The Evil Within brought me back to what horror games felt like before you were Rambo with an onslaught of weaponry stuffed in your pocket blasting through waves of the undead. Right up until it gave me a crossbow that shoots exploding bolts and zombies firing RPGs at me. The Evil Within is another game that tries to teeter the line between helpless-horror and action-horror, and while it does present a few scares, many of the action scenes felt forced or frustrating holding The Evil Within back from what could’ve been one grand scary experience.
You are placed into the shoes of Sebastian Castellanos, a detective that is immediately thrown into some serious peril. There has been a mass murder at an insane asylum and you go investigate. Within moments you are knocked out only to wake up hanging from the ceiling watching some big man hack other people to pieces. It’s an unoriginal horror movie/game start, but nevertheless, frightening.
While I’m sure the big man had his reasons, I didn’t stick around long enough to find them out. I escaped the room and discovered it was the basement of the asylum, I shockingly was able to get outside for a cut-scene to occur. I watched as the entire city fell apart and then the game really began. I was intrigued because I had no idea what was going on. That confusion carried me through much of the game, but it does explain things eventually to my satisfaction. That doesn’t mean I had all my questions answered, and I wasn’t blown away by the plot, but I was content with the story The Evil Within presented. It was the main factor that made me press on through the chapters, while the gameplay was what made The Evil Within feel more like a chore than anything.
In the beginning you have to sneak around and be careful about the zombies seeing you (I’m sure they have a technical name, but if they look like they’re deceased people walking around, I’m calling them zombies). I had to sneak around zombies, throw bottles to distract them, and stab them from behind until I received my first weapon. A handgun that didn’t seem to do much good. So I continued on being cautious with hit and run tactics.
I was expecting to be going through most of the game like this. With small areas and always being afraid something would pop out at me, because that’s how the game seemed at the time. There were even lockers to hide in and that is never a good sign. It wasn’t until a zombie with a sniper rifle shot at me and the camera showed a big open area with plenty of zombies strutting about that I realized: this game was more actiony than it led me to believe.
Sure enough I had to take out the zombies and a boss that wielded a chainsaw—also predictable horror game tactic. After that ordeal I determined this game was less like Outlast and more like Resident Evil. Those lockers I mentioned before? I never had to hide in one the entire game. I never found the need. This is why The Evil Within didn’t feel very scary for the most part.
You can even gain experience and level up your abilities and weapons. This decreases the scare factor even more, but it does increase the gameplay aspect. Collecting green gel for experience is imperative and there is a lot to upgrade so you need to be careful. The first thing I did was upgrade my sprint since Sabastian could only sprint for 4 seconds before crouching on his knees taking his time to regain his breath no matter how close the madman with a chainsaw was behind him. Like most games that has this time of leveling system, towards the end of the game you start to feel like a powerhouse. Further getting away from the helpless protagonist in a horrifying situation. However, The Evil Within did present a few scares that made my skin crawl.
I found myself walking down a dark hallway of a dirty hospital that looked abandoned. No idea how I got there, but with laughter and random noises in the distance it was safe to say the game was starting to give me chills. The Evil Within nails the atmosphere with creepy settings from forests, to basements, to hospitals and everything else you can imagine. The level designs are horrifying and paying attention to the little details will only make you more scared. Bloody hand prints appearing on a wall with blood-cuddling screams is something I won’t forget anytime soon. The Evil Within tries to mess with your mind, and having weird, disturbing traps like Saw can make your breath stop when your see the room you just entered.
Then throw some invisible creatures in there and you really have a scary game. Once I was getting use to it, The Evil Within decided to have a creepy, horrifying, terrible disfigured spider-lady chase me.I’m man enough to admit I was scared at this point, and I felt that death-grip on the controller I have a habit of doing whenever I play a scary game. Sadly, many of the scares are very scripted, so after a while you can take a good guess at where the next scare will come from. What really disperses the scariness is the second something silly happens. When two zombies get stuck on a ladder and can’t move, or when a zombie walks endless into the wall you can’t help but lose some of the tension.
The same holds true for the bosses I faced. While they were creatively done, like the spider-lady, and a man with a safe for a head that doesn’t really die, I was only scared for my first life, because I generally died for a cheap reason. The spider-lady you need to set on fire to hurt. I had a torch in my hand to swing, but good ol’ Sebastian thought it would be better to kick her instead—it wasn’t. The Safe-man killed me because I got stuck on an edge of the room and couldn’t move, and another time he knocked me into the wall and pinned me there. I had to just stand there and take the beating until I died. It doesn’t help you have to fight these bosses multiple times throughout the game. Repeating bosses through a game is always a pet-peeve of mine, and I am always annoyed when I see someone I already killed somehow reappear for me to kill again.
All the fear disappears and is replaced with annoyance when I died a cheap death. I wasn’t bested by these creatures, I was bested by a mixture of poor controls and gameplay. Maneuvering around objects was tricking and I often got stuck on something small on the ground that in another room I was able to push out of my way. This held true for the entire game. I didn’t feel the intensity of a firefight with a zombie (yes you read that right, a gunfight with a zombie) when the zombie’s bullets go through objects. Easily the most frustrating was my bullets going through enemies—no, I did not miss. The bullets went through the enemies, and in a game where every bullet counts that’s a pretty big deal.
That doesn’t mean I hated everything about the combat. Landing multiple head shots in a row and watching the zombies’ heads explode with fountains of blood was over the top but entertaining. You can see the bullet holes you put into enemies, and it isn’t rare to shoot half of a zombie’s head off, but they continue moving towards you. When you are able to knock them down you can light them on fire to instantly kill them and everyone near them. This made some intense moments when I would try and save ammo by taking out their kneecaps so I could burn them on the ground. In these moments I enjoyed the gameplay, but I don’t think The Evil Within should be boasting their combat anytime soon.
The gameplay isn’t strong enough to make the action parts memorable. I was never overwhelmed with zombies feeling panic as I had to dispatch them quickly. They came generally two-by-two and were easy enough to kill. At best, the action sections of The Evil Within are decent. They never made me excited to play through them, sometimes it was a nice break from the horror, but generally I tried to move through them as quickly as possible to get them over with.
On the other hand, the scary sections are far more entertaining. The downside is they aren’t really that scary. It’s hard to judge a game on scare factor since everyone is different, but this game is certainly no Outlast, Amnesia, or PT. Maybe that’s because you can shoot back, but Dead Space 2 provided me with plenty of scares. I believe it has to do with how The Evil Within isn’t so much about terror. It’s more about being creepy and disturbing. A man peeling his face off and hearing the experiments done on people should disturb you. The game is weird–like, really, really weird–and those weird moments can be scary, but they don’t exactly terrify.
The downside with creepy is the line can easily be crossed into absurdity, and then it becomes laughable. Seeing a giant creature in a cave barely breathing is creepy. Finding out it’s a giant robot, mutant dog that charges you in an arena like a bull is funny. The story tends to do this as well. Sometimes it’s really creepy and interesting, and other times it doesn’t make any sense. For example: after beating that crazy robot dog, I escaped the cage we were stuck in, but I had to go back to get my partner’s glasses. Yes, I actually had to go back in, fight the dog, grab the glasses, and escape again. To which the character replies, “It’s not about seeing, it’s about feeling normal,” ….what?!
If I come right down to it, a majority of the game felt like a chore. There were moments when I was intrigued in the story, but I didn’t really enjoy experiencing the game. Horror games bring a certain adrenalin rush with them, and The Evil Within did accomplish that at various moments, but a majority of the game was frustrating above all else. It did a good job of trying to break up the gameplay, so you weren’t sneaking down a hallway the entire time, and I can really appreciate that. Yet, that being said, it still managed to feel repetitive somehow.
The Evil Within is not the greatest horror game, and it isn’t going to keep you up at night. The poor controls and subpar action sections take away from the experience the scary moments builds. The Evil Within certainly succeeds on the creativity front, with some great level designs and atmosphere. Most of all, it will drive home some disturbing ideas into your brain that won’t be easily dislodged. It tries to play with your mind and that makes The Evil Within stand out from the other horror games a little. Sadly, it is the technical gameplay issues that drag it back down. For example: a severed head isn’t scary when the textures pop-in late, and there were plenty of scary moments ruined by the voice acting or out-of-place dialog. While I don’t plan to replay The Evil Within – even though it has a new game+ mode and some extra goodies – I do think it is worth experiencing at least once for horror fans.
This review is based on a review code of the Playstation 4 version of The Evil Within developed by Tango Gameworks and provided by Bethesda Softworks.
- Creepy Atmosphere
- Some Tense Filled Moments
- Creative Monsters
- Poor Shooting Mechanics
- Actions Scenes Felt Like A Chore
- Cheap Deaths