.
The Evil Within is a classic survival horror game in many ways. Many of the settings and enemies will seem familiar to veteran survival horror gamers, and the gameplay itself, although offering a few new ideas, has similarities. It may not be perfect, with a few issues and favoring shock over pure fear, but The Evil Within is nonetheless an entertaining ride that will please both fans of the genre and newcomers who have the will to take on this nightmare world.