Let’s just get this out of the way first. The story in Shinji Mikami’s latest creation is shockingly bad. After playing through, I still literally have no idea what was happening. Filled with plot holes, bizarre voice acting and a pretty bland, wooden leading man, this is The Evil Within’s major issue. Beyond that, however, is a satisfying blood bath with some of the most frightening set pieces and character design since the early days of Silent Hill and Resident Evil.
The Evil Within is a game featuring a LOT of corridor wandering, so if you’re a fan of Resident Evil and Dead Space, along with their crushing sense of claustrophobia and dread, you’ll be right at home. One of the standout features of The Evil Within is the rising sense of dread that stalks you, building slowly and creeping the hell out of the player. This isn’t a “jump-shock” game with cheap thrills (although they’re certainly present), this is a piece of scientific art that is meticulously designed to make your skin crawl and your palms sweat. Whilst this doesn’t quite live up to the dizzying heights of Alien Isolation and even some of the creepier parts of The Last Of Us, this is a game is so stylised from the outset that you fully buy into its steadily seething horror.
Knee deep in blood, brains splattered on your clothing, walls seeping with… stuff, this is a gross-out, disturbing world with terrifying attention to detail. Everything bleeds, people are wrapped in barbed wire, and everything screams, pops and squirms, from cadavers to candle light. It’s a next gen spectacle that has been hand crafted by the masters to disturb and disgust. The environments reeks of death, torture and the macabre trope of overrun asylums, taking visual cues from things like SE7EN, The Thing and The Ring. More than just a re-skinned Resident Evil, The Evil Within builds a gristly, tangible world with its own visual and aesthetic identity that it takes to the grave – each set piece more nightmarish than the last.
This doesn’t mean it’s the masterpiece many were expecting though. Aside from the story, which I think, is actually written by a dog, the game doesn’t ever reach it’s full potential due to repetitive gameplay, frustrating boss battles and nonsensical puzzles. These mar what would otherwise be a fun, if horrific romp through the mind of Shinji Mikami. Instead, we get a surreal, disjointed affair that suffers from the gruesome pitfalls of its genre. Where the game stumbles (which unfortunately is from the outset), it forgets to grip. Peppering the experience with rejected auditions from Silent Hill and a few innovative, vomit inducing gore moments doesn’t fill the gaping void of frustration and repetition. Trial and error boss fights and totally nonsensical cut scenes, along with a frankly boring combat system, pierce the atmosphere like a big shitty stick. It also lacks any of the self aware charm and video game fun that made Resident Evil such a cult classic. It takes itself far too seriously for what sometimes feels like Bayonetta on Halloween.
Still, for horror fans and those that have been craving a chunky survival horror from the master himself in a next-gen experience, The Evil Within is a promising return to form for the genre. It’ll leave you breathless, shocked and covered in brains, but overwhelmingly disappointed due to its easily fixable foibles. If this is a taste of things to come, we’re in for some treats. Even if it tastes bloody disgusting sometimes.